Category Archives: Birds in Summer

Geese in the Meadow

 August 14 2015 – The new moon occurs today. Its will be a ‘full sturgeon moon’ on August 29. It must be good for fish. There are lots of Three-spined Stickleback in Delkatla and they hold against the culvert currents under the Stepping Stones Trail.  The fish don’t have scales but are protected by bony plates on the back, flank and belly. Things still eat them, a recent acquaintance explained that, as a child, he fed some to an injured Mallard and although the bird took a while to get it down, it did manage eventually. So bony plates are only a deterrent, not a guarantee of survival.

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Geese in the meadow, no cows in the corn

A large flock of migrating Northern Pintail showed up this week. They don’t nest here and it’s the first sighting of south-bound birds. They were all either female or juvenile birds. Over 200 Canada Geese returned to the Sanctuary, their numbers may increase over the next few months as those from the north start coming south. It was interesting to see them strip the seeds from the tip of the grass, now at full height, as one might strip a corn-cob. They did it quietly. The island geese are dark and smallish, although larger than the Cackling Geese that will arrive soon.

Out at the water-hole a bunch of testy juncos drove off every other species that came in for a drink. We hadn’t actually noticed this before, perhaps because we hadn’t put bird-seed out for a while, but once the feed was out the juncos claimed ownership of the whole garden and drove off a few sparrows and a thirsty Townsend’s Warbler, the yellow and black one. Well, there’s still lots of wild food crop around so the seed has been stored for later.

Just this morning a family of Golden-crowned Kinglets came in for an undisturbed bath and seemed to enjoy every moment. They are one of the smallest forest birds and one of the earliest nesters. Males have a bright yellow crown and this family looked quite grown up.

Upland Sandpiper MH

Upland Sandpiper MH

Shorebird migration continues. Western and Least Sandpipers flit over the mud-flats and just this week a beautiful and rare sandpiper flew overhead and landed in the meadow beside us. It was an Upland Sandpiper. We only ever see one or two of these birds at a time, they fly alone, not in large flocks as do many of the smaller shorebirds. Although they don’t occur here every year, those that do usually show up in mid-August. Looking back on Peter Hamel’s notes, he has records for the bird appearing on exactly the same day, August 25 in 1994, 1995, 2003 and within the last two weeks in August or early September in other years. Little is known about this bird along the west coast other than that they nest in isolation within mountainous areas in Alaska (Houston and Bowen 2001) and in loose colonies elsewhere. They nest mainly in the prairie provinces of Canada and the great plains of the USA. This bird was a little outside its normal range.

Oystercatchers, Pine Grosbeaks and Bumblebees

On the Wing – July 24 2015

It is calm. Western Sandpipers skitter through the seaweed until a Black Oystercatcher calls the alarm from far down the beach. Panic in the skies. The peregrine is back! It rises from behind the dunes and stoops at the shorebirds who all fly up in a tight flock. It doesn’t get one this time around. It will be back to follow the one weaker bird that falls out from the pack. All the birds are now on high alert. But, they are also hungry, so they take a chance and keep on feeding just ahead of the rising tide.

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Juvenile Pine Grosbeak in Masset

A group of Semipalmated Plovers land. It’s the first evidence that these birds have finished nesting further north and are on their way south. Shorebird behaviour is amazing. They travel in flocks for safety then separate and nest in pairs on the breeding grounds. Then, when it’s all over for the season, they gather in flocks again and move south. There’s safety in numbers.

The Black Oystercatcher is a lovely, odd-looking creature. It is completely black except for its long red bill and pink legs. It nests on some of the islets on Haida Gwaii and usually hatches only one or two young. Its camouflage is perfect. On rocky islets it simply sits immobile on the nest. It too migrates along the coast to its nesting grounds. We once watched an adult oystercatcher chase off a juvenile bald eagle that seemed to be after its chick. After flying in the face of the eagle the much smaller oystercatcher flew out over the water to draw the big bird away. The chase was on! The oystercatcher was too agile and adept for the big bird which eventually flew off in search of more sedentary prey.

A family of Pine Grosbeaks arrived in the garden this week. Dry-feathered and thirsty they drank and splashed in the water watched by a pair of young robins and a thrush. The grosbeaks took their time, they had been circling the area all summer, occasionally singing their own particular, sweet song. Grosbeaks in winter are fairly tame and don’t always fly off then approached, but these summer birds stayed out of sight. We had never seen fledged young grosbeaks here before, it was quite a find.

Bumble bee gathering nectar from our honeysuckle

Bumble bee gathering nectar from our honeysuckle

Bumble bees have have wings. They are small, colourful insects that gather nectar from flowers to take back to the nest. There is not a lot of information about them in North America and the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa is working in partnership with other organizations to gather more information. Bees are essential for pollinating the foods we eat and, like most wild species, are losing ground. It’s been a good year for bumble bees here this year, many have commented on their numbers throughout the islands. The project organizers want bee photos. Their web page: bumblebeewatch.org has more information on this interesting project.

Semipalmated Plovers and Goldeneye chicks

On the Wing – June 26 2015. It’s hard to believe, but the southbound migration is underway! We are only past midsummer and already the first wave of Western Sandpipers are feeding on the beach. Some of the bigger shorebirds have only just gone north. The beach contains a myriad of small bugs to attract the migrant wanderer; when the tide falls and wracks of seaweed lie on the crown they contain a wealth of foodstuffs. Not my cup of tea perhaps, but essential nutrients for the survival of the little critters. The full moon is July 1 with attendant big tides so there should be lots of goodies for birdy dinners.

Incidentally, the ‘full buck moon’ was July 1, and the ‘full thunder moon’ will be on July 31. When a second full moon occurs in the same month it’s called a blue moon which is pretty rare, there was none last year and the next one won’t be until 2017. Birds probably don’t care, they follow their own pathways.

Semipalmated Plover and Chick. Photo: M. Hearne

Semipalmated Plover and Chick. Photo: M. Hearne

It’s been a successful nesting season. Semipalmated Plover chicks are running on the beaches doing their best to escape the vehicles and dogs that seem to grow in number every year. The plovers nest above the high tide line in the dry logs and gravel and below the grass line. It’s a particular ecosystem; nests used to be found approximately every 150 metres  between Skonun Point and the Sangan River and beyond that out to Yakan Point. It’s been a few years since surveys were done. Although the plovers can still be seen, the two nests by Skonun have long gone, as have the nesting Oystercatchers near the rocks. Heavy traffic on the high beach took them out years ago.

Ducklings are swimming behind their mama in some of the bigger lakes on island. A family of Barrow’s Goldeneye has successfully hatched, six tiny morsels trying to dive. They are so lightweight that they hardly break the surface and bob up like corks within seconds. They’re only a week to ten days old. The interesting thing about goldeneyes is that they nest high in the trees so it’s a long way for those tiny ducklings to fall before running to the lake waters. They can only survive the drop because they’re almost as light as air.

Barrows Goldeneye with chicks. Photo: M. Hearne

Barrow’s Goldeneye with chicks. Photo: M. Hearne

Other hatchlings include Barn Swallows, Song Sparrows, robins, thrushes, sapsuckers (now liking the flowering Hawthorne) warblers and Sooty Grouse. Belted Kingfishers dart to and fro, one slammed into the window so hard this week that we thought it must surely die. It was being chased, we heard the ruckus, then the bang. It lay in the flower-bed panting and totally stressed. After placing it gently in a box and leaving it undisturbed for an hour or so it began to peck loudly, so we checked it out and let it go. Off it went in a blaze of blue and black.

Flo Perdue left town recently. She had lived in Masset for over forty years and was a great friend of the Sanctuary. She spent many hours watching birds and she and her late husband Don donated a spotting scope and binoculars to the Nature Centre at Delkatla. She was a faithful attendant at every Society AGM and always provided support, ideas and suggestions for its success. Society members miss her and wish her every success in her new place down south.

Summer Fledglings

On the Wing – June 12 2015

Migration has slowed right down. Most of the birds here right now are either on the nest or are particularly busy feeding the young. The fledglings call constantly for food and many juncos and sparrows skip through the tall grass following their parents. It’s tough out there, suddenly, after sitting on eggs for between two and three weeks there’s a whole brood of five to six mouths to feed and keep feeding. Both parents get into the act, its essential for survival.

Of course, not every species sticks around to feed the young. Many shorebirds chicks are precocious, that is, they leave the nest in one or two days and start running around finding the softest mud and the best eating. A week or so later mom heads south. The theory is that her departure is one less mouth to feed and there’s more food for the chicks. Dad keeps an eye on the young, then he leaves and the little ones have to not only fend for themselves, but find their own way south when the wind change. It’s quite a system. The young gather in flocks and move right along. Apart from the fact that there is safety in numbers, there is clearly a collective instinct which works better than just one bird trying to find its own way.

Out in the meadow right now tiny youngsters are sticking pretty close to their parents. One false move and they are food for a travelling raven. Their strategy is to freeze completely when danger threatens while mama Killdeer shrieks around the place, dragging its wings and flashing its very bright orange tail. How can an enemy miss that? On the Killdeer goes, looking very near death, then, as soon as it’s faked the threat away from the chicks, it flies off. Beautiful!

Sandhill Cranes on Haida Gwaii. Photo: M. Hearne

Sandhill Cranes on Haida Gwaii. Photo: M. Hearne

Fluffy, golden Sandhill Crane chicks are out and about now too. They are tiny but busy. They too leave the nest after a day or so and are sticking really closes to mom and dad as they feed on roots and shoots and small fish in some of the creeks draining into Delkatla. It’s actually a bit of a surprise to see cranes strolling through the shallow water, but they are possibly chasing sculpin, shrimp and other small amphipods. They need the protein, in a couple of months they have to be up to speed and muscle to fly south to their wintering territory in northern Mexico and the southern U.S. One meaning for Delkatla is ‘place of cranes dancing’ which is both fitting and poetic.

Good news on the injured eagle from last week. Our neighbour, who had picked up the bird after it hit a building, sent it out to a wildlife rehab centre in the southern mainland. The news is that, although it was stunned and shaken, it hadn’t suffered any serious internal injury and was likely to make a full recovery. It was one of the lucky ones.

And the bird fighting its reflection in the window? After putting soap on the window to break the reflection of the (probably) Song Sparrow hitting his window he wrote to say that “the soap worked brilliantly. I didn’t need very much at all, just some streaking to break up the bird’s reflection. On my kitchen windows I found the Venetian blinds (pulled down, but open for light) also work great!”