Monthly Archives: October 2018

Night Migration and Crane Colours

Night Migration and crane colours

A small flock of White-fronted geese flew over this week. It’s the first group we’ve seen this fall; the usual skeins that laugh and call overhead have not yet materialised. When we used to walk our dog at midnight we’d often hear the birds coming in from the storm to land in Delkatla. It was both eerie and heartening – good to know they were still around and strange to think that they’d be in the air in the middle of the night.

It’s been a debate among some naturalists as to whether or not some birds actually migrate at night. Of course, we know the small ones do, sadly, they die by the thousand from hitting the city lights at night. But the big ones? Some years ago, when we were doing the Breeding Bird Atlas, we reported on the Sandhill Cranes that flew through the mountain passes in Smithers during spring migration. When we visited there in spring their calls would wake us up as they flew low over the town. When we reported this the editors questioned whether or not cranes migrated at night and wondered if, in fact, we were hearing things. We were. Just last week some visitors from Smithers told us how they would hear Sandhill Cranes throughout the night during migration almost every year. They were hearing things too.

Sandhill Crane family

Sandhill Cranes in Masset

And, speaking of cranes, they seem to have gone south. The last sighting was on Thanksgiving weekend when, what was possibly a family of three, were seen along the banks of the Chown River and the flock that fed with the cattle in the farm north of Port Clements were gone by the first week in October. They had been a source of keen interest and excitement for many island visitors who had never seen cranes before. There they were, just beside the highway, visible for all to see. The cranes natural grey feathering had returned before they left after we had become accustomed to seeing them brownish-red all summer. Apparently, they preen by rubbing mud on their feathers.  The mud is usually reddish here from the iron-rich soil and the brown drainage from the muskeg bogs. The feathers soak up the mud’s color like a sponge and it lasts all summer. Cranes might do this as camouflage during the nesting season to help them hide as they sit on the nest. After nesting season the rusty red wears off and the bird’s grey colouring returns.

Some years ago, the West Coast Crane Working Group (WCC) from Washington were interested in the cranes of Haida Gwaii; they thought the ones that nested here were black, but they are not. We still don’t know where ‘our’ cranes come from or where they go in winter; none of the cranes the WCC banded showed up here although they nested along the mainland coast.

A chill wind is blowing again. The dreaded northeaster. Birds hunker together as the sanctuary waits to give them shelter from the storm.alg Delkatla Landscape

Everyone is their way to somewhere else

April 27 2018 – Migration is in full swing. The phenomenon observed this week from the ferry showed once again that in spite of wind and weather the show goes on. Thousands of Canada Geese flew north, sometimes joined by smaller teal, wigeon, shovellers and mallard. They all came along for the ride knowing there’s safety in numbers. Hundreds of White-winged Scoters swept away from the water as the ferry moved along. They lifted from the blue water, clean and stark in their black-and-white boldness. They were beautiful, as were the tiny phalaropes that dipped and circled and landed in the water ahead of us. Phalaropes are probably the only shorebird in the world that land in deep water. They spin and drift along the tide lines and show that they too can migrate in flocks and have to get somewhere important.img_1874.jpg

Out in the deeps the Sooty Shearwater, back from their nesting grounds in the southern seas, swept up from the calm waters in their concentrated ability to stay just barely above the surface, riding that ephemeral space between sea and air.

Both ferry crossings, Tuesday and Thursday, were busy and exciting and we had perfect weather. In fact, said the crew, Tuesday was the first calm crossing they had in quite some time. We were lucky. So were the tiny Fork-tailed Storm Petrels. They have a particular way of appearing to fall sideways then right themselves as they keep pace with the wave beneath them. They are tiny and grey and often hard to see in the hazy blue light we had Thursday, so maybe they weren’t there at all, we had just dreamed them.

We hadn’t dreamed the whales, they were just inside the bar and their activities attracted the cormorants that hang on to the can-buoys with the skin of their feet.  The cone-shaped buoy doesn’t seem to have anything to cling to; maybe a limpet or two had stuck to the surface and given them a toe-hold. There were shearwaters with the whales; they are all after the food that the ocean provides._MG_7148

Back on land twenty-five Marbled Godwits fed in Delkatla. They moved along a sandbar in the main channel and, as the tide rose, stayed as long as they could until the water began to wash over their knees. Unlike their tiny phalarope kin, godwits don’t generally swim.  Two Greater Yellowlegs fed nearby a little later than usual. The yellowlegs nest here in small numbers, but the majority travel further north and east before settling down for the season.  And, hot off the press, a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese just landed in the Sanctuary, the first of the season.