Weather delays the ferry, interrupts migration, sends birds to places they have never been before and yet somehow, life goes on. Migrants arrive, Sandhill Cranes call from the Sanctuary and robins sing from the bushes. Tree Swallows, the ones with white underneath and dark blue on top are chasing insects through the air. They returned, unerringly, to the nest box they used last year. And there are lots of insects; they hover over beds of storm wrack on the beach where the shorebirds feed.
A few years ago as we crossed Hecate Strait on the ferry in April a friend shouted “look, There’s a tiny bird. Not a seabird!” just as a Townsend’s Warbler landed on deck. It was just the beginning. For the rest of the crossing thrushes, sparrows and more warblers flew alongside the ferry in the storm and wind. A Dark-eyed Junco, the common bird at winter feeders, landed on a garbage container and a Savannah Sparrow (a pale sparrow with a little yellow over its eye) sheltered behind the lockers on deck for most of the journey. It was the first time we’d seen proof positive that forest birds migrate north through Hecate Strait in spring. Presumably they do the same in fall. They also migrate at night. Crew members have told us about the birds that land on deck, particularly on stormy nights when visibility is poor. The ship’s lights attract the exhausted birds, many of whom winter in California, Mexico and further south.
Why do birds migrate? Because they have a better chance of finding food and raising young. “For all birds, one of the principle driving forces behind migration is food scarcity” reads http://www.birding.about.com. “If all birds were to stay in the same tropical regions year-round, food would become scarce and breeding would be less successful. But as food sources are regenerating in the north each spring, millions of birds migrate to those areas to take advantage of the abundance.”
Over 2,500 Lesser Canada Geese landed on island this week. They were persistent. When disturbed they landed out in Skidegate Inlet then returned about ten minutes later. Why? Mainly because the birds were tired and hungry, but also because it was a nice, wide, open field and they could see around them as they fed. Geese like short grass so they can keep an eye out for predators. Once settled, they often stay settled.
When planning airports or airfields on the Pacific Flyway it must be recognized that the birds were here first. Their patterns are ‘locked in’; it is, where they fed before they will return to feed again. They generally won’t leave until either the ice if off the north or they are healthy enough to continue their journey. If disturbed too often, their energies become depleted and they die on arrival on their nesting grounds. The old saying for pilots “take care, we share the air” still holds. Nice, open meadows and grasslands beside airport runways is not good planning. firstname.lastname@example.org