The Christmas bird count is on

On the Wing, by Margo Hearne: The Christmas Bird Counts have begun.

  • Jan. 4, 2016 9:00 a.m.

The Christmas Bird Counts have begun. We checked the tide tables, checked the weather and it looked good for the Rose Spit Count. We didn’t actually go all the way to the spit but stopped half-way down Tow Hill Beach and sea-watched from there. It was great! The tide was falling, birds were flashing by in the offing and Sanderlings and gulls were feeding right in front of us. It was fine, although actually getting to the spit is quite wonderful. It has changed dramatically over the years; the weather station washed away some time ago and the spit itself has swung around a few times and is barely recognizable. But Tow Hill Beach is as grand as ever; we had indeed found a weather window and, apart from one brief shower, it was calm and dry.

In the beginning a Varied Thrush hopped through the trees along the Tow Hill Road trail, it stayed slightly ahead of us and then a few Pacific Wrens popped up. It was a good day for wrens. We counted eleven; including one Winter Wren. They used to be all called Winter Wrens but they have now been separated into two species which makes for some confusion.

Forest birds were really thin on the ground, we only had thirteen Golden-crowned Kinglets and just one member of the woodpecker family, Northern Flicker. A flock of Red Crossbills flew noisily overhead and out in the river ten little Bufflehead ducks dove and swam. Four Common Goldeneye braved the chop further out and even further out, two Common Mergansers flew by, all clean and white in the bright sun. The offshore birds really stole the day. The light was perfect and thousands of Common Murres flew in long lines towards the east.

They went by for hours, we had to take turns at the spotting scope to make sure our eyes did not deceive. Flocks rose and fell in the distance, sometimes disappearing in the swells but always reappearing. Nearer to shore small groups of Ancient Murrelets flew together and even two Cassin’s Auklets flashed by in the bright light. Nineteen tiny Marbled Murrelets dove and fed near Yakan Point and one Harlequin Duck put in an appearance.

But it was the day of the Black-legged Kittiwake, the largest count ever for these birds. They jigged along offshore, keeping company with over a thousand Glaucous-winged, two Herring and ten Thayer’s Gulls. Kittiwakes are buoyant little black-and white gulls with thin yellow bills, black legs and black wing-tips. Out there also were over two thousand Pacific Loons, the highest count for Haida Gwaii CBC’s ever. We had all four species of loon, Common, Red-throated and Yellow-billed.

The latter is a rare bird and it’s always a treat to see one. And it was a good day for the Rose Spit count. We had sunlight, dry walking trails and the cheerful company of chickadees.

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