Monthly Archives: June 2014

Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary

A Sanctuary for all time

Gathering the Land Together

Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary was just a piece of real estate until Sam Simpson, long-time resident of Masset and one of the true conservationists in the days when no such word existed, recognized the importance of keeping wild places, not only for wildlife and their habitat, but also for the sake of our human souls. In January 1958, he convinced the members of the Masset Rod and Gun Club to put their heads together and their hands in their pockets to prevent Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary from being privatised. His idea to purchase the land took wing and the list of Masset residents who contributed reads like a “who’s who” of Masset. This purchase allowed the local members of the Masset Rod and Gun Club to continue hunting on Delkatla, however when Masset became an incorporated area, hunting gradually ceased. In 1969, The Masset Rod and Gun Club gave its land, conditionally, to the Village of Masset stating that “the land hereby conveyed is to be used as a Wildlife Sanctuary and Park Recreational Area, provided the recreational use of the area is not detrimental to the wildlife.” In 1974, the Department of National Defence gave a further portion of land for wildlife protection and the Provincial Government added a further parcel. Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary is now protected by land covenants and title deeds in perpetuity.

Famous People, Famous Birds – R.M. (Ronnie) Stewart lived adjacent to the Wildlife Sanctuary in the 40’s and 50’s kept records of the birds of Delkatla. He also helped to persuade people not to shoot the migrant ducks and geese that landed there. The first Steller’s Eider for BC was taken at Delkatla in 1948. The specimen is in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Canon John Henry Keen also lived adjacent to Delkatla from 1890 to 1897 and discovered the first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper for Canada. He was the first to document the birds of Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands. Allan Brooks studied the spring shorebird migration in Delkatla in 1920.

Changing Times – In 1964, when the military expanded, they removed the original wooden bridge into Masset and replaced with a causeway which blocked tidal access to the Wildlife Sanctuary. This dramatically altered the intertidal habitat and fresh-water plants began to take over the wetlands. The causeway remained intact until February 1995 when, following a major fund-raising effort, $1 million was raised to breach the causeway and build a small bridge.  Delkatla was restored as tidal estuary.

Individuals, foundations, government and non-government agencies all contributed to the restoration of Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary. Major changes have occurred since tidal waters were restored. Much of the freshwater growth has disappeared and spruce and alder no longer grows there. Juncus Effucus which grew prolifically, disappeared from the meadows and there’s been a dramatic increase in waterfowl use.

In November 1997, the numbers of green-winged Teal increased to 1,600 from a previous winter average of 80. Over thirty Sandhill Cranes spend the summer there and shorebird usage increases yearly. The Nature Centre at Delkatla was opened in 2002 to increase our understanding of the human and natural history of Delkatla.

Birds seen annually in the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary – Great Blue Heron, Trumpeter Swan, Canada Goose, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Pintail, American Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red Tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Sandhill Crane, Black-bellied Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short and Long-billed Dowitcher, Mew Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Rufous Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Red-shafted Flicker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Steller’s Jay, Northwestern Crow, Common Raven, Chestnut-backed Chikadee, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Varied Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin.

Rare Sightings: Cattle Egret, Bar-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper, Smith’s Longspur and Brambling. (A complete checklist of birds is available at the Nature Centre).

You can help the Nature Centre at Delkatla by donating via Paypal.

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Massive Migration


White-fronted Geese, Photo: M. Hearne

Over 42,000 Greater White-fronted Geese, Skidwin, flowed from the sky and landed on the coast of Haida Gwaii on April 29 2014. The big southeaster of the previous day had held them up further south and when the storm abated they came here, exhausted and hungry. They were only here because of the weather and were heading towards the huge Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta north of the Aleutian Islands. They stood on the spit as the tide rose, landed in the meadows of Tlell as the river ran and rode the waters of the Yakoun Estuary as they waited for the weather to change. In Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary they were probably at their most tranquil on a foggy evening where they fed quietly.

White-fronted Geese and Brant Photo: M. Hearne

If the birds couldn’t continue and didn’t get a chance to rest and feed they would simply die of hunger and exhaustion when they arrive on their nesting grounds. They are on a mission to get home to start the next generation and don’t really want to be here. It’s not the first time such flocks have been seen along the Pacific coast.  At Port Hardy on Sept 30 1938 “10,000 flew over with more passing over all night and flock after flock seen on the ground.”

It is common Haida knowledge that during spring migration White-fronted Geese don’t fly against North-west or Westerly winds. In such high pressure systems there have been two such fallouts since 2000, but nowhere near the number seen this week. Between April 26-May 9 2002 15,071 were counted and between April 24-May 2 2009 some 15 to 20,000 were seen. The flock seen on Haida Gwaii last week was a once in fifty-year, possibly once in a hundred year, phenomenon.

Migrating birds are a force of nature, like earth and air, wind and fire. When 20,000 land in an airfield you can’t keep them away; you can only keep away from them. If we want to co-exist, we could try to let things be for a little while. They are the most harmless of beings; all they want to do is stay alive. The birds landed on Tuesday morning and were nearly all gone by Wednesday afternoon.  Numbers included 20,335 at Sandspit, 800 at the Honna Estuary; 7,032 opposite the parks office in Tlell, 10,000 on the flats below Sitka Studios, 3,200 at the Yakoun River and 700 in Delkatla. They had come from The Central Valley, California and were on their way to the Yukon Delta. The total population of the Greater White-fronted Geese, ‘Anser albifrons, frontalis, Pacific’ is estimated at 433,900.  We had 10% of the Pacific population here on Haida Gwaii for two days.