Way out of normal range and the first seen here in 37 years of Christmas Bird Counts was a Wood Duck, paddling by the rushes in Tlell. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing — Christmas Bird Count #2: Tlell

By Margo Hearne

We got blasted by a southeaster most of the day but the rain held off for the morning, and that is when we found the juncos and robins. We had been told about a huge flock of ducks off the point near Misty Meadow but when we went to check the seas were so rough and the wind so strong that we couldn’t see a thing. There probably had been birds there — Cacilia found them the next day — but it was impossible to know.

Compared with the big Saturday storm, Monday’s wind was a mere zephyr. It still howled through the trees and swept over the highway. We and the birds had to find shelter. Gracious folks gave us permission to walk through their properties to find nine Varied Thrushes and 17 American Robins — good numbers for this time of year.

A rare White-throated Sparrow fed with the Dark-eyed Juncos and so did the unusual slate-coloured Junco, which usually lives east of the Rockies. Southeasters might blow our homes away, but they keep the temperature fairly mild and birds don’t all leave to find the sun.

Small flocks of Mallard (107) and Green-winged Teal (42) floated along the Tlell River with two Northern Pintail and one Northern Shoveler. Shovelers don’t usually stay into December so it was a nice surprise. Three Trumpeter Swans fed along the river-bank with 50 Canada and 10 White-fronted Geese. Three little Cackling Geese rode out the wind although their close cousins the Aleutian Geese, here in numbers earlier on, seem to have gone south — there wasn’t one to be seen.

We tried again for a sea-watch but the wind rose and horizontal rain stung so we moved to the shelter of the backwoods where six Pacific Wrens stayed low to the ground. Chestnut-backed Chickadees (34) clung to bare branches together with small flocks of Golden-crowned Kinglets (30) and only three Song Sparrows. It was a slow day for sparrows.

We tried the offshore again but only came up with a few gulls, six Dunlin and 87 Sanderlings. So just before sitting down for a bite of lunch we decided to check the “ponds.” Two Ring-necked Ducks hid there and so did the bird of the day: one lovely female Wood Duck, rare as can be.

It was way out of its normal range and the first seen here in our 37 years of CBCs. It kept to the water’s edge before disappearing down a side channel. We rushed to where we thought it might be, but it had hidden itself away. After very tasty soup and sandwiches we returned to the ponds to see if the Wood Duck had reappeared and there it was. Still staying close to the rushes but in full view for all to see.

In spite of the weather, the Tlell CBC was a winner. Thanks to Peter for his identification skills, to Martin for his knowledge of forest birds and to everyone who helped out in any way to make the bird count a success. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

CBC dates: Greater Massett, Dec. 27; Skidegate Inlet, Dec. 30 ( includes Skidegate, Sandspit, Queen Charlotte).

On the Wing

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