Monthly Archives: August 2019

Geese in the Meadow, Swallows in the Sky

 August 18 2017 The overcast weather has brought them down. Small shorebirds land and feed in the soft mud and the Canada Geese create a ruckus in the long grass. Some sit along the edge of the water like so many tame waterfowl, but tame they are not. These are wild geese that nest near the ponds and lakes on island. They have returned to the Sanctuary both from the moult and from the nesting season. Their numbers don’t seems to increase, one would think that, as downy young are often seen with their parents in late July – early August, there would be more of them by now, yet each year numbers remain somewhere between 120 and 160.  Predators take their toll of course. Raccoons, which were introduced during the depression, are a major threat to their survival. Geese nest on the ground, in a grass hollow, so the birds are easy prey. To my knowledge there have been no attempts to lower the population of raccoons on the main islands so they continue to thrive. They also take Sooty Grouse eggs and chicks which has put them on the ‘threatened’ species list, a sad situation for what was once a thriving grouse population, especially on Graham Island.

Which brings me to the ‘naming of names’ which I mentioned in an earlier column. Who was Graham and why is the island named after him? According to Dalzell (1973) Sir James Robert Graham was the first Lord of the British Admiralty from 1852 to 1855.  He did not have a naval career and never went to sea. When Commander James Prevost of the Virago was doing the first hydrographic survey of the island waters in 1853 he named the island after him. It was the first oceanographic survey ever undertaken in these waters.

The Canada Geese, of course, are oblivious to all that and don’t give a toss. They know where they come from as they graze on grass-seeds and wait for the tide. They nested in the high muskeg off White Creek, Kliki Damen, and other muskeg bogs. This year’s summer rain was good for the bog-lands; during last year’s especially dry summer many of the smaller water-holes dried out completely and even some of the larger lakes were considerably diminished. They have now been replenished; into every sunshine a little rain must fall.

There’s a commotion in the sky. A Sharp-shinned Hawk is after the Barn Swallows. And now the swallows are after the hawk. There are enough of the little birds to mount a strong offensive so the hawk flies on to friendlier skies. The nestlings at Jenny’s house are doing fine, all three of them. They should be fledged in about another week and they will join the group that has been flitting through the grey sky this week. Parents are feeding young on the wing as they dance through the sky.

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Rain Squalls and Robins

August 2 2019 – Geese fly overhead. The local Canada’s had been gone for over a month, either nesting or moulting, and now they’re back in the Sanctuary. Somehow, every year, they manage to return on either the July 23 or 24. The birds have their habits and stick to them. These are the island fulva, a little smaller and a little darker than many of the migrants that will show up later.

How lucky we are to live on this lovely blue planet where the seas and rivers run freely and the rain falls when it wants to – as it did this week. We were out and about looking for migrant birds and watched a shower approach from the southwest. Heavy drops bounced off the tarmac, but, as the wind was blowing from the southeast, we thought (hoped) that it would hold right there and not reach us. Nope. It reached us and didn’t let up. After getting thoroughly soaked we returned to the vehicle and ran into a major flock of robins that the weather had brought down. The birds had bumped up against the southeasterly and landed. It was a phenomenon. Over 250 birds skipped along the fence line or landed in the wet grass. They were both excited and agitated as the unexpected squall had delayed their passage to the warm south.

book cover scanned

We have no idea how many landed all the way down the west coast, thousands perhaps, but unexpected weather can certainly change everyone’s plans. The birds were all this year’s young; they hadn’t turned completely red yet, many were spotted and looked a bit like European Song Thrushes although their reddish plumage was showing through. Getting caught in the centre of a mini-cyclone was an educational experience.

So, the early migrant birds are showing up. Flocks of Western and Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, dowitchers, Black and Ruddy Turnstones. Out in Delkatla recently the smaller Lesser Yellowlegs were the bird of the day. They have long yellow legs but a shorter bill and seem quicker on the run than Greater Yellowlegs, their near relative. Greater’s nest on island, the young of the year are out and about, almost as big as their parents. They feed along the water’s edge in the upper sloughs.

The adult Bald Eagles down the road wait noisily for their young to leave the nest. They have been on guard all summer and occasionally crash through the trees to take a fish from the river. In these, the dog days of summer, its a good time to hang out and enjoy what summer days on Haida Gwaii have to offer. Sometimes even the birds sit still once the rain stops.