A Red-breasted Sapsucker (Francesco Veronesi/Flickr photo).

On the Wing: Bats, birds, and black westerlies

“‘Black westerlies’ keep the sea dark and churning, and the fog seemed to have teeth…”

By Margo Hearne

A bat flitted through a piece of sky bordered by forest leaves. It kept flitting in and out, darting and diving in the twilight. We hadn’t seen any recently, although one has taken up roost at the nature centre and leaves mouse-like droppings on the ground.

Bats usually like old snags and trees with loose bark, and can fit into the tiniest of chinks. They help keep the fly population down. There are a few species of bat on-island — the one outside the window was most likely a Little Brown Bat, although we can’t be sure. At one time there was a whole colony of them around the house, then the old snag went and they seemed to disappear. No more bats trapped in the firebox after falling down the chimney, no more eerie weirdness seeing a bat panic in the bedroom. They are furry little fliers, unlike the feathered singers around right now. If you like birds around the house, plant a forest! This morning almost every forest-nesting species sang or flew around and sometimes it feels as though we are living in a treehouse and have to act before roots start to grow through the floor.

So what’s out there right now? Well, the Red-breasted Sapsucker, that dashing woodpecker with the bright red head, comes daily for a bath. It makes all kinds of racket to let everyone know it’s there. Soaked, it flies to the local hawthorne and preens frantically before slapping against the hemlock it likes so much and preens some more. It knows it has to get into cover quickly — it’s an easy target when wet. The Swainson’s Thrush returned this week. It called “whit” from the trees, then next evening its downward spiralling song began. Its song will warm up in the next few days, but its already setting up house and foraging nearby. The Pacific-slope Flycatcher is calling its two note whistle, it sounds a little like someone calling a dog. A Golden-crowned Kinglet sings its incredibly high-pitched, short song which can barely be heard above the wind in the trees.

What a wind! A couple weeks ago it swept in, blew through us, and then kept going to the mainland interior where it took out all the lights. Brisk northwesterlies are the norm for May. When Masset held its Harbour Days on the long weekend, the northwesters often blew in from Wiah Point. It’s a dry wind, but when it switches to westerly we get a dark fog that hangs around all day.

“Black westerlies” keep the sea dark and churning, and the fog seemed to have teeth when it enveloped us while we fished the points at Shag Rock and the Conachies in the days of our youth. Our boat used to bounce around and make working the gear hard and dangerous. The only sheltered spot was at Coho Point, Langara Island. The commercial trollers all went there before Andrew and Coho Points were given to the sport lodges and drove the trollers out.

It’s also where the Rhinocerous Auklets came to feed in the early morning or late evening, draping their bills with tiny fish, cleverly lined up head to tail. That method allows the birds to hold more — it’s a long way back to the nest and they had to pack in as much as they could. hecatebird@gmail.com

Just Posted

VIDEO: Researchers rely on drones to survey aftermath of B.C. wildfires

UBC researchers are using aerial drones to study the historic 2017 wildfires in the province

Friends of the late Michael Brown hope for answers in arson case

Friends of the late Michael Brown are missing a man they knew… Continue reading

New hospital recruits more junior volunteers

Ten students from GidGalang Kuuyas Naay are volunteering at the Haida Gwaii Hospital/Ngaaysdll Naay.

School counsellors share tips for a kinder, low-stress holiday season

Walk the beach, enjoy a hot bath, play games with family or… Continue reading

Site C dam goes ahead, cost estimate now up to $10.7 billion

Premier John Horgan says Christy Clark left him no other choice

VIDEO: Average Canadian food bill to rise by $348 in 2018

Atlantic Canada and B.C. will see the most increases for consumers

Owl found dead after eating rat poison leaves B.C. woman concerned

After finding the owl on her Surrey property, Christine Trozzo says the poison is a concern for kids

Change to CPP death benefit panned as insufficient to cover funeral costs

Funeral Services Association of Canada lobbied governments to raise the value to $3,580

#MeToo at work: Employers play a role in fixing culture of sexual harassment

B.C. workplaces are getting ahead of being the next MeToo debacle, calling on experts to train staff

B.C. woman brain injured in crash as a baby gets $1.1 million in damages

Trial heard the woman was 16 months old, being carried by her mother when they were both hit

Court denies WestJet’s bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit of former worker

Mandalena Lewis is suing WestJet over allegations of gender-based discrimination

VIDEO: 3 months later, rescued sea lion released back into ocean

The young animal was found in Campbell River three months ago

Sagmoen neighbours recall alleged hammer attack

Woman was screaming outside Maple Ridge townhouse in 2013

Accused B.C. drug smuggler to be extradited

Supreme Court of Canada upholds extradition order for accused Shuswap drug smuggler, Colin Martin

Most Read