A rare bird eases that ol’ stranded feeling

On the wing by Margo Hearne: The trip to Prince Rupert was fine, but there were not as many birds in the middle as we’ve seen in the past.

  • Mar. 11, 2016 8:00 a.m.

It is hard to concentrate when my computer faces the water.

Rain slants across the harbour and gulls swoop in. It is very distracting.

We should be home but the big wind came up and here we are. Stranded in Prince Rupert.

It’s lovely by the waterfront and we are in a nice, dry, warm room. The trip across the strait to Prince Rupert was fine, not too rough, we moved along speedily, but there were not as many birds in the middle as we’ve seen in the past. They were tucked in along the east coast of Graham Island.

The big wind was coming and they knew it.

Mew Gulls, Herring Gulls, Glaucous-winged Gulls and Thayer’s Gulls all dove at ‘feed balls’. Long-tailed Ducks, scoters and Common Murres sat like so many decoys before dashing off somewhere else.

Pelagic Cormorants fell off the Lawn Point buoy and loons splashed away from the ship. It was all very active.

If you see a large bird using strong wings to accelerate away from the ship at great speed causing a lot of splash, it is likely to be a loon. Grebes will dive and murres will wave their wings at you. A small flock of Ancient Murrelets caused a watery commotion.

It was interesting to see a build-up of Pigeon Guillemots, those black seabirds with white wing-patches that nest on the wharf in Masset and on the islets in Skidegate Inlet. Some were right out in the middle of the Strait, flying north and heading to their nesting destination.

We made it safely.

Out in Cow Bay Harbour gulls circled and landed. In the midst of the more common species was a very white gull, smaller than the others with a round head and small bill.

It was here when we came over in January, and now, when Peter, my husband, pointed it out to one of the fishermen who had brought his boat in from the storm he told Peter that he had first seen it on Dec. 7, 2015.

“I noticed it was different,” he said. “But I didn’t know what it was. It was so white compared to the others. It would come close to my boat and I’d feed it pieces of fish.”

He was happy to hear Peter say it was an Iceland Gull. Now he knew what it was and would look out for it in future. He wondered why it was here and where it had come from.

“It’s interesting to me how people do notice birds,” said Peter later. “They like to know what they’re looking at and they always notice if something is different.

“This is an Iceland Gull, glaucoides, which nests in Greenland. The other species of Iceland Gull, kumlieni nests in Canada and we occasionally see one on island. There are subtle differences. The Greenland gull is slightly smaller and paler with pure white wing-tips. This one probably came across the Arctic, came down the coast, and is spending the winter here. It is a very rare bird in these parts.”

A day later and we are still here. The sun is out, the wind is down and it would have been a perfect day to cross Hecate Strait.

Now that the storm is over, the pretty little Iceland Gull has gone fishing and it’s nowhere to be seen.





Email Margo Hearne at



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