A pair of Greater Yellowlegs wading in the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary.

A pair of Greater Yellowlegs wading in the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary.

On the Wing: Warblers in the sun and shorebirds in the channels

If we want bird sanctuaries it’s best to put them where the birds are, not where we think they should be.

It’s milder and the birds like it. Spring shoots are appearing and thrushes are singing in the trees. So are warblers. It was a big surprise this week to see and hear three Townsend’s Warblers flitting from conifer to alder in a sunny patch near the water. They had found a harbour out of the wind and, together with chickadees, kinglets, a Brown Creeper and a Red-breasted Sapsucker they foraged together.

Why in this patch we wondered? Because the wind didn’t blow there. Just around the corner was what appeared to be a good spot for them, but it was cooler and the wind shook the trees. When all is said and done, birds are no fools. They are instinctive survivalists and find sheltered spots in the sun. If we want bird sanctuaries it’s best to put them where the birds are, not where we think they should be. Once, on a large Irish lake, I visited a map-marked sanctuary only to find that the sanctuary had actually been moved down the way and around the corner. It was a strange concept; birds have no truck with change and are where they are for a reason. Their preferred spot was now a parking lot, café, and pit-stop. Creating management plans for everywhere seems full of hubris, especially where it applies to places where no human disturbance has occurred for millennia.

“There’s a nice, unspoiled place,” we say. “Let’s create a management plan for it.” We forget completely that the whole area has flourished on its own for eons. We don’t manage places for their intrinsic value but for our own use. So it goes.

That’s the thing about wandering around in wild places. One can find all sorts of things, even our own soul if we stop looking. We also notice things that are missing since the last visit. That wonderful snag for instance; it once harboured sapsuckers, chickadees, creepers and wrens. It had lots of great cavities, many had been in use for years and chickadees had flitted back and forth carrying pieces of moss. Next time we visited the snag was gone completely and so was all that teeming life. We can’t seem to leave anything alone. That wild patch in the bottom of the garden was a great place for nesting song sparrows, that old barn once had barn swallows, that old bridge had a dipper nest in the once upon a time.

So the warblers are almost two weeks early here. In interior B.C. friends say the robins and bluebirds are almost two weeks late. Birds follow the sun. Out in Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary a small flock of Greater Yellowlegs has shown up. They are mid-sized sandpipers with bright yellow legs, a longish bill, and strident call. They nest here and one or two often winter over, but this lot were definitely high-energy wanderers. They called and ran around the shallow ponds, flew up and circled, and landed and called again. It was hard to photograph them, but then they took a break and roosted for a moment with closed eyes. They had obviously just arrived and were hungry and tired. The small creeks draining the sanctuary are ideal. Stickleback and fry move through the channels on their way in or out and make a rich snack for the hungry birds. It’s a bird-eat-bug world out there. hecatebird@gmail.com