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I was sent to Little Piskwamish Camp, James Bay as part of the James Bay Shorebird Project. I was so excited! I didn’t know much about shorebirds, well, other than the famous Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper common near Ottawa center.

So I left on the 28th of July 2015, and was back home on the 15th of August. The route: Ottawa-> North Bay-> Cochrane (~9-hour drive),  -> Moosonee (~5-hour train) and -> James Bay (~30-min helicopter). More transportation action than I’ve ever experienced before.

Moosonee is a beautiful little town. The roads are sanded, the people are very friendly, and the atmosphere is quite fresh…the price of groceries is roughly twice/thrice of what you would pay in Ottawa. In our MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) house, we learned how to make shorebird bands (dip the band in hot water, circle it around a nail, and then dip it in cold water. Voila.).

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Fast forward to Little Piskwamish Camp, the four of us got to know Doug, the leader of the camp. He greeted us with brownies! We put all our stuff in our cabin and went on an introductory walk.

Starting the next day, we did what we went there to do. Survey the mudflats for shorebirds, find flocks of Red Knots (endangered), read their bands (three characters+colour), and stay away from bears. Groups of 2-3 did daily rotations of heading north (~3 km) or south (~6 km)–until a victory flag was within reach–before heading back. Despite having studied like crazy in Moosonee with experts and at home with a shorebird book, I was clueless about shorebird ID. Thankfully, Doug had awesome tricks/mnemonics that got us ID-ing shorebirds in only a few days.

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High tides and low tides. We needed to make sure we weren’t far from camp during “top” tide, because we might have to cross something like this while going back:

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Well-named “Bitch Creek”. Hey, I didn’t name it!

Most often during our walks, we met fearless-ish shorebirds. This picture captures nothing of the abundance of shorebirds around us:

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Dunlins. “Shorebirds with an awkward, cute black square on their belly” – a friend (paraphrased)

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See those specks? Exactly.

So after our walks, we would go back to camp and eat delicious meals. We all contributed to a part of the meal process. We would also filter water taken from an “outbound” stream. Filter once for dishes, twice for drinks.

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Relatively tamed Gray Jay at the camp

On the before last day, we headed north beyond the usual route to look for bears. We all had our bear bangers/flashers ready. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any.  At least we were entertained by the numerous true stories told about black bears around James Bay. And we got to fire our bangers for fun.

That was it! We headed back home. Once back in Ottawa, I was “downed” by all the technology that surrounded me. The cars, the TVs, the weird laptop that was in front of me…. I was in a daze for at least 3 days. Thankfully, Emily, a post-doc. in Dr. Forrest’s lab, had me work in fields filled with Solidago plants full-time from the 17th to the ~30th of August. Those fields were also filled with bees/wildlife and other good and soothing stuff. I think that really helped me readapt to civilization. When Dr. Forrest first saw me after the summer break, she didn’t look very pleased (at all)…at least on the outside! I’m sure it had something to do with my lack of academic work during the summer. Meh, I’ll try to make up for it. James Bay brainwashed me.