Brant geese in flight. (Michael L. Baird/bairdphotos.com)

On the Wing: Christmas Bird Count #4 — Skidegate Inlet

By Margo Hearne

The marine forecast read “winds northwest 15 to 25 knots, diminishing to 10 to 15.” It sounded promising and sure enough we had one of the better weather days on the Skidegate Inlet count.

The planet Venus was looking her best in the early morning and most of the day stayed bright and dry. The birds observed from the Kwuna seemed to appreciate a little calm after the crazy storms we’ve had; they were in no panic to go anywhere.

Pacific, Common and Red-throated Loons drifted by and 65 Common Murres were the only alcid of the day. No Marbled Murrelets, no Ancients, no Rhinocerous Auklets to be seen. There were, however, 846 Canada Geese and 13 lovely Snow Geese in the meadow.

Brant Geese also showed up: a small group of 106 waited on the spit for the tide to fall so they could move out over the exposed flats for a late lunch. They live and die by the tides. Their numbers seemed low this year; perhaps they haven’t left Izembeck Lagoon in the Aleutians where they gather before spreading out on their southerly migration. There has been a wintering population of Brant here annually; this is their place.

Shorebirds began to show up on the flats. Forty-one Black-bellied Plover stood out from the smaller Dunlin and Black Turnstones but the further the tide fell, the harder it became to see anything. The birds disappeared among the rocks except for a few Sanderlings and Rock Sandpipers that fed by the edge of the water. A single Ruddy Turnstone called its scratchy note as it flew in and landed, then it too disappeared.

It was time for the long walk around the spit and over to the willow bushes. A flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets zipped through the lower branches, although one bird had an unusually long tail. Clearly it was not a kinglet, but we were on the wrong side of the sun and could only see a silhouette, so it could have been anything. Then it flew and landed where we could see it: a Palm Warbler.

It’s interesting how many have been around this fall. For years on end we may not see a single one then this year they’ve occurred in ones and twos throughout the island. It’s always nice to see warblers in winter; they’re so evocative of warm weather and sunshine and long evenings of light. They are true migrants, always going north in summer and south in winter. The ones that winter here have been caught up in one of the many storms and have stayed for a while.

So it was a good day. Dabbling ducks fed in the Honna Estuary and a few scoters and goldeneye fed in the bay. A tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted busily through the nearby bushes while 63 Bufflehead chased one another offshore. It’s the last land count of the series and it ended on a high note. Thanks to all who helped out and enjoy the birds in 2019.

Total species: 67. Total number: 5,044.

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