Port Clements bird count-trending downward 

On the Wing by Margo Hearne: There is something about a low wet drizzle that saps the spirit when out-of-doors

  • Jan. 21, 2016 1:00 p.m.

There is something about a low wet drizzle that saps the spirit when out-of-doors. Binoculars get wet, water runs up sleeves, the forest drips and birds don’t sing. It was a bit like that in the early morning just after sunrise on the Port Clements bird count until a flock of twenty-six Ring-necked Ducks took off from a pond, two flickers swept from the side of the highway and a Common Loon dove in the lake. Things were looking up! Seven Red-necked Grebes drifted along, heads tucked under and in no hurry to go anywhere. The life of birds is different from ours as we rush to keep up with the next trend. Birds don’t chase trends. Come winter there’s time for them to drift as food gets scarce and the weather chills down, a time to conserve energy and slow it down a bit. There are no young mouths to feed, no springtime urgency to produce the next generation, and, as the saying goes, ‘if you’re lucky enough to live by the water, you’re lucky enough’. Coastal birds are lucky enough. The tide rises and falls and something edible always comes with it.  Even so, Trumpeter Swan numbers in the Yakoun Estuary continue to plummet, this year there were only twenty-four, one quarter of what there used to be. Dabbling duck numbers are shockingly low, there were only 113 American Wigeon; in the past, there were over 3,000 and it took hours to count them. Teal, mallard and pintail numbers are also trending downwards so it was heartening to see a flock of 620 Dunlin, those small shorebirds. Twenty-four Brant floated in the distance and one White-fronted Goose wandered along beside the river with a flock of twenty-eight Canada Geese.

The road to Juskatla had icy patches so we took our time. It was worth it; the sun had begun to shine and the still water mirrored the surrounding forest. Two Canvasback ducks swam off, rare birds in these parts, and a Great Blue Heron sat as still as a stone and was undeterred by our presence. Fourteen Greater Scaup lazed along and over 300 Mallard sat on a sandbar in the distance. A Belted Kingfisher flew high and hovered over the water. It looked like a bright star against the dark trees, an optical illusion for sure, but still appealing. It was a good day for kingfishers; we counted eight so there are small fish in the water which keeps them here. The village of Juskatla looks like a dump site with old houses ripped apart and pieces lying around. The windows in the big office building have been removed and the place is an empty shell. Where the town used to be flocks of Canada Geese wander, one wearing a red neck-band, banded in the Copper River Delta. Animals move closer when people depart.

Back in Port Clements Brian had kept a watch on his feeder all day and turned up four Golden-crowned and three White-crowned Sparrows plus a good flock of around thirty-eight juncos. A Merlin flashed over just before dark, the only raptor for the day. In spite of the early drizzle and the gloomy morning, it was a lovely day in Port Clements and the tea and Christmas goodies at Sue’s place was a very welcome treat. Thanks to Bryan, Brian, Sue and Shellene for their friendly contributions to the Port Clements count. Total species: 49.