White-throated Sparrow in the holly. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Christmas bird count #3 — Port Clements

By Margo Hearne

After getting beaten about by the four winds, it was lovely to have a calm day in Port Clements. The sun rose fair and there wasn’t a drop of rain. The town was quiet, crows called from far away and Canada Geese floated gently by. All was as it should be.

Out over the water a flock of scaup fed in the silent water and three lovely Snow Geese rested on shore close to the museum. As we strolled through the park in the centre of town, a bright Red-breasted Sapsucker clung to a tall hemlock and, wonderful surprise, a Saw-when Owl sat on the edge of a branch trying not to open its eyes against the bright sun. We know these small owls nest here and call in quiet evenings but we rarely see them in daylight. But for Martin’s keen eye we might have missed it altogether.

On the way to Juskatla we drove past a Great Blue Heron sitting on the wharf and noticed that the full-moon tides were really high so we couldn’t pick up any ducks on the Yakoun Estuary at all. We usually spend over an hour there and had to settle for 13 Trumpeter Swans floating by.

However, we had a bonanza at Juskatla. In the far distance were two Marbled Murrelets, five Red-necked Grebes and one tiny Horned Grebe that appeared just over our shoulder. There were Mallard, teal and pintail at the point, and three Gadwall came within range for a few seconds before disappearing behind a huge, washed up snag.

We lucked out with 50 Barrow’s Goldeneye — a fresh-water diving duck — unlike the Common Goldeneyes that had braved the stormy saline seas in Hecate Strait a few days earlier. As we studied the flock two Canvasbacks appeared, then a White-winged Scoter, then two Lesser Scaup.

When we scanned again, a really rare Redhead appeared! How strange. Ducks are the stars of the show this year, what with the Wood Duck in Tlell a few days earlier and now a Redhead that should be in swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. While we checked the water, Martin found a number of forest birds, including kinglets, chickadees, siskins, wrens, woodpeckers and one tiny Brown Creeper, the only one for the day. It was time for coffee and butter tarts back in town.

Light fades fast in mid-winter but birds continued to appear. A Myrtle Warbler, nice; two Fox Sparrows, 21 Song Sparrows, 18 Varied Thrushes. What was that bird in the distant snag we could see from the post office? A Merlin, of all things. It attracted a small crowd who saw it through the spotting scope.

Before the light went completely, we heard a quiet “tink” coming from a low holly. It was a bird but what kind? It stayed hidden for ages, then a lovely White-throated Sparrow appeared, all sharply drawn and neat as a pin. It even cooperated while we took photos. We left it to roost for the night and then we went home.

Total species: 56. Total number: 1,778

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