A very welcomed sunny break for the birds

On the wing by Margo Hearne: Repeated southeasterlies have worn everyone out and they’re glad of a sunny break.

  • Fri Feb 26th, 2016 10:00am
  • News

A low fog hangs over the water and the birds are quiet.  Repeated southeasterlies have worn everyone out and they’re glad of a sunny break. No-one seems to be going anywhere.  The heron continues to stalk the shallows waiting for little fish to swim into its shade and the eagle sits high on the highest tree in expectation of lunch. I’ve often wondered how birds know when they’re not on the menu; sometimes at low tide the shorebirds, ducks and gulls feed close to the big guy without so much as a feather moving. Its all very mysterious. Just now an eagle flies in and lands beside a large flock of teal. Nobody moves, if one did, it could be its last flight. True, eagles are more into scavening than killing live things, but the risk is there as they will take the weaker member of a flock.

Speaking of Green-winged Teal, not all are created equal. Most of those lining the bank at low tide in the Sanctuary are the North American species, however, occasionally mixed with the flock are one or two Eurasian or Common Teals. They look very much alike, bird-books say that female birds are ‘not reliably distinguishable’ in the field, but the male birds are. Instead of a vertical white side-bar, Common Teals have a horizontal white side-bar. They also have clearly defined white lines between the red and the green head patterns. One or two have been seen in the Sanctuary for over thirty-years so they are not new but it is possible that they are interbreeding;  some males have both a vertical and a horizontal white side-bar. Last week we found two Common Teals, one was definitely an ‘intergrade’ or mix of both.

A large flock of Black-bellied Plovers wintered over and amazingly, the Pacific Golden Plover is still with them. Over the grass they wheel, the tide is high and there’s nothing left on the beach so they hunker down and absorb all that food they had when the tide was out.

Out over the water, flocks of scoters gather. Black Scoters have a long, lonesome wail that carries across the water and Surf Scoters, the ones with a clear white patch on the back of the neck, have a croaky growl not usually heard here. They all feed close to the rocks where the waters churn and Harlequin Duck gather.

The tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet was the first first song-bird to sing this year. They usually call their high, thin ‘seee’ when foraging in winter flocks, but now they are separating and singing their territorial song, equally high and thin, just more of it. A migrant robin, bright and cheerful, was alone in the meadow so more will be on along soon. So, despite the stormy weather, spring is on its way. The days are longer, daffodils are budding, crocus and primroses are in flower and the cotoneaster berries are now a deep red which means that birds, especially robins, will eat them all in the next few months.

Email Margo Hearne at

hecatebird@gmail.com