Thursday, 25 October 2012

Farewell to Haida Gwaii

Sunday October 21 – Rain, Rain, Rain

Showers were in the forecast and we awoke to the sound of rain hitting the roof. We soon convinced ourselves to linger over breakfast and take the 10:00 AM ferry across to Sandspit. At the ferry line-up we met Peter, Margo and Martin, who had driven down from Masset, undeterred by the weather. On the other side, we had a good view of a Black Bear as we drove to Sandspit. With no signs of the rain easing we made straight for Brady’s Bistro at the airport. As a walk along the shoreline would be better after lunch, on a rising tide, Peter suggested we check out the golf course first.

Emerging from the warmth of the terminal, Martin spotted and pointed out a “Black” Merlin (subspecies suckleyi) for us. Few passerines were in evidence as we trudged in the rain around the Willows golf course, but we did flush up three Wilson’s Snipe and a small flock of Green-winged Teal. The best was at the end, as a wet and very dark Northern Goshawk (subspecies laingi) perched above us.
Northern Goshawk (ssp. laingi)
With no let-up in the rain, Peter and Margo took us to the Moresby Island Guesthouse, where hostess Rae kindly invited us in for coffee and fresh baked goods. The afternoon continued blustery and rainy, and yet we had a very enjoyable time, walking the perimter of the airport, checking out the shoreline as we went. In advance of the one scheduled flight of the day, a pick-up drove up and down the runway to scare off the Canada and Cackling Geese. A good variety of raptors were aloft: Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon and two more “Black” Merlins. The highlight was definitely two Short-eared Owls hunting around the fringes of the airport.
A Short-eared Owl Observes the Team
 Seven Snow Buntings and a dozen Lapland Longspurs foraged beside the runway, and two Varied Thrushes inhabited the trees where we’d seen the Bramblings on Friday. All the usual species of shorebirds were in evidence, including dozens of Black Turnstones, at least 14 Rock Sandpipers and a lone Pacific Golden-Plover, found for us by Margo.

Pacific Golden-Plover
 On our way back to the ferry, Peter made a stop to take a look at a hundred or so gulls on a gravel bar. He was excited to see over 30 Bonaparte’s Gulls among them, a rare sight for Haida Gwaii apparently. Still, we dragged ourselves away, said hurried goodbyes and thanks, and Brian sped us to the ferry terminal, where we arrived with seconds to spare before the departure of the 5:30 PM ferry. Earlier Brian had seen the carlottae subspecies of Steller’s Jay, endemic to Haida Gwaii, and was able to point one out for the rest of us as we eased into the village of Queen Charlotte, marking the conclusion of three great days of birding on Haida Gwaii.
The village of Queen Charlotte (aka Queen Charlotte City), pop. 1045
 Monday October 22 – Shearwater Delight

Mike needed to fly to Vancouver from Sandspit later today, so he said his goodbyes to the rest of us as we set off for the ferry from Skidegate back to Prince Rupert. It was a bright sunny morning, with snow much in evidence on the surrounding peaks, but fortunately not down to sea level. As with the outbound voyage, we were lucky to make the crossing of Hecate Strait in calm conditions.

Skidegate Inlet
Peter and Margo have made the ferry crossing many times and had explained to us that the real seabird action would not start until about 2 ½ hours into the voyage, as the ferry turns north-east across the strait. Before then we looked in vain for Yellow-billed Loon and Ancient Murrelet, and had to be content with large flocks of Long-tailed Ducks and many Common Murres.

Today it would be 3 ½ hours before the first shearwater sighting. Once they came on the scene, in ones and twos and never more than four together, we devoted our attention to them, as we hoped to see Short-tailed Shearwaters and, more importantly, distinguish them from Sooty Shearwaters. An excellent reference is “Field Separation of Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters” by Greg Gillson in the ABA journal “Birding” and would that we had read it before the trip! Only about 60 shearwaters were in evidence from the ferry, and none came as close as one would like. But, based on our observation of the two distinctive flight styles, and a review of Brian’s pictures in the evening, we are confident we saw both species, with the Short-tailed being no. 503 for us.

Short-tailed Shearwater, juvenile

A disappointment on the westbound ferry crossing was the lack of sea mammals. On the return, apart from brief sightings of Harbour Porpoise and Humpback Whale, we saw none at all. Indeed, once the shearwater show was over, there was little of interest to keep us motivated to stay on deck, and we succumbed to the comforts of the seats in the lounge, monitoring the seas through the windows.

We flew out of Prince Rupert on Tuesday, thus ending the final planned team excursion of the year. We will fit in some local outings, hoping to find a mammal or two, and will update the blog if we are able to add to our total. We will also make some posts reflecting on various aspects of Fur and Feathers 500, a most memorable year in our lives, so if you’ve been following us along, please stay tuned!

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