Northern Flicker Margo Hearne photo

On the Wing: Reflections on forests and fog

“On Haida Gwaii it seems as though nothing has changed.”

by Margo Hearne

The song is silent; the cranes are almost all gone and it feels as though there is nothing out there. As we listen to the silence an unusual hawk appears, dipping and weaving over the grass. It’s a Northern Harrier. It came from nowhere and fades away into the light fog. It’s the season. Still mornings, mist rising, leaves falling, harriers flying.

There’s a cool north-easterly blowing. This is southeast country, what is happening? Climate change has become a climate crisis. Where do we go from here? On Haida Gwaii it seems as though nothing has changed. We don’t get raging wildfires or killer tornadoes and the temperature doesn’t appear to have changed appreciably. But there’s an awakened consciousness of the damage we continue to do to raise the temperature through the loss of coastal rainforests. Every tree gone leaves an open space. That space gets covered quickly; the dark earth doesn’t like to be exposed and will cover itself in green, but it’s not the cool green of what was but the open green of what it is becoming. The rain-forest’s big secret is that it’s warm in winter and cool in summer. It moderates the temperature of the earth. Removing the forest means removing the water that the next generation of trees needs in order to grow. Its all downhill; the forest dies and so does everything else that lives in it.

The fog lifts and the harrier re-appears. It’s a cinnamon juvenile (the male is grey, female brown) and could be this year’s young carried here on the recent southeasterly. We often get one or two showing up in fall, its distinctive white tail-patch flashes in flight as it weaves its way along. It doesn’t nest here although it’s fairly common across Canada.

A bird calls loudly in the distance. It’s a Northern Flicker, a member of the woodpecker family that lives among the trees. It’s a bright bird, when it flies its underwings flash a lovely salmon-red and, like the harrier, it has a bright, white tail-patch. It nests in tree-cavities and is more visible in fall. One moved in under the eaves a few year’s ago. It used to slam against the house at night then clamber noisily up the side of the house, usually around Hallowe’en. Scary. It left eventually and we had to block the entrance before it produced young and they all moved in for the winter. It still lives in the forest beside the house where we hope the trees stay forever.

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