A Caspian tern in flight. (Matt MacGillivray/Flickr)

On the Wing: Sunny days, gulls and terns

Many summer birdsongs are starting to fade, but Swainson’s Thrush still sing out in the evenings

By Margo Hearne

Now that the rains have come, the robins are busy feeding on bugs in the soft grass. Hot and dry doesn’t suit them, although it does suit us from time to time. It was simply beautiful these past few days, that clear blue northern light that shines down on Haida Gwaii is exceptional — the sky is unpolluted so it’s sharp as a knife.

A few years back when giant sandstorms blew across from China and created a yellowish haze over the islands it created quite a different aerial aspect. Those storms brought in some rare birds from the west, including an Asian Dowitcher. But that’s another story.

It’s quiet out there. The songs of summer are beginning to fade, although the lovely Swainson’s Thrush’s evening song continues. The occasional sparrow chirped at us from the low bush along the margin of the beach. In the afternoon heat it didn’t seem to have the energy to call out the jazzy little number we hear in the early morning.

Beach birds were almost non-existent. The big flocks of shorebirds have not come through yet, although a few dowitchers — those large shorebirds with long bills — poked among the huge wracks of seaweed drying on shore. A Caspian Tern rasped overhead — it had been roosting with a flock of gulls further out before taking flight over the bay. It’s a rare summer visitor with a bright red bill and black head.

The hummingbirds seem to have vanished. All those feeders that they emptied in about three days have stayed full and the sweet liquid has begun to go mouldy in the heat. They have to be taken down and washed out with salty water. It seems the birds don’t like the flavour of soap.

We used to wash glass vases with a mixture of sand and water as kids — the sand removed all the grunge inside. Perhaps it was not great for cut crystal, not that we had much, but is glass not made from sand anyway? That is, sand at 1,700 C. It becomes liquid then. That won’t be happening anytime soon on our beaches, but it’s probably okay to wash out the hummingbird feeder with a little sand.

Hummingbirds are still here; there’s enough wild food crop to feed the young in the nest. They need more protein than the feeder can provide so they’re foraging elsewhere. A siskin at the waterhole was buzzed by a hummingbird just last week and they occasionally fly high over the house on an important errand. They may come back to the feeders before heading south.

Two pairs of Sandhill Cranes feed in the sanctuary. There is no sign of young — this time last year there were two chicks running around. Perhaps the extreme tides of June combined with the heavy rains washed the nests out. We heard recently that some of the Black Oystercatcher nests on the high beach were washed out by those tides. It seems unusual. One would think that the birds had learned enough to stay above the highest high tide line, but things are changing. There is more water slopping around the oceans as the icepack melts and the birds have not, and may not, adapt.

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