Marbled Godwits feeding in the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Everyone on their way to somewhere else

By Margo Hearne

Migration is in full swing. The phenomenon observed this week from the ferry showed once again that in spite of wind and weather the show goes on.

Thousands of Canada Geese flew north, sometimes joined by smaller teal, wigeon, shovellers and mallard. They all came along for the ride knowing there’s safety in numbers.

Thousands of White-winged Scoters swept away from the water as the ferry moved along. They lifted from the blue, clean and stark in their black-and-white boldness. They were beautiful, as were the tiny phalaropes that dipped and circled and landed in the water ahead of us.

Phalaropes are probably the only shorebird in the world that land in deep water. They spin and drift along the tide lines and show the big geese that they too can migrate in flocks and have to get somewhere important.

Out in the deeps the Sooty Shearwater, back from their nesting grounds in the southern seas, swept up from the calm waters in their concentrated ability to stay just barely above the surface, riding that ephemeral space between sea and air. We can’t do it — we need powerful motors and great speeds to soar as simply as they do.

Both ferry crossings, Tuesday and Thursday, were busy and exciting and we had perfect weather. In fact, said the crew, Tuesday was the first calm crossing they had in quite some time. We were lucky. So were the tiny Fork-tailed Storm Petrels. They have a particular way of appearing to fall sideways and then right themselves as they keep pace with the wavelets beneath them. They are tiny and grey and often hard to see in the hazy blue light we had Thursday, so maybe they weren’t there at all and we just dreamed them.

But we didn’t dream the whales. They were just inside the bar and their activities attracted the cormorants that hang on to the can-buoys with the skin of their feet.

How do they manage to keep a grip one wonders? The cone-shaped buoy doesn’t seem to have anything to cling to. Maybe a limpet or two had stuck to the surface and given them a toehold. There were shearwaters with the whales as well — they are all after the food that the ocean provides.

Back on land this morning, 25 Marbled Godwits fed in Delkatla. They moved along a sandbar in the main channel and, as the tide rose, stayed as long as they could until the water began to wash over their knees. Only then did they move to another sandbar. Unlike their tiny phalarope kin, godwits don’t generally swim. A few arrived last week and their numbers are slowly building. Two Greater Yellowlegs fed nearby. They too are just showing up, perhaps a little later than usual. The yellowlegs nest here in small numbers, but the majority travel further north and east before settling down for the season.

And, hot off the press, a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese just landed in the sanctuary, the first of the season.

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