A turnstone and a gull at Yakan. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

A turnstone and a gull at Yakan. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Christmas Bird Count reports from Rose Spit

By Margo Hearne

There’s no doubt about it, Rose Spit is a desolate, lonely place. Now that the end of the grassy point has been further eroded by rising sea levels, the east side is covered with skeletal remains of gray, exposed, long-dead trees that have been buried for ages. Among the ruins lie many plastic drift-net floaters and other detritus. The beaches of Haida Gwaii were among the cleanest in the world over 40 years ago. Now, sadly there are plastics everywhere.

Rising sea levels have also flattened out the beach for a long way, although there are steep gravel ridges to trap the unwary. The whole area has, as Yeats would say, a terrible beauty. Terrible in its dangerous steep waves, beautiful in its wild remoteness. It’s not a place to play around in on a rising tide.

Birds like it however, which is why we were out there in mid-winter. The Christmas Bird Count takes no prisoners! Over a thousand Common Murres swept by offshore heading east; 611 Sanderlings fed busily on the low beach; a few hundred gulls, mostly Glaucous-winged, surfed below the crest of the towering waves, catching the energy between air and water. Two shearwaters soared skywards far offshore, two dark things against the cobalt blue. You have to give the birds credit for resilience, survivability and general toughness.

Pacific and Common Loons rose and fell with the waves. Were they real? It was hard to tell sometimes. Three Red-throated Loons flew by and those natty little Long-tailed Ducks flashed black and white through the scattered sea together with three Ancient Murrelets.

A falcon sat at the edge of the spit like an emblem from another time. The waves crashed ever closer. It was time to check for forest birds. Pacific Wren: 14, Golden-crowned Kinglet: 15, Varied Thrush: four. One tiny Red-breasted Nuthatch, a few Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos and, just for Christmas, three lovely White-winged Crossbills, only the second time recorded on the Rose Spit count.

The wind and tide rose together and it was time to get off the windswept beach on the shortest day of the year. Thanks to Cecil for the use of his small four-seater and to Martin for his canny driving.

Total species: 32; total individuals: 2,104.

On the Wing


A falcon at the edge of the world. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

A falcon at the edge of the world. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)