Common Loon in winter plumage on Haida Gwaii. (Margo Hearne / Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Christmas bird count reports, part 1

Haida Gwaii’s bird count report for Port Clements and Rose Spit

by Margo Hearne

Port Clements

We started at Port Clements and it rained all day. And that’s really the story of the counts on Haida Gwaii.

Rain, wind, mist, fog. Visibility iffy and birds not interested in appearing.

They hid in the underbrush, shuffled under the trees or faded into the fog.

Most of the waterfowl at Juskatla which were clearly visible just a few weeks ago were now mostly silhouettes in the misty distance.

It was a bit disappointing, especially as the weather had shown such promise a few days earlier. But it is mid-winter, the days are short and the bright sunny days of November a faded memory.

We persisted.

Six Golden-crowned and two White-crowned sparrows appeared.

They flew to a feeder together, fed together and then hid in the same tree together. Nice.

A flock of 24 bright red robins appeared down near the dock and in the trees ‘the usual suspects’ — as Martin describes them — showed up, including chickadees (23), kinglets (40), ravens (21) and crows (100).

There were only three Song Sparrows, but 54 Dark-eyed and one Slate-coloured Junco was a positive sign. The number of Juncos is alarmingly low.

Those small black-headed birds used to be the top ‘feeder bird’ but we could only find small, remnant flocks. Sixteen Trumpeter Swans fed silently in the Yakoun Estuary at low tide and a high number of Northern Pintails among the teal and wigeon was a nice addition to the count.

Surprises included one Snow and two White-fronted Geese and the two river Dippers added an attractive note to the Port Clements count despite the murky weather. Total species: 42

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii makes New York Times 52 Places list

Rose Spit

The sea was calm and visibility was excellent — between the southwest squalls — and we had lots of time to count offshore birds.

The temperature hovered around a balmy six degrees; we didn’t have last year’s freezing weather to drive us out.

Nine Short-tailed Shearwaters arced high offshore; their Australian nesting grounds hadn’t called to them this year.

Twenty-eight Red-throated Loons stayed close to shore. They are more streamlined than Common and Pacific Loons and, while Pacifics often travel in large flocks, Red-throats don’t. Neither do Commons, the few we saw were alone out there.

Mid-sized diving birds in flight can be difficult to tell apart. Red-breasted Mergansers and Red-necked Grebes for instance. But they were there, as well as three tiny Horned Grebes. Black Scoters, all black with a yellow bill; White-winged Scoters with a white line over the eye and Surf Scoters with a white nape and large multi-coloured bill were there too.

It’s always a relief to see tiny Murrelets, Ancient and Marbled, survive the pounding surf near shore, the birds are so miniscule you’d expect them to get flattened into the sand but they simply bob up and continue feeding. After a couple of hours in the open we moved to the tree-line to find a Red-breasted Sapsucker, a Northern Flicker and small flocks of kinglets, chickadees and wrens.

Having navigated the steep, narrow shingle ridges on the way out, our return on a flat, open beach at low tide was a relief. Flocks of Sanderlings skipped along and Ravens called across the silence. Thanks to Cecil for the use of his comfortable ATV and to Martin for getting us there and back safely. Total species: 38

READ MORE: Happy faces all around for new Haida Emoji phone app

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