Adult Snow goose with immatures and a White-fronted Goose. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Arriving without fanfare in the high tide

By Margo Hearne

As November rolls along we remember the birds of summer, the migrants of fall, and the passing of the seasons. We had a warm, dry summer and the birds fared quite well. Warblers and thrushes came and went. Crane chicks were reported from around the island although the pair in the Delkatla Wildife Sanctuary did not seem to have had success. It’s the way of the world.

We were out in the briny deep again this week — the ferry sailed on time and White-winged Scoters fled from the ship as they often do. There were very few shearwaters. They have returned to their nesting grounds in New Zealand and the southern Pacific islands as though it is no trouble at all for a bird weighing 740 grams to fly around the world a few times a year. They catch the upwellings and updrafts and seem to soar along casually, wings outstretched, disappearing and reappearing as the troughs rise and fall.

It seems an odd, lonely life especially when there are only one or two in Hecate Strait. Most shearwaters are on a mission to get to their nesting grounds before someone else takes over. Their population numbers are decreasing, not only from our own intrusions, but from the vagaries of the wild world itself. One year, thousands of shearwaters got caught up in the wrong air current for some reason and landed on the beaches in Alaska where they died by the hundreds. There was no accounting for it, it just happened.

We don’t really know what goes on out there, and we should. A major new report from the World Wildlife Fund has detailed how “humans have wiped out 60 per cent of mammals, fish and reptiles since 1970 as consumption of food and resources by the global population destabilises the web of life.” This has only happened in the last 48 years, not thousands of years as one would expect from such a dramatic decline. We need to know more before it’s all gone. Little Boy Blue, who should be out there blowing his horn to warn of the impending loss of our future, is asleep under the haystack and we all sleep with him.

There are geese in the Masset meadows — not just any old geese, but a range of shapes and sizes. Five Snow Geese feed with 24 White-Fronted Geese. Peter has just come in from the field to report that, in the larger Canada Goose group there are two Moffitti (Greater Canada Goose), 28 Duskys and three Lesser Canada Goose. In the Cackling group are 16 Minima, 23 Aleutian and seven Richardson’s. Alan Brooks, that wonderful artist and ornithologist had Richardson’s Geese in Masset in 1920. So they are still around despite all the bad environmental news. And the Trumpeter Swans have arrived. Barbara at Sitka reported that “in the high water, because of the high tide, three swans arrived here on Nov. 6. There was no fanfare, they were just there.”

On the Wing

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