Monthly Archives: February 2018

Christmas Bird Count Masset 2017

First there were five unexpected Brant geese feeding on the far shore before they moved across to the Old Massett flats, then there was a flock of Common Redpolls that landed close by, then a Hoary Redpoll appeared, so named because of its whiteness. After thirty-six years compiling the Greater Masset CBC you’d think we’d seen it all, but we haven’t. The Hoary was the first ever for the count. We might not have seen it had we not stopped to exchange sightings with friends along the Stepping Stones trail after we had trekked across the vast expanse of Delkatla in a nippy northeaster with a hint of snow. Although it was cold, the weather didn’t deter the encouraging number of participants that turned out for the day.

Cackling Geese remained in the frosty grass

The 805 Canada Geese that took to the air over us was quite overwhelming. Two Merlins had scooted into the flock and put them all to wing. A Merlin is unlikely to take a goose but it could have some fun at the flock’s expense. While everything exploded around us twenty-three Cackling Geese didn’t bother to fly at all; they just sat in the frosted grass and looked around.

Out on the blustery inlet thirty-two Pigeon Guillemots seemed to forget what time of the year it was and hadn’t gone south. They were in white-and-black winter plumage instead of  black-and-white breeding plumage. A few Marbled Murrelets joined them and one Cassin’s Auklet dashed by, a tiny bullet bird on its way somewhere else. It had obviously lost the flock it should have been with. So tiny, yet so tough.

Pigeon Guillemot in winter

In the ‘warbler copse’ two Yellow-rumped Warblers chirped in the grass before flying into the trees, the only warblers on this count. Although we hadn’t found a wren all morning, fourteen appeared in the afternoon from their grassy shelter in the meadow. The Song Sparrow count of forty was really good given the weather conditions. While the wind blew harshly across town, it was as calm as glass along the Inlet and so quiet we could hear a Black Oystercatcher call across the water.

On our second trip to the point the wind had risen to thirty knots but that was where the Pine Grosbeaks were heard for the second time that day. South along the beach a Peregrine Falcon chased (and almost caught) a Eurasian Collared Dove. Nearby, in the trees sat a fabulous, exotic Brambling, just in time to be counted. It is a much sought-after species in the birding community. It nests in Eurasia and the occasional one turns up at feeders across the country. Haida Gwaii could be called the Brambling capital of Canada as we see more here than anywhere else. The first Canadian record was at John and Jennifer Davies place in Tlell on February 1972, forty-five years ago. And, of added interest, the Hoary Redpoll from the Canadian Arctic Islands is more rare here on island than the Brambling from Asia.

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Christmas Bird Count – Rose Spit 2017

Rose Spit  – There’s no doubt about it, Rose Spit is a desolate, lonely place. The rising sea levels continue to erode the grassy dunes and the east beach is covered with skeletal remains of exposed, long-dead trees. They have been buried for ages and among the ruins lie many plastic drift-net floaters and other detritus. The beaches of Haida Gwaii were among the cleanest in the world over forty years ago. Now, sadly, plastics are everywhere. Sea level rise has also flattened out the beach for a long way although the steep gravel ridges on the margin can still trap the unwary. It has, as the poet Yeats would say, a terrible beauty. Terrible in its dangerous,  steep waves, beautiful in its wild remoteness. Don’t play there on a rising tide.

Rose spit from the air in summer – (c) P. Hamel

Why were we out there in mid-winter? Because bird like it and the Christmas Bird Count takes no prisoners. Over a thousand Common Murres swept by offshore heading east, 611 Sanderlings fed busily on the low beach, a few hundred gulls, mostly Glaucous-winged, surfed beneath the crest of the towering waves to catch the energy between water and air. Two shearwaters soared skywards far offshore, dark silhouettes against the cobalt blue. Birds deserve due credit for resilience, survivability and general toughness.

Pacific and Common Loons rose and fell between the troughs. Were they real? It was hard to tell. Three Red-throated Loons flew by and those natty little Long-tailed Ducks flashed black and white through the scattered sea together with three Ancient Murrelets.

Squall over the dunes (c) M. Hearne

The winds and tides rose together and it was time to get off the windswept beach on this solstice day and check for forest birds. Pacific Wren 14, Golden-crowned Kinglet 15, Varied Thrush 4. One tiny Red-breasted Nuthatch, a few Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos and, just for Christmas, three lovely White-winged Crossbills, only the second record for the Rose Spit Count.  Thanks to Cecil for the use of his little four-seater, to Peter for his knowledge of birds and to Martin for his wisdom and understanding of island weather. Total species: 32; total individuals: 2,104.