Loon alarms and Robins arriving

On the wing by Margo Hearne: In a mild winter like this robins don’t have to leave and if there’s food around they’ll stay around.

  • Feb. 23, 2016 5:00 p.m.

“I’ve seen a robin,” someone said last week. “Are they back yet? It seems early.” Then we saw one out in the meadow looking very bright and new. It is early for migrants to start coming through; they usually show up in droves in the third week of February but early migrants are definitely a possibility. There have also been a few around the island all winter. In a mild winter like this they don’t have to leave and if there’s food around (they like red berries) they’ll stay around. Two hurtled into the shelter of the big, lovely hawthorne uptown; they can hide in there and feed away quietly. Three also flew out of the cotoneaster bush in the garden, they eat those red berries but they haven’t much food value. The berries are mealy and hard. Not until April/May do the berries start to produce any food value. Any old port in a storm, I guess.

The cranberries in the back muskeg are gone, they flavour-up after a bit of frost and get eaten very quickly by geese, probably raccoons and other hungry critters. So what’s a bird to do?

Sanderlings, those small white shorebirds, skitter along the beach. It’s high tide and a screaming south-easter lifts spume from the water offshore. They say that when water lifts it’s blowing sixty. Time to seek shelter. The tiny sanderlings hunker in the lee of the dune and drift logs. Blinding sand blows about but they are hardy little things and rush back to the shoreline when the gusts die down. There’s food there and they need it. Gulls too, rising and falling along the shoreline as the tide drops whatever is broken loose from the reef offshore. The old, tired mollusks and weeds that survived the winter wash ashore and make way for new growth as the days get longer.

It was a Long-tailed Duck week. They are diving ducks and males have a long tail. Four, that we know of, landed on the highway and had to be rescued. Friends wrapped one in a jacket, picked it up gently and delivered it to the house. After a few quiet hours in a cardboard box the bird started to bang about. It had it with the darkness and quiet and wanted to be out and swimming in the spacious sea. Enough with the cramped quarters already! We took it down to the water’s edge and watched it swim away, full of life and freedom. Then a loon called an alarm. Two nearby Bufflehead ducks took off and all the other diving ducks dove, including our released bird, just as an eagle swooped in. It had seen the Long-tail swim from shore and expected an easy meal. Not so. The duck dove deep and long and the eagle went back to its lookout. The loon had saved the day. Birds do listen to each other. The released bird was so intent on cleaning itself up from confinement that it probably hadn’t noticed the raptor. A lesson learned. We learned that it’s better to release a diving duck where it has room to dive and it learned to listen to loons, although it probably knew that already. Its pays to pay attention.

Email Margo Hearne at



Just Posted

Decision time is coming for Masset schools

School board to decide soon whether to close Tahayghen Elementary School

Mount Moresby Adventure Camp aims to protect trails, ecosystems with expanded tenure

New tenure boundaries would also allow MMAC to rebuild lakeside dock for campers and general public

Signs of the Yakoun’s power

Shifting logs along the Golden Spruce Trail are almost certainly signs of powerful flooding

Court to rule on Husby injunction against protest at Collison Point

A B.C. Supreme Court judge will soon decide whether to grant an… Continue reading

Toronto van attack suspect faces 10 counts of first-degree murder

The suspect in the Toronto van attack that killed 10 people and injured 15 others on Monday is a 25-year-old man named Alek Minassian

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Province seeks feedback on caribou recovery program

Government has committed $27 million to protect and preserve B.C.’s caribou herds

‘Enough is enough’: G7 ministers agree to call Russia out

‘Enough is enough’: G7 ministers agree to call Russia out on ‘malign’ behaviour

Cosby jury to decide: Serial rapist or con artist’s mark

Bill Cosby is at the courthouse Tuesday morning ahead of closing arguments in his sexual assault retrial.

Trump: ‘Our hearts are with the grieving families in Canada’

U.S. President Donald Trump is offering his condolences to Canadians

Trudeau calls van attack ‘horrific and senseless’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls van attack ‘horrific and senseless,’ says no apparent terror link

Officer’s actions ‘one shining moment’ after Toronto van attack

Arresting officer’s actions ‘one shining moment’ in the wake of Toronto van attack

Judith Guichon steps down as Lieutenant Governor of B.C.

Election decision didn’t make her best moments from the past six years

Most Read