Christmas Bird Count – Skidegate Inlet

  • Dec. 22, 2008 9:00 a.m.

By Margo Hearne –The screaming northeaster almost stopped our breath as we headed into it on our way to Little Spit Point at Sandspit. There was no shelter, neither for us nor for the birds. The wind chill brought the temperature down to minus 22c and it was no place for the faint-hearted. In spite of it all, it was totally glorious. Count day almost coincided with the full moon and tides were at near maximum. The clarity of the air, the blue of the sea and sky and the white gulls all created a wild splendour. The wind had been so wild the previous evening that the MV Kwuna hadn’t run after 6.30 pm. We wondered if it would sail on count day. But it did, a choppy ride. While the big chill kept many birders indoors, the hardy boat crew found a variety of richness in Bearskin Bay in the bright sun and calm water. Two marbled murrelets and an ancient were a great find at this time of year. They also found 123 western grebes among the many diving ducks and 62 black oystercatchers along the shore. The land team found four swans at Spirit Lake and a very unusual downy woodpecker in Queen Charlotte, the first for the SI count since 1991. Two American dippers, two snipe and a Townsend’s warbler also showed up and six fox sparrows sounded a loud alarm when a Sharp-shinned Hawk hunted from the alder above them.At the Golf Course a flock of small things fluttered up and landed in the lee of the wind. They turned out to be 34 American pipits, a high and unusual number for this time of year. While the pipits kept to cover the white-winged crossbills were undeterred by the brittle chill and stayed in the treetops, their little ‘chinky’ call barely audible above the wind. Some years there’s not a crossbill to be seen and this year there were two species, 22 red in Queen Charlotte and 5 white-winged in Sandspit. The latter were seen on island last year as well, but they are a rarity. The only owl this year was a short-eared, which we almost stepped on as we walked through the long grass. It flew off and we waited anxiously until it landed. A pair of ravens had once chased an owl over Hecate Strait and into the water a few years back; it didn’t rise again but this one landed quietly and we left it alone. It was the year of the gull. We had never seen the like. All along the inner beach from Alliford Bay to Shingle Bay they fed in the surf. Thousands of mew and glaucous-winged gulls, a few herring and Thayer’s gulls, one western, one rare glaucous, one California, five kittiwakes and 733 unidentifiable. Of the 10,676 individual birds seen on the Skidegate Inlet count, 8,877 were gulls. Who would have thought? The wild creatures flew above and among the wild waves and were totally grand. The ferry ran us safely back to Skidegate Landing in a following sea. We shared the adventures of the day over a hot cup of tea at Brian’s home, then headed north, just in time to see a red moon rise out over the Strait. Lovely!One count down, three more to go. Greater Masset on 27th Dec (Peter 626 5015), Tlell 28th Dec (Barb & Noel 557 4241) and Port Clements Peter 626 5015). Merry Christmas and good birding.

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