Sunday, 21 October 2012

Haida Gwaii

Friday, Oct. 19

Having arrived in the dark last night, today we get our first looks at Haida Gwai.  Our destination is Sandspit (on Moresby Island) to search for a Rock Sandpiper.  The forecast was for 40% chance of showers and a high near 8 … we were to find out that 40% chance meant that it would only rain 40% of the time!  We had already learned that showers on the north coast of BC were different than showers in Calgary … here, showers appears to mean heavy rain that doesn’t last too long as opposed to a light rain. 
View from our motel in Queen Charlotte City

After a hearty breakfast at the Ocean View Restaurant, we took the ferry from Graham Island to Moresby Island.  On the way to Sandspit, we stopped midway to scan the waters … lots of Common Loons but no Yellow-billed Loons.  We were pleased to see many Black Scoters as well as some other sea ducks.

Around 11 a.m., we arrived at the end of the road at the entrance to the Sandspit airport.  After scanning the beach and finding nothing, we decided to walk to the point.  Ray and Phil took the grassy path just outside the airport fence and Mike and I walked the beach.  The paths ran parallel for a while but diverged just as we reach some isolated trees.  We were about 200 metres apart when Mike and I heard a call that we didn’t recognize.  We saw two birds in flight and were delighted when they landed nearby – BRAMBLING! 
Rather than shouting (and perhaps scaring the birds), I used the phone to contact Ray and Phil.  It turns out, they were just about to call us with news of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper!  Ray spotted this bird and Phil was looking for it when we called.  Phil saw the bird for team #500 and then it flew off.  While searching for the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Phil found a Rock Sandpiper for #501!  Amazing, 3 new team birds within 5 minutes!

We didn’t have any time to celebrate as we had to try to get all four of us on the three birds.  Fortunately, the two Bramblings were more cooperative and hung around for all of us to get good looks.  The two sandpipers were not so cooperative.
After lunch at the only spot in town – a bistro at the airport – we ventured out along Copper Bay Road.  Not too far along, we found hundreds of shorebirds – mostly Dunlin, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plovers and Black Turnstones – which included two Rock Sandpipers that we all saw.
Rock Sandpiper

We went back to the spit where the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers had been seen but the spit had disappeared under the rising tide and all of the birds had gone to points unknown.  We headed back towards the ferry terminal, checking a few sites along the way but didn’t find anything of interest.
In anticipation of reaching 500, Phil and Ray had purchased some champagne in Prince Rupert – Veuve Clicquot which they claimed was the best available (not that I would notice any difference!) – and we had a celebration back at the motel.  We also toasted our wives, acknowledging the tremendous support they have given us this year.  We are planning a proper celebration with them later this year once we are all back in Calgary.
A toast to 500!

Today, we were heading for Masset on the north end of Graham Island (about 100 km away).  We were surprised to find a thick coating of ice on the windshield and the passenger door frozen.
Scraping ice of the windows using credit cards!
The road was also quite icy so Ray drove slower than usual (I won’t specify what “usual” means!) and we headed north.  We had been in contact with some well-known local birders – Margo Hearne and Peter Hamel – and they suggested that we stop at Misty Meadows in Naikoon Provincial Park. 

The heavy frost persisted as we walked out onto the beach.  Here there were many shorebirds but of the same species we had seen the day before.  The views however were quite dramatic.
Frosty beach
Storm clouds looming offshore
At Masset, we tracked down Margo and Peter and they were keen to show us some of the local birding spots.  Along with their birding friend, Martin Williams (who is a Haida argillite carver) we went to Entry Point to scan for Yellow-billed Loons.  We saw many birds on the water but no Yellow-billed Loons.  The bird that attracted the most attention for our new friends was a Red-breasted Nuthatch which is unusual for the area.
Peter, Margo and Martin
As we were about to leave, Margo spotted a flock of juncos near the cemetery and we stopped to scan the flock.  We were to learn later that day of the importance of scanning junco flocks.  After a pleasant lunch in town, we went to the north coast to continue our loon search. 
Northern Flicker on cemetery totem

Peter seems to have a photographic memory of all the rare birds seen on Haida Gwaii and the dates that they were seen.  As we were about to walk down to the beach, we were informed that they had seen a Rustic Bunting on this trail … we said, “Great, show us one!”

While the group walked along the beach, Margo lagged behind as she walked along the edge of the grass.  As we were scoping some shorebirds, someone looked back to see Margo waving her hands trying to catch our attention.  She had spotted a different looking bird in with a flock of juncos.  The group converged on the flock and soon re-found the bird feeding in the grass.  Peter immediately called out RUSTIC BUNTING and we all strove to get a good view of this rare bird.  Fortunately, it was very cooperative and occasionally perched on small trees on the meadow.
Rustic Bunting
During the year, many people have asked us, “What is the rarest bird you have seen?” and we really didn’t have a clear cut answer.  Now we do as the Rustic Bunting (an Asian bird) has been recorded less than 10 times in Canada.

We said our good-byes to Martin and made arrangements to meet up with Peter and Margo at Sandspit on Sunday, weather permitting.  As I write this on Sunday morning, it is cold, windy and wet but the forecast is for sunshine this afternoon.  Who knows what good birds might be waiting for us?  
Note: our lists won’t be updated for a few days as the internet connection is a bit slow here in Queen Charlotte City.



  1. Congrats on hitting 500 and thanks for sharing your amazing adventure.

  2. Huge congratulations from both of us - a fantastic effort ! Steve & Karen.

  3. Congratulations! Great birds to get to 500! I've really enjoyed following your efforts and hope there is more to come. Bob

  4. Some excellent species!!! Congratulations on getting to 500; and what a way of getting there! Add to that the fact that you were written about on the ABA blog for these rare birds!