A Brambling — one of many that arrive on Haida Gwaii from Asia. (Tim Wolthers/Submitted)

A Brambling — one of many that arrive on Haida Gwaii from Asia. (Tim Wolthers/Submitted)

On the Wing: 2017 Christmas Bird Counts — Greater Massett

By Margo Hearne

First there were the five unexpected Brant geese that fed along the far shore before moving across to the Old Massett flats, then there was the flock of Common Redpolls that landed close by, then the Hoary Redpoll, so named because of its whiteness. After 36 years of CBCs in the Masset area you would think we’d seen it all, but we never have. The Hoary was the first ever for the count. We might not even have seen it had we not stopped to exchange sightings with friends along the Stepping Stones trail after we trekked across the vast expanse of Delkatla in a nippy northeaster with a hint of snow. The weather didn’t deter the encouraging number of participants who turned out for the day.

The 805 Canada Geese that took to the air above us was quite overwhelming. Two Merlins had scooted into the flock and put them all to wing. A Merlin is unlikely to take a goose, but it could have some fun at the flock’s expense. While everything exploded above us, 23 Cackling Canada Geese didn’t bother to fly at all — they just sat in the frosted grass and looked around.

Out on the inlet, 32 Pigeon Guillemots seemed to forget what time of year it was and didn’t go south. They were in their white-and-black winter plumage instead of their black-and-white breeding plumage. A few Marbled Murrelets joined them and one Cassin’s Auklet dashed by — a tiny bullet bird on its way somewhere else. It had obviously lost the flock it should have been with. So tiny, yet so tough.

In the “warbler copse,” two Yellow-rumped Warblers chirped in the grass before flying into the trees, the only warblers on this count. Although we hadn’t found a wren all morning, 14 appeared in the afternoon from their grassy shelters in the meadow. The Song Sparrow count of 40 was really good given the weather conditions. While the wind blew harshly across town, it was as calm as glass along the inlet and so quiet we could hear a Black Oystercatcher call across the water.

On our second trip to Entry Point the wind rose to 30 knots, but it was where we heard Pine Grosbeaks for the second time that day. South along the beach a Peregrine Falcon chased and almost caught a Eurasian Collared Dove, and nearby in the trees sat a fabulous, exotic Brambling, just in time to be counted. It is a much sought-after bird by the birding fraternity. It nests in Eurasia and the occasional one turns up at feeders across the country. Haida Gwaii could be called the Brambling capital of Canada as we see more here than anywhere else. The first Canadian record was on February 1972 at John and Jennifer Davies’ place in Tlell, 45 years ago. And, of added interest, the Hoary Redpoll from the Canadian Arctic Islands is rarer on island that is the Brambling from Asia!

Species count: 87. Number of individuals: 6,247. Hot off the press: A Townsend’s Solitaire has just appeared near Barb (Rowsell’s) home in Queen Charlotte, only the third record for here! Amazing that it appeared during the count period. Thanks for letting us know!

On the Wing