The Wind Birds of Haida Gwaii

On the Wing by Margo Hearne: Each year is different. Just when we think we have grasped the intricacies of the bird world, things shift.

  • Apr. 1, 2016 7:00 p.m.

The little black-and-white Juncos are thinning out at the feeder as they head into the backwoods to start nesting. Like Varied Thrushes and Northern Flickers, they like to get an early start. If the wild world co-operates they might even have two broods a year.

Each year is different. Just when we think we have grasped the intricacies of the bird world, things shift. For instance, in March a few years ago we had a fallout of lovely Redpolls that swept in hungrily and cleaned out the feeder. This year, none. Last winter we were overwhelmed with Varied Thrushes. This year, very few.

The only constants are the changing seasons, and within those constants are the vagaries of weather. And Haida Gwaii certainly gets weather. The barometer has gone up and down like a yo-yo all month. Weather systems continually pour down through the Bering Strait and into the huge body of the Pacific, where massive oceanic systems swirl and flow. Some of the systems are pushed east towards the continental land mass, where they bump into the mountain-y, anabatic winds pushing west. We are in the middle. No wonder tiny birds get a little lost.

Incidentally, the Bering Sea is an interesting, dramatic place. Also called the Beringian Gap it’s one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world. It’s shallow (averaging about 35 fathoms, or about 65 metres), has volatile weather, and extremely cold temperatures.  Waves are shorter and pack more power than deep-sea waves, and strong currents make for difficult navigation. It’s only a hop and a skip across the Gap to Russia, but treacherous as heck.  Birds fly it, and many rare Eurasian species have turned up on the Aleutian Chain having flown across. Birders chase these rarities like crazy so they can get Eurasian birds on their North American life list.

Since birds get caught up in the cyclonic swirl out past the Bowie Seamount, they can also get swept onto the islands. We have had quite a few Eurasian species, including a Skylark and many Bramblings. Things drop in, feed and keep going.

There have been many robin reports. They are being noticed, and now they’ve started to perch on the high trees, dust off their vocal chords and chirp cheerily. Many will probably move further north as the ice leaves the land, but some will stay to nest. The flock of Pine Grosbeaks in Sandspit are still around and the Cassin’s Finch still travels with them. Suddenly out of the underbrush flashed a bright sunny warbler. It pumped its tail and fed busily on insects in the afternoon sun. It was a Palm Warbler; one had been seen in the same general area on Dec. 6. The weather has been fairly mild, if extremely stormy, so it might have wintered over.

Two Marbled Godwits feed on the flats as the tide rises. They too have been around most of the winter. They are very different. Tall, with a long bill, they feed with the Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon (and one Eurasian Wigeon), probing the soft mud for aquatic invertebrates and being chased up the flats by the rising tide. Out over Delkatla a group of visitors to the Nature Centre marvelled as a Bald Eagle put every single duck to wing as it soared over the water. Nature red in tooth and claw. All the ducks escaped.

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