Stories of mid-winter survival

On the Wing by Margo Hearne: The barometer rises and falls and birds tough it out on the edge of things.

  • Feb. 16, 2016 5:00 a.m.

The barometer rises and falls and birds tough it out on the edge of things. Three injured sea birds showed up this week.  Two Long-tailed Ducks, dappled black and white with long tails, and a Black Scoter, all black with a bright yellow bill. The latter sat by the heat all day and survived. The Long-tails were let go in the river. Leila, who had rescued one, said that “it was a calm day, it had cover and shelter and it went off and stayed close to the Mallards. We saw it next day, so it’s a good news story.

“What’s not such a good news story was the dead Red-shafted Flicker we found in someone’s wood-stove,” Leila continued. “The stove hadn’t been used in some time and the flicker had fallen down the chimney and couldn’t get out. The home-owner had asked me to come and get a live flicker out of the stove and it survived, but it was sad to see what had happened to the first one. Who knows how long it had been there? I’d just like to say that if there are any other empty homes with open chimneys they should be blocked to prevent further deaths and I’d be happy to work with others to get the open chimneys covered.”

In many ways these are the down days of winter. The Bird Counts are designed to catch the last throes of fall migration and now it’s a story of survival for the wild winter residents. Fortunately we have a reasonably mild climate and are surrounded by water. Out on Masset Inlet, where the tide runs in and out at the same time, hundreds of Pacific Loons feed just offshore. The nutrients washed out from the rivers circulate there and food is plentiful.

Even in mid-winter there is always a run of something. Our fishing neighbour Robert explained about the early herring run now occurring. The adult herring feed on the bottom but the juveniles are smaller and feed near the surface, which is probably what the eagles, gulls, loons and murres have been feeding on these past few weeks. If not herring, then sandlance or euphausiids, those tiny shrimp that baleen whales feed on.

Whales have been seen in Skidegate Inlet, a few Ocra, two Humpbacks and what could have been a Fin Whale which grows to a length of 22 metres. “It was huge and almost as long as the Kwuna,” the Al, the Skipper explained. “We couldn’t believe the size!” Fin Whales usually travel offshore but they have been seen in Hecate Strait and they follow the food. From tiny shrimp to huge whales, the ocean feeds them all.

Meanwhile back in Masset Inlet, close to shore, more Long-tailed Ducks float by and further out flocks of healthy Black Scoters fly inland. They land, then let the tide take them back out again. Among the flocks were winter-plumaged Pigeon Guillemots returning to their nesting grounds. We had only seen a few during the Bird Counts but upwards of forty in various colours sped by. Some were clean white with just a little black, some were light grey and some were almost black. In summer plumage they are all black with a white oval wing-patch, so they are beginning to show their summer colours.

Pine Siskins come skipping down out of the sky to land at the feeder and juncos continue to spar and argue. A lone, quiet Varied Thrush, the orange and black ‘swamp robin’ comes in quietly, feeds, and just as quietly flits away again. Mid-winter survival.

Email Margo Hearne at

hecatebird@gmail.com

 

Just Posted

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

Masset RCMP seek man wanted for assault

Masset police are seeking a man who faces two charges of assault.… Continue reading

VIDEO: Moose found licking salt off B.C. man’s pickup truck

Tab Baker was in his garage in Prince George when the small moose gave his truck a clean

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.

Alberta man dead after snowmobile collision on B.C. mountain

The incident occurred on Boulder Mountain Friday morning

B.C. parents grieving teen’s overdose death say it started with opioid prescription

Elliot Eurchuk, 16, died at his Oak Bay home Friday, after taking street drugs to sleep

16 of 20 fastest improving B.C. schools are public: Fraser Institute

Independent elementary schools remain at top of the chart in think tank’s annual report card

NAFTA: Talks continue through weekend in scramble to get a deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called negotiations ‘perpetual’

Pulp mill fined $900,000 for leaking effluent into B.C. lake

Mackenzie Pulp Mill pleaded guilty to depositing deleterious substance into water frequented by fish

B.C.’s 2-year lobbying ban starts May 1

Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists can grant exemptions from the prohibition if public interest

Horgan speaks of government’s successes to ‘friends’ at CUPE BC convention

CUPE BC president Paul Faoro said was first time a B.C. premier addressed convention in some time

Most Read