Barn Swallow chicks almost ready to fly. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Barn Swallow chicks almost ready to fly. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Geese in the meadow, swallows in the sky

By Margo Hearne

The overcast has brought them down. Small shorebirds land and feed in the soft mud and the Canada Geese create a ruckus in the long grass. Some sit along the edge of the water like so many tame waterfowl, but tame they are not. These are wild geese that nest near the ponds and lakes on island. They have returned to the sanctuary both from the moult and from the nesting season.

It seems that their numbers don’t increase yearly. One would think that, as downy young are often seen with their parents in late July and early August, that there would be more of them by now. Yet each year numbers remain somewhere between 120 and 160. Predators take their toll of course. Raccoons, which were introduced during the Depression, are a major threat to their survival. Geese nest on the ground, in a grass hollow, so the birds are easy prey. To my knowledge there have been no attempts to lower the population of raccoons on the main islands, so they continue to thrive. They also take Sooty Grouse eggs and chicks, which has put them on the “threatened” species list — a sad situation for what was once a thriving grouse population, especially on Graham Island.

Which brings me to the “naming of names,” which I mentioned in an earlier column. Who was Graham and why is the island named after him? According to Dalzell (1973), Sir James Robert Graham was the first Lord of the British Admiralty from 1852 to 1855. He did not have a naval career and never went to sea. When Commander James Prevost of the Virago was doing the first hydrographic survey of the island waters in 1853, he named the island after him. It was the first oceanographic survey ever undertaken in these waters.

The Canada Geese, of course, are oblivious to all that and don’t give a toss. They know where they come from as they graze on grass seeds and wait for the tide. They nested in the high muskeg off White Creek, Kliki Damen, and other muskeg bogs. All of this year’s summer rain was good for the bog lands. During the especially dry summer last year, many of the smaller water holes dried out completely and even some of the larger lakes were considerably diminished. They have now been replenished — into every sunshine a little rain must fall.

There’s a commotion in the sky. A Sharp-shinned Hawk is after the Barn Swallows. And now the swallows are after the hawk. There are enough of the little birds to mount a strong offensive, so the hawk flies on to friendlier skies. The nestlings at Jenny’s house are doing fine, all three of them, hungry mouths to feed. They should be fledged in about another week and will join the group that has been flitting through the grey sky. Parents are feeding young on the wing and they seem to dance in the sky getting ready for the big flight south.

On the Wing