Redpolls in the Grass and Swans in the Brook

On the Wing by Margo Hearne: The Christmas Bird Count in Masset was calm and dry and 800 Green-winged Teal fed in Delkatla.

  • Thu Jan 21st, 2016 6:00pm

The Christmas Bird Count in Masset was calm and dry and 800 Green-winged Teal fed in Delkatla. Next day three Eurasian Green-winged Teal fed with them. It is strange how birds will appear either the day before or the day after the count but will hide out when we want to find them. I think they know. But it was a good day. We covered the waterfront, the meadow, the dunes and the forests. It was dry, mild and calm. Who can ask for more?

Our first bird was Raven, queen of the skies. Northwestern Crows flew like so many pieces of ragged black cloth, all 181 of them. Crows have a way of doing that, they are generally a cheerful lot especially when chasing one of the two Sharp-shinned Hawks we saw on the prowl.

At Entry Point a winter-plumaged Pigeon Guillemot floated close to shore and behind it a group of Marbled Murrelets swam in the silent water. There was even ‘a bunch’ of Rhinoceros Auklets, five actually, and nineteen Common Murres. We have a hard time finding one of those species on any given CBC in Masset as they are usually off somewhere else for the winter. There was even a single Ancient Murrelet so the Alcids put on a good show. So did fifty-nine perky little Song Sparrows. They hopped up from the long grass along the dunes, even sang, and a single Hoary Redpoll hopped up with them. It was not in a flock as it should be but fed busily and seemed to know what it was doing. Tim’s Common Redpoll was also alone on the trail back in the boonies and his two Trumpeter Swans were the only ones for the Masset count.

It can be a tough slog out there especially after all the action associated with Christmas but we saw many friends along the way. Small parties of one or two waved at us as we sped along; they were taking an afternoon stroll and counted twelve Steller’s Jays, thirty-six Eurasian Collared Doves and fifty-two Pine Siskins. As we stopped to chat to Martin at a crossroads a Northern Harrier floated by. They are large hawks, mostly dark rusty brown; their prominent white rump-patch separates them from the other raptors here. A Merlin showed its daring ability to cling to the weakest branch on the very tip-top of a hemlock looking out over the 1,800 Dunlin feeding on the beach. Did we have a Red-tailed Hawk, the one that nests here and usually sits on a spruce looking out over the dunes? Yes, we did. Two of them. Did we have a Red-breasted Sapsucker, the one that has clung to a hemlock outside our window for the past week? No we did not. Rats. But we had seventeen flickers and one Hairy Woodpecker so the woodpecker family was well represented.

On the Chown Brook ten little Hooded Mergansers dove and swam. They are the smallest members of the merganser family and as attractive as can be with their chunky bodies and black-and-white crested heads. Feeding with them were eight Ring-necked Ducks and back in town two American Coots fed in a pond near the highway. They are hidden birds, you have to look hard to find them especially when one of the thirty Bald Eagles we saw are on watch. One Greater Yellowlegs added to the shorebird list and two Peregrine Falcons rounded off the day nicely. The Greater Massett count had 86 bird species and eleven people participating; Joyce, Jenny, Tim, Danny, Marg, Sandy, Carey, Martin, Robert, Peter and Margo. Way to go!  Happy New Year.