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Rose Spit: a Christmas Bird Count like no other

December 21, 2011

Rose Spit is a long sandspit at the northeastern tip of Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands.  It is only accessible by foot or all-terrain vehicle, but every year Peter Hamel and Margo Hearne manage to do a Christmas Bird Count there.  At the end of the spit you are at the mercy of the weather and surrounded by some of the roughest waters in the north Pacific, but streams of passing seabirds can make this a magical place for a count.  Here is Margo’s report from this year’s effort (photos by Peter Hamel and Margo Hearne):

Margo Hearne on Rose Spit

“We didn’t know when we’d do it so there wasn’t a lot of advance planning, but with concerts and counts and cards and Christmas, it seemed that the sooner the Rose Spit count was completed, the better. It’s such a risky place to get to in winter and it has its own weather. The morning was perfectly calm and dry with a stunning red sunrise. What could go wrong? The weather. While we stood counting loons near the end of the spit, we noticed a long dark cloud approaching from the south and within fifteen minutes it was over us. Bam! Stinging rain and high winds hit us and stayed for the rest of the day. The hundreds of loons speeding around the spit when we first got there had a message, we should have followed them back to Tow Hill. But we toughed it out.

Peter Hamel and Martin Williams in a typical Rose Spit shelter

Ancient Murrelets landed close by and Short-tailed Shearwaters soared beside us. A tiny Song Sparrow came out from among the logs and a few Red-necked Grebes dove close by. But we had to leave, it was just too exposed. We went south down East Beach. It has changed a lot since we were last there. There are larger ponds, shifting sandbars and buried logs. Along the inside path where we often found sparrows, a dense spruce plantation has sprung up. We found chickadees, kinglets and a few song sparrows, but nothing new. On the way home the gull numbers along Tow Hill beach were incredible. Mew, Glaucous-winged, Western, Thayer’s, Herring and California fed along the waterline for miles. Eagles dropped in from time to time and a Peregrine Falcon swept low over the fringe of trees bordering the beach. Over 500 tiny white Sanderlings ran among the gulls and three very rare Glaucous Gulls were mixed in with the lot. There were more, but we got so wet we were beginning to get hypothermic. It was time to go home; to the wood stove, hot tea and cookies. Enough with the birds! ”

Glaucous Gull on Rose Spit Christmas Bird Count, 15 Dec 2011

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