Greater Massett Count December 2012
The day before the count was lovely. The sea was like glass, the wind was down and it was as dry as a Spanish summer. We lagged along the gravel beach counting Rhinocerous Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots. Pacific Loons visited offshore and two little grey birds sat like bumps on the offshore bar. They looked like Black-bellied Plovers and sure enough, when we got the scope on them, that’s what they were. The sun set in a peaceful milk-rose sky to the beat of a ravens wings.
Sunset over the Inlet
The day of the count, however, was a blast. Rain dashed against the windows and gusts of wind set the trees dancing. Where we had strolled the day before was now a maelstrom of seething seas. The howling winds had swept away our plan to check out the beach first thing. Instead, while Martin stalwartly strode through the forest listening for any song-birds he could hear above the noise, we drove to the seaplane spit and circled the sanctuary to both stay in shelter and count as many birds as possible, tucked, as they were, out of the storm.
Shorebirds in the surf
A surprise Greater Yellowlegs, which hadn’t been seen all winter, fished in the shallows for stickleback and, in the midst of the feeding teal, two Long-billed Dowitchers hurried through the flock as the tide fell. An amazing 127 Gadwall was the highest number seen here for a long while and two Eurasian Wigeon showed their handsome heads alongside their American cousins. We did go to the beach eventually, we couldn’t wimp out, and found some of the same species we had seen the evening before but the bloom was off the rose. Harlequin Ducks are as pretty as anything but even they appeared colourless in the gritty gale. Seventeen Western Gulls fed with 170 Black Turnstones at Skonun Point and two Red-throated Loons fed offshore. We were doing better than expected, however it was time to change into dry clothes and grab a bite to eat. As we snacked on sandwiches and sipped hot coffee Martin hurried in to discuss a bird he had just seen with a Mallard flock in the back ponds. It was different. White like the snow still left on some of the shaded rocks and with two black lines running up its back. Given his observant description it may have been Smew! Possibly the only one in North America! Wow! (Detailed description on CBC AB).
Out we went again, full of hope, and met a birding party on the Stepping Stones Trail, and well, dang, if a little two-year old girl could walk through the rain looking for birds with her parents, all things were possible. We also heard that seven-year old Angela was counting jays and robins with her Granda and Kokom.
In Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary two very late Lincoln’s Sparrows flitted skittishly through the low grass and six White-winged Crossbills arrayed themselves to be counted at New Town. Peter found the Redhead duck we had seen the day before and added more diving ducks to our days list. The rain stopped around 4 pm just as it started to get dark.
When the sun came out and the sky cleared next day many birds we had missed the day before came out to feed and call, including a nuthatch, brown creeper and a Hairy Woodpecker. Martin, off near the waters edge, waved and pointed at some birds on the grass. Peter and I edged forward and there they were. Five pale Red-throated Pipits feeding furtively in the frosty grass. As we got closer they all took wing with only one call, not at all the ‘pip-it’ we hear from American Pipits. We all saw them – all five of them, flying low and away from us. Did we get a photo? No. They didn’t stay around long enough. It has been a most amazing fall and winter for birds on Haida Gwaii.