DAY 1 ~ This morning we arrived at Prince Rupert just before noon as a steady rain fell. We took the ferry from Digby Island to Prince Rupert and checked into our hotel. We all got together at lunch and celebrated Pam’s birthday at a local Vietnamese restaurant. The tour officially began in the evening with dinner at a local establishment with an excellent view of the harbor. A gorgeous sunset was a nice way to finish off the day indeed.
DAY 2 ~ Bright and early we made our way to the ferry terminal in Prince Rupert where a little poking around the area produced a few birds including our first Pelagic Cormorants, a Belted Kingfisher, Steller’s Jays, American Robin, Savannah Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Glaucous-winged Gull and Mew Gull to name a few. We boarded the Northern Expedition and had plenty of time to get ourselves comfortable before the vessel left the docks at 10 AM. We could hear a Fox Sparrow singing on shore from the boat. Once we left the shore we had lovely sunny weather and soon we began encountering some good birds including Common Murres, Surf Scoters and quite a few Black-legged Kittiwakes.
Once we entered Hecate Strait the seas were quite rough, though on the sturdy ferry, we felt quite comfortable. Flocks of Sooty Shearwaters began to swirl around the boat and we scanned through them with great effort but couldn’t turn any of them into Short-tailed Shearwaters. At least two Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels were a real treat to see, as were several Pacific Loons. An adult Parasitic Jaeger sailed by, giving us a good view, and a Thayer’s Gull was a nice addition to the list. A few Rhinoceros Auklets bobbed up and down on the surf, leaving us with a yearning to see more of them, a little closer please! A single Northern Fulmar was seen as it scooted by aided by a whistling tailwind. A couple of flocks of migrant waterfowl included Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. The most exciting event of the day was when a pod of Orcas appeared with one male showing his huge dorsal fin several times as he broke the surface. Other mammals noted included Steller’s Sea-Lion, Harbour Seal and Pacific White-sided Dolphin. As we docked at Skidegate we added Red-necked Grebe to the list. We checked into our motel in Queen Charlotte City and went for a scrumptious dinner at a local seafood restaurant before heading off for some much needed rest.
DAY 3 ~ After a delicious breakfast we left Queen Charlotte City and made our way to Skidegate where we did a little birding while we waited for the Co-op to open up so we could get some food for lunch. We strolled through the neighborhood where we had Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Steller’s Jay and Belted Kingfisher. Along the waterfront in Skidegate there were Rhinoceros Auklets, Pelagic Cormorants, Common Loon, Greater Scaup, Black Oystercatcher and Bald Eagle. After we picked up our lunch we headed for the ferry terminal and made the short crossing over to Alliford Bay. A short ‘pit-stop’ at the Sandspit Airport was made to utilize the facilities before we embarked on our journey around the perimeter of the Sandspit Airport. The trail, which was very ‘birdy’, runs along the edge of the airfield and is bordered by the beach so this is a great place. There were Savannah Sparrows everywhere and we searched through them, finding little else other than a few Song Sparrows. Lapland Longspurs were particularly common today and we had some nice views of them and tallied close to 50. Raptors showed well also, with an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk, a couple of Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawk and at least two Short-eared Owls!
A Peregrine Falcon chased a Merlin high into the sky and what the outcome of the aerial battle was we will never know. The rocky beach had some nice shorebirds on it including several Pacific Golden-Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black Turnstone and Ruddy Turnstone. There were good numbers of sea ducks present with all three scoters represented, as well as Harlequin Ducks galore.
Farther out on the ocean were Common Murre, Pacific Loons, Red-breasted Merganser, Horned Grebe and the like. To finish off the day we explored some of Copper Bay Road for passerines but didn’t find too many. There were a few Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, a ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler and Chestnut-backed Chickadees about. Two immature Sharp-shinned Hawks, a male and a female, perched side by side in a dead tree next to the road. Pacific Wrens called but remained unseen in the thick coastal temperate rainforest. We then returned to Alliford Bay and took the short ride back on the ferry to Skidegate. En route we had great views of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres and Pelagic Cormorants. We had the help of Ian Cruickshank this afternoon as well, whose enthusiasm was welcome. Dinner at the Ocean View Restaurant was most fantastic again tonight. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day with better weather!
DAY 4 ~ After breakfast we loaded up our van and headed to the village of Skidegate where we patrolled the streets in search of birds in the bushy gardens. There were a few birds about including Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Siskin, Orange-crowned Warbler, Song and Fox sparrows, Pacific Wrens, Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Hairy Woodpecker and two very nice Red-breasted Sapsuckers. A Golden-crowned Sparrow was a nice find by Ian and was our only one for the tour.
As we traveled north along the east coast of Graham Island we stopped at the Halibut Bight Rest Area where we scanned the fairly calm seas and spotted Red-throated Loons, Pigeon Guillemot, loads of Red-necked Grebes, assorted scoters, Harlequin Ducks and a single Long-tailed Duck, the latter courtesy of Daryll.
We had a nice lunch at a little cafe in Tlell and then checked flooded meadows where there were some nice birds including a flock of American Pipits. Waterfowl included Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Gadwall and a group of ‘Dusky’ Canada Geese. A single Cackling Goose with a neck injury was also here. I scanned through a flock of birds, with the help of Marg and Kerry, finding an interesting partially leucistic Dark-eyed Junco, ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler and a single immature Cedar Waxwing. Several of us also had a good look at a Brown Creeper here.
A little drive along the Tlell River provided some fantastic scenery with the lethargic waters of the river bordered by towering spruce and cedar trees. Fisherman were pulling healthy salmon out of the river as we watched and we were pleased to see some totem poles here as well. Two Greater Yellowlegs resting along the banks of the river were new for our trip list.
As we stopped for a ‘comfort break’ in Port Clements I spotted a female Pine Grosbeak atop a conifer beside the road. We drove on to Masset and popped into the local Co-Op store to pick up food for dinner since no restaurants were open. Once we got to our accommodations, the Alaska View Lodge on North Beach, we set up the scopes and scanned the water. There were Surf, White-winged and Black scoters, Red-throated, Pacific and Common loons, Sooty Shearwater, and more out on the surf. Flocks of migrating dabbling ducks were coming in off the sea and included Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler. Unfortunately we never did see Alaska on the horizon during our stay, due to overcast weather. Our host Ben welcomed us as we ate our dinner and did our bird list. In the evening I heard a ‘Haida’ Northern Saw-whet Owl.
DAY 5 ~ A gray and drizzly morning greeted us as we walked along North Beach after a lovely breakfast prepared by Ben. In the vegetation along the edge of the beach we found the usual Savannah and Song sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Pacific Wren. On the beach was a flock of Sanderlings chasing the waves to and fro.
Along Tow Hill Road a small area of fresh water along the side of the road produced Northern Pintail, Mallard and Green-winged Teal. The lush forest, covered in a carpet of green moss, was awe inspiring and Lesley asked me to stop for a photo-op. As everyone was snapping photos I spotted a male Hairy Woodpecker, of the endemic subspecies, foraging on the moss covered trunk of a tree. We stopped at Agate Beach and many of the group fanned out in search of agates on the beach, though they couldn’t find any. Bobbing up and down on the waves were several tiny Marbled Murrelets, our first for the tour. At Tow Hill we parked and walked the beach out towards Rose Spit. I concentrated on the grassy vegetation and driftwood along the edge of the beach where I sifted through Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Pacific Wrens, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets but could find nothing unusual. The scenery was fantastic though.
We stopped in at our lodge for lunch and then made our way towards Masset and the Delkatla Nature Sanctuary. A stop at an estuary along the way produced a single Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and a Western Sandpiper, the latter of which was seen by the group only as it flew away. At Delkatla we scanned the ponds and found a nice little group of Long-billed Dowitchers.
Mixed in with Green-winged Teal were a couple of Blue-winged Teal here, new for the trip list. Overhead we heard Black-bellied and a Pacific Golden-Plover calling. As a light rain began to fall we retreated to the warmth and dry environs of the van. The end of the day was spent walking up and down the streets of Old Massett where we searched through the brushy gardens with high hopes of finding rarities. While no rarities could be found we did see Fox Sparrows, several Pine Grosbeaks, Steller’s Jays, Northern Flicker and a large flock of European Starlings. Bald Eagles seem to be at nearly every stop we made on Haida Gwaii.
We said goodbye to Ian, dropping him on the side of the hwy where he hitch-hiked back to Queen Charlotte City. We went for an early dinner in Massett, then returned to the Alaska View Lodge where we gathered in the dining room to do our daily bird list. Once darkness fell we headed outside to try and hear the saw-whet owl, with no luck. Unfortunately it was an overcast night so we were unable to see the lunar eclipse.
DAY 6 ~ After breakfast prepared by Stefan we loaded up the van and began the journey back down Graham Island towards Queen Charlotte City. At Tlell we stopped at the flooded fields where we had several interesting birds on our previous visit. This visit was very quiet though we did enjoy seeing a group of about 40 Cackling Geese next to the road. At Halibut Bight we scanned the sea again, though the tide was low and the birds were much farther out. On a snag a female Hairy Woodpecker sat long enough for us to get scope views. The usual Harlequin Ducks, scoters, Pigeon Guillemots and loons were noted offshore. We stopped at the Haida Cultural Center which was unfortunately closed today, though we enjoyed watching some very talented guys carving a totem pole.
The ferry ridge from Skidegate across the Alliford Bay provided good looks at birds such as Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet, Black-legged Kittiwake, Pacific Loons, Pelagic Cormorants and more. Several Harbour Porpoise were new mammals for the trip list as well.
We had a tasty lunch at the Sandspit Airport cafe, and when we emerged from the building we were greeted by a Merlin sitting atop a snag in the distance, thanks to Daryll. A few hours were then spent walking around the perimeter of the airport once again, and the birding was quite good. Numerous were Pacific Golden-Plovers and up to 30 of them were seen along with Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstone and Dunlin. Black Turnstones were also quite numerous and we had a single juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper here.
The Short-eared Owl was again noted at the airport today, as were Northern Harrier and a single Peregrine Falcon. Lapland Longspurs showed very nicely as they fed in the short grass of the airport, some of them allowing very close approach.
We met up with Peter Hamel and Margo Hearne, the two bird experts on Haida Gwaii and we scanned through a flock of gulls where Thayer’s, Mew, California, Herring and Glaucous-winged gulls were seen. Though numbers were low, there were 4 species of geese present at the airport today including a single Greater White-fronted, two Brant, three Cackling Geese and several ‘Dusky’ Canada Geese.
We caught the 5:35 ferry back to Skidegate where we said goodbye to Pam.
DAY 7 ~ The final day of the tour found us once again on a ferry bound for Prince Rupert. The Hecate Strait was much calmer today than it was on our journey a week earlier. As a result the birds were not as numerous since there wasn’t much wind for them to sail on. Sooty Shearwaters were numerous and I spotted a Pink-footed Shearwater but couldn’t get the group onto it before it disappeared. We had good looks at Pomarine Jaeger today, another new bird for the list. The highlight on this crossing once again was a pod of Orcas with at least three visible.
Our final dinner was nice and we tallied up our list, finding we had seen 99 species on our tour.