A Nunatsiavut Field Guide to the Birds of Labrador
Guest post by: Michelle Saunders
In January 2018, after taking an ornithology course with Dr. Ian Jones, I came up with what I thought was a “crazy” idea. Studying biology for the past 4 years and being an Inuk woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, I noticed that a lot of things that I learned from growing up on the land, and traditional knowledge in general, were missing from the curriculum. After debating the odds of my “crazy” idea happening, I emailed Dr. Jones and asked him to meet. I nervously walked into his office and blurted out that we should write a book on the birds of Labrador with a specific focus on Nunatsiavut. To my surprise, he was enthusiastic, and the idea became a project! In July Ian and I packed up and flew to Labrador to start our tour of Labrador communities to gather photos and stories about birds along the way.
Ian and I landed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and drove the south coast road to Cartwright. We stopped periodically to observe birds and take photographs along our drive, and were delighted to find and photograph a female Tuggaluk (American Three-Toed Woodpecker) at her nest right beside the road in a Kinnitannik tree! We also saw many other birds, such as the Ikketujok (Great Horned Owl) and Kupanuatsuak (Gray Jay or Whiskey Jack).
Arriving in Cartwright, we spent 2 days travelling around the Gannet Islands, the largest seabird colony in Labrador, photographing and observing thousands of Saviatsojak (Razorbills or Tinkers), Appak (Turres or Murres), and Siggolutuk (Puffins). On the way back to town, we visited a large ImikKutailak (Common Tern) colony – which we’ve heard from many Nunatsiavummiut lay the most delicious eggs!
GB → Rigolet →
After our Gannet Islands trip, we boarded a Twin Otter in Goose Bay, bound for the most southern Inuit community in Nunatsiavut, Rigolet. We arrived with warm welcomes and met many people interested in birds. We spent our days observing the local birds, such as Kulelik (Saddlers, Saddlebacks or Greater Black-backed Gull), and had two community meetings, both had a good turnout. We learned lots of interesting things about the local birds and environment from Elsie Wolfrey, Georgina Allen, and many others! We heard about sightings of new bird species being spotted in Rigolet that haven’t been seen before, even birds such as Blue Jays and French Hens (Ruffed Grouse)! The wonderful people of Rigolet also taught us the difference between AKiggik (Brookers or Willow Ptarmigan) and Nitsâtuk (Barreners or Rock Ptarmigan).
From Rigolet, we hopped on to the Northern Ranger to travel to Postville. The community greeted us with open arms and yummy traditional food right on the dock. We arrived in Postville on a whopping 30-degree day, and we were delighted that we had a great turnout (despite the heat), with so many community members excited about our project! Roberta Edmunds shared her knowledge about local songbirds and new visitors she has been seeing over the years and Glen Sheppard told us about the new tame ‘Lesser Geese’ (Lesser Canada Goose) and his first time hunting one. We spent the rest of our time in Postville getting tours around the beautiful town by our wonderful host Jennifer and Tim Poole, observing birds and we even spent a day in the boat with George “Bud” Gear who showed us the best place to go egging for ImikKutailak (a memorable visit to ‘Mosquito Island’) and the surrounding area.
We traveled to Hopedale next. We arrived early in the morning and made our way to the Amaguk Inn. Shortly thereafter, Ian and I took a walk around the town before our meeting to check out the local bird life and the community. We saw Grumpus (Minke Whales) and Harp Seals feeding as well as a crowd of Kulelik close by looking for a snack and a ton of Satsagiak (Common Redpoll). Arriving in Hopedale during the infamous Rhubarb Festival, we had a huge turnout for our meeting where we heard from many community members about their ideas for the book. Myself and Danika Winters talked about bird calls and the difficulty remembering them all, and she has sent in megabytes of amazing pictures of birds from her time on the land!
After Hopedale, we were off to Nain via Twin Otter. We arrived in Nain and spent the morning walking around town and checking out the local bird life. We heard and saw a few kutsitak (White-crowned Sparrow) and Satsagiak (Common Redpoll) while on our tour. At our meeting, we had a small but very enthusiastic crowd! We spent our evening chatting and listening with community members about their ideas for the book and our future trips to town. Ron Webb shared his knowledge about his birding experience and the increase in Canada Geese (including the new ‘Lesser Geese’) seen over the past few years. Gus Dicker shared his hunting knowledge and chuckled at our poster where we called AKiggik (Brookers or Willow Ptarmigan) tame! Peggy Andersen gave us a ton of ideas for planning our future trips and working with Nunatsiavummiut youth to engage more prospective birders to go out on the land. I spent the rest of my time in Nain taking in the beauty of the land and the great people, and hiking with my good friend and photographer, Hamlin Lampe, where we chatted about his interest in birds and he showed me some of his favourite places to photograph them.
After our tour around Nunatsiavut, we arrived back in Goose Bay where we had one final community meeting at CNA with some eager birders and friends. We chatted about birds, our book and our recent experiences hearing from Nunatsiavummiut! We also had some sponsorship for our community meetings; 2 door prizes of a $200 flight voucher donated by PAL Airlines for anyone who came out to talk with us. The winners of these prizes were Augusta Tuglavina from Hopedale and Eldred Allen from Rigolet – congratulations and a big thank you to PAL Airlines for their sponsorship in our project!
We arrived back in St. John’s the following day and are still receiving great information and pictures from our Facebook group (aptly named: A Nunatsiavut Field Guide to the Birds of Labrador) where we stay connected with our knowledge holders and fellow birders! Ian and I would like to express our regret for not being able to visit and speak with community members of Makkovik. We would also like to thank everybody who attended our meetings and are still participating and contributing pictures and information!