The “bird and muffin” is a unique annual event. It usually happens during the May long weekend, but this year it became a continuation of the recent Masset Lecture “Basically Birds”. The walk occurred last Saturday, eleven people met at the viewing tower overlooking Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary on Tow Hill Road to watch and listen then walked down cemetery road before stopping for coffee and tasty goodies. The youngest birder was four months old, and the oldest was much older. The morning was calm, birds sang and Sandhill Cranes strolled casually across Delkatla meadow. Although they remained in the distance, their rolling, prehistoric call rang out to join the chorus.
Cranes are fascinating. They arrive back around the same time every year, almost to the same place as they were the previous year, and begin their lively territorial ritual. Jump-dancing, circling, opening their wings and generally appearing to be even larger than they already are. After introductions and reminders of who belongs where, nesting pairs move back into MacIntosh Meadows, Kumdis Slough, the Yakoun River Estuary and other flat areas near running water. Pairs create a simple nest on the ground and the season begins anew.
In Delkatla Sandhill Crane numbers increase and decrease throughout the summer, it’s possible that some non-breeding birds simply live there before going south again. One interpretation of the name Delkatla (Dal-kath-lieu) is ‘place of cranes dancing’ a fitting name and the logo of the Delkatla Sanctuary Society.
New birds arrived last week. On an open, low spruce a Lincoln’s Sparrow; in the high conifers, a Hermit Thrush. The Lincoln’s is a small, light-coloured, short-tailed sparrow that nests in clumps of grass in open meadow and muskeg and the Hermit is a larger brown bird with a rusty tail. It sings the sweetest song; it starts on a high note then drops down to a melodious harmonic.
And there they are! Thousands of White-fronted Geese pass overhead laughing in the sun. They weave across the sky and when coming in to land, shape and shadow mix together to create a moving word-picture. One leads, the others follow, yet who follows who when they all take wing as one again to sharpen the sky? In some places they blanket the meadow, moving as one and feeding as they go. They are hungry, it’s a long way from where they were to where they are going. Many simply sit still after landing; they are too tired to do anything else. Some years they don’t land at all and some years they stay for weeks waiting for the north to warm up. Who knows what will happen this year, they are usually in a hurry to get to where they are going and any delay simply throws the whole plan off kilter.
Global warming is a given, there’s lots of photographic evidence to show that the ice caps are melting at an alarming rate (Chasing Ice; documentary with James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey, 2012) but we have no idea how this will affect all those nesting northern birds that rely on the cool tundra and it grasses, bugs and insects. If it warms up and turns to forest, what will they do?