Monthly Archives: April 2017

April 21 2017 Action Central in the Wild

The sea is the great provider. Now the Shearwaters from Australia and New Zealand are out in Hecate Strait again in spite of the big seas this past week. Hundreds of them soar over the waves, black silhouettes against the grey sea.  They have come a long way and many will stay for the summer.

It’s a busy time of year. Migrant shorebirds landed in Delkatla this weekend including twenty-one Marbled Godwits, those tall shorebirds with long upturned bills. They fed voraciously along Masset Inlet beach, their long bills probing deeper than the Short-billed Dowitchers nearby. Black-bellied Plovers ran beside them and busy flocks of Dunlin swept in and landed in the soft sand. Across the Inlet flocks of Brant flowed over the beach as the tide fell; they arrived in early April and will be gone by early May. Spring is here; even the little female Song Sparrow in the garden is fluttering its wings alluringly. Her mate hops down from a nearby bush, they do their mating thing and before you know it, eggs will hatch as the cycle begins again.

Marbled Godwits feeding in Masset Photo: P. Hamel

A Red-breasted Sapsucker jumped into the birdbath and washed furiously. Water splashed everywhere as the bird kept a wary eye out for predators on the prowl. Wet birds are vulnerable and this one didn’t linger long in the tub. Off it went, then a tiny Brown Creeper moved in, flitted to the water and then back to the huge spruce.

Brown Creeper in Sitka Spruce. Photo: M. Hearne

The bird is almost the same colour as the bark and nearly invisible. Last year a fledged creeper came to the bird-bath, perhaps it will again this year. What’s so interesting
about all this visible bird activity so close to the house is that, during the years when we had Alice the cat, the birds stayed away.  Although Alice lived indoors she probably exuded an odour invisible to us that repelled the birds. Perhaps, also, there was more than one cat in the vicinity, cats attract other cats, even those that sit inside glass patio doors.

Back at sea Black-legged Kittiwakes soar beside the shearwaters. They are dainty black-and-white gulls. Most of the ones beside the ship are juveniles similar to those that wintered near the ferry landing in Skidegate last winter. There were hardly any kittiwakes this year.

BL Kittiwake in Hecate Strait. M. HearneWhere did all the herring go? The wings of juvenile kittiwakes have black leading edges; they also have a small black half-circle behind the eye so they stand out from the other gulls nearby. They ride the air currents above the busy sea and keep pace with the ferry as it moves smartly along. The bridge crew wants to get in from the weather and give the passengers a comfortable ride. It all ends well.

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April 7 2017 Swans in the Storm

The three Tundra Swans were tucked into themselves as a storm raged around them. Our neighbour, who lived overlooking Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary, was concerned and wondered if they needed help. It was a valid concern, birds need our help more and more, but this time it was best to leave them be. The swans were totally exhausted and needed to rest. That what they did. It’s what sanctuaries are for; places to rejuvenate before moving on. They are usually a temporary reprieve and this time was no exception; the birds were up and moving next afternoon and then they they were gone.

Tundra Swans in Delkatla

Across Masset Inlet, also in the shelter, eleven more Tundras lay like mounds of snow on the high beach. They were also tucked in and they too have since left, unlike the busy flock of Brant geese that now feed out there as the tide falls. It’s April and things are on the move.

In Delkatla’s channels a large flock of Green-winged Teal feed. Are they the same birds that we’ve seen all winter? They look the same, all ducks of the same species seem the same to us (I suspect that we all look the same to them too) but among them was an Eurasian Green-winged Teal with a white horizontal line instead of a vertical one on its side. Its the first we’ve seen all winter and points to the likelihood that the teal that wintered are filtering away and the ones from the south are dropping in. It’s all go.

Green-winged Teal in Delkatla

Big excitement in our garden just before the southeaster hit last week. A hummingbird landed on the tip-top of a nearby bush. It was an Anna’s Hummingbird, the first we’ve ever seen in Masset. It sat for some time and we both had a good look at it. A few Anna’s wintered over in Sandspit and are still there but this one was definitely a surprise. Then friends in Skidegate posted a super photo of a Rufous Hummingbird which had just arrived there (thanks Mary!) and we had a call from friends along Tow Hill Road who now have a Rufous Hummingbird that’s staying around. Our Anna’s was a one-shot wonder and hasn’t been seen since.

Rufous Hummingbird

As mentioned above Brant geese are feeding on the Maast Island flats. There used to be a wintering flock there around thirty years ago but, unlike at Sandspit where large flocks feed in the intertidal all winter, the Maast Island ones have gone. Numbers at Sandspit increased dramatically this week. There were over 1,600, but numbers in Masset are still down; it’s early days yet.

Brant Geese; all photos copyright MH

Many Brant, known as the sea-goose of the Pacific, were banded in the early 1990’s. We discovered that most of those that fed in Haida Gwaii in spring were on their way to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on the Bering Sea after stopping off at Izembek Lagoon, Alaska. From there they spread out along the northern reaches, even as far as Wrangel Island, Siberia and the Canadian Arctic. The birds of the world come and go, seasons change and its Easter Sunday already. Have a happy one.

April 14 2017 Spring Birds Return

Tree Swallows are back, twittering over the dunes. It’s been a week of new arrivals. Townsends Warblers sing faintly in the trees, an Orange-crowned Warbler flits and dives into the underbrush and Rufous Hummingbirds appear island-wide. The big birds, Sandhill Cranes, have landed in Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary. They are home again after their long voyage. It’s been that kind of week. Out over the intertidal flats flocks of Brant geese rise and fall. They are a phenomenon; over two thousand birds wait for the tide to fall so that they can feed on eelgrass. They are at both Skidegate and Masset Inlets, what a treasure it is to have such places for these wild and lovely birds.

Haida Gwaii comes into its own in spring. There are very few places like it on the BC coast and to see all that action, all those new arrivals quite makes the heart sing. It’s a reminder that, even with the long, cold winter we’ve had, spring always arrives without fanfare and completely out of our control. You’ve got to love it. When all seems lost, knowing that the natural world does its thing without us is wonderfully liberating.

And it’s been a sad year of loss. Our good friend Bryan Lowry who probably had the best bird feeder on island, even set the standard for feeders in a poor year, passed away last Thursday. He was up and at it every morning, sorting seed, building a fine, protected place for birds to feed and watching from his front window almost hourly for anything that came by. He had six species of sparrow in his garden this winter; two Savannahs, two Lincoln’s, four White-crowned, five White-throated, four Golden-crowned and four Song. In St. Mark’s Church Park nearby him a really rare Rustic Bunting fed and Townsend’s and Myrtle Warblers dipped through the trees. Not far away robins and Varied Thrushes sang in the early morning and Trumpeter Swans called out across the Yakoun Estuary. Bryan was in the centre of it all, quietly going about his business. His son, also Bryan, helped out. He loved the life he lived although he really missed his wife Adelia after she was moved to a long-term care facility a few years ago. He always phoned my husband Peter to tell him when something different came along and since a Brambling from Asia was one of his visitors on more than one occasion, Peter was always happy to drop in and say hello. We wish his family the very best at this sad time.

Sue Couch was always a cheerful presence in Port Clements. She participated in the Christmas Bird Counts, watched birds from her window and enjoyed the short time she had with us on island. Sue also left us last November and a lovely memorial was held for her this week. We remembered her help at the Delkatla Nature Centre and her love for the birds around her. Goodbye to Sue, we miss her gentle smile.

So Spring is here, the birds are arriving back, the wind is from the south and Brant geese continue to move through in large, laughing flocks. Long may they continue.