A Least Sandpiper displays on its territory. (Margo Hearne/Haida Gwaii Observer)

On the Wing: Of silence and spring

By Margo Hearne

After the usual long flight across the continent following a family visit, it was a relief to touch down and listen to the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees. The melancholy call of a Varied Thrush rang out from the dense bush and a robin, also a thrush, called from the cotoneaster bush. We just hope it leaves enough berries for the Cedar Waxwings that should be along in a month or so.

The family Song Sparrow has now declared its territory and the melodious Fox Sparrow sings its rich spring song. There is never really an absence of noise; it just seems as though natural sounds are much more normal to us as creatures of the world. And we can quickly forget that’s all that we are: another creature with bigger brains, opposable thumbs, and an imagination beyond the present moment.

Goodbye forest and bush, hello concrete and steel. We are all in this together; runway and airport lands were once owned by the wildlife of the area and I couldn’t have flown across the continent without the steel tube.

Out of the silence of Delkatla the Sandhill Cranes call their territorial imperative. It’s their land at the moment and anything approaching that seems to be a threat is warned off.

The cranes just returned earlier this month. Those lovely, leggy, prehistoric creatures are one of the wonders of the world. They nest in the front door of the town, stiff-winged, noisy and beautiful, and have been nesting in Delkatla since time immemorial. Seeing them quite lifts the spirit; it’s an assurance the world is unfolding as it should.

Sandpipers are also returning. Greater Yellowlegs, those ‘alarm birds’ call loudly along the banks of the local creek. They will be setting up territory very shortly as will the tiny Least Sandpipers, one of which was seen this week. These little birds continue to nest in the sanctuary on higher ground where the high tides don’t quite reach. Their nests don’t always survive depending on the water table; a very wet spring will wash them out.

Least Sandpipers live very short lives, six years at most. Regrettably, they don’t have much time to learn what works and what doesn’t. Interesting that in the mid 1980s there were many Least Sandpiper nests at the golf course as well as in Delkatla. The numbers have dwindled there as they have in the sanctuary.

So spring is on its way. The first flight of Greater White-fronted Geese swept through high in the sky yesterday morning, their call dropping down through the silence of the north. The herring are back in Skidegate Inlet to the joy of hundreds of diving ducks and Harlequin Ducks are moving in, waiting for the interior to thaw so they can move on. It’s busy out there!

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