A Red-breasted Sapsucker (Francesco Veronesi/Flickr photo).

On the Wing: Bats, birds, and black westerlies

“‘Black westerlies’ keep the sea dark and churning, and the fog seemed to have teeth…”

By Margo Hearne

A bat flitted through a piece of sky bordered by forest leaves. It kept flitting in and out, darting and diving in the twilight. We hadn’t seen any recently, although one has taken up roost at the nature centre and leaves mouse-like droppings on the ground.

Bats usually like old snags and trees with loose bark, and can fit into the tiniest of chinks. They help keep the fly population down. There are a few species of bat on-island — the one outside the window was most likely a Little Brown Bat, although we can’t be sure. At one time there was a whole colony of them around the house, then the old snag went and they seemed to disappear. No more bats trapped in the firebox after falling down the chimney, no more eerie weirdness seeing a bat panic in the bedroom. They are furry little fliers, unlike the feathered singers around right now. If you like birds around the house, plant a forest! This morning almost every forest-nesting species sang or flew around and sometimes it feels as though we are living in a treehouse and have to act before roots start to grow through the floor.

So what’s out there right now? Well, the Red-breasted Sapsucker, that dashing woodpecker with the bright red head, comes daily for a bath. It makes all kinds of racket to let everyone know it’s there. Soaked, it flies to the local hawthorne and preens frantically before slapping against the hemlock it likes so much and preens some more. It knows it has to get into cover quickly — it’s an easy target when wet. The Swainson’s Thrush returned this week. It called “whit” from the trees, then next evening its downward spiralling song began. Its song will warm up in the next few days, but its already setting up house and foraging nearby. The Pacific-slope Flycatcher is calling its two note whistle, it sounds a little like someone calling a dog. A Golden-crowned Kinglet sings its incredibly high-pitched, short song which can barely be heard above the wind in the trees.

What a wind! A couple weeks ago it swept in, blew through us, and then kept going to the mainland interior where it took out all the lights. Brisk northwesterlies are the norm for May. When Masset held its Harbour Days on the long weekend, the northwesters often blew in from Wiah Point. It’s a dry wind, but when it switches to westerly we get a dark fog that hangs around all day.

“Black westerlies” keep the sea dark and churning, and the fog seemed to have teeth when it enveloped us while we fished the points at Shag Rock and the Conachies in the days of our youth. Our boat used to bounce around and make working the gear hard and dangerous. The only sheltered spot was at Coho Point, Langara Island. The commercial trollers all went there before Andrew and Coho Points were given to the sport lodges and drove the trollers out.

It’s also where the Rhinocerous Auklets came to feed in the early morning or late evening, draping their bills with tiny fish, cleverly lined up head to tail. That method allows the birds to hold more — it’s a long way back to the nest and they had to pack in as much as they could. hecatebird@gmail.com