End of December brings two more successful bird counts

  • Jan. 4, 2010 6:00 a.m.

By Margo Hearne-Greater Massett As we walked through the forest along Cemetery Road at first light, it occurred to me that we were probably the scariest creatures there. Bears, deer and singing birds all seemed to have fled. Then darkness lifted, four varied thrushes appeared and three winter wrens called. One even sang a little wren song. Maybe we are not so bad after all. It was a balmy day throughout and quite relaxing after the busy season. Fifteen red crossbills called from the trees, they’d been elusive all winter, their main diet of spruce cones hadn’t produced and pine siskin numbers were fewer than we’ve seen for a long time. A hawk soared in the high heavens, too far for identification, maybe it was the red-tailed Robert found or the sharp-shinned Martin saw later in the day. Also later a powerful goshawk swept through the sanctuary and picked off a teal from the flock with swift precision. And Delkatla also produced a very rare, exceptionally unusual jack snipe which lives nowhere in North America. A tiny snipe, Peter almost stepped on it before it flushed. It flew away silently, landing close but not close enough to be seen again. At Entry Point, seven interestingly winter-plumaged marbled murrelets sprang to the surface, their short, upright bills clearly visible in the morning light and two ancient murrelets sat quietly on the clear water then disappeared before they could be photographed. A snow goose hid in a flock of Canadas in Delkatla, a Eurasian teal and three Eurasian wigeons fed with this continent’s species of each before a northern harrier put them all to wing. As the tide fell, two long-billed dowitchers and a greater yellowlegs fed along the water’s edge. And before you knew it, the sun set, the moon rose and three ravens flew away. It was quite a day and once we’d left, the animals came out to play in the fields of the Lord. TlellWe were lucky with the weather this season and Tlell was no exception. Our first stop at Misty Meadows didn’t look too promising, just a few gulls on the high beach, but then Cacilia appeared and told us about the hundreds of shorebirds on the point just down the way. Off we tramped. Through the dunes, along the forest edge and sure enough, there they were. Hundreds of dunlin, many black turnstones and 100-plus black-bellied plovers. The plovers were sitting, almost invisibly, in a dune hollow and took wing silently and landed on the water’s edge where they fluffed and preened. It was fairly quiet on the Tlell River estuary although Noel and Barbara had six swans. Their delicious fresh coffee prepped us for the long trek along the ocean highway, where many red-throated loons fed in the high tide. Red-necked and horned grebes fed busily, common goldeneyes drifted and a single marbled murrelet appeared. At the Ranch, Peter and Martin found a downy woodpecker, not a common bird anywhere on island, and Doug wondered about the “skinny, hungry little geese” that had been around in fall. We thought they might have been the Aleutian Canada Geese that are recovering from the depredations of foxes on the outer Aleutians and which appeared island-wide earlier. They had left, but a few Canadas fed in the soccer field and the ponds held a lone great blue heron, a ring-necked duck and a single Barrow’s goldeneye. The high bird numbers were in the ocean on this day and why not? It belongs to them after all. Day’s end and a rainbow lights the sky.