Haida Gwaii with Avocet Tours

Day 1 – Today was mostly a travel day for us, as the seven Avocet Tours clients, and myself, arrived in Prince Rupert from various points across Canada. We had dinner at a nice restaurant on the harbor before retiring for the night. Not many birds were noted today, other than Northwestern Crows and a few Glaucous-winged Gulls in town.

Day 2 – It was a stunning day today, from start to finish, with lovely blue skies and gleaming sunshine. We made our way from our hotel in Prince Rupert to the ferry terminal

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Pelagic Cormorants. Skidegate, BC. Sep 30, 2016. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

where we boarded the ‘Northern Expedition’ at about 8:45 AM. From the boat, as we were waiting to depart, we had several bird species including Pelagic Cormorants, Bald Eagles,  a Rhinoceros Auklet, Mew, Glaucous-winged, Thayer’s and California gulls, Northwestern Crows, Steller’s Jay, Red Crossbill and American Robin. We could hear a Fox Sparrow singing on shore, and an adventurous Savannah Sparrow was hopping about on the ferry, perhaps ready to catch a lift across Hecate Strait. A lovely female Belted Kingfisher perched on a rusty bar beside the boat in the morning sun, allowing the photographers in the group to snap pictures to their heart’s content. Once we finally left the dock and began

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Female Belted Kingfisher. Prince Rupert. BC. Sep 29. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

our 7 hour journey, we were all amazed by the scenery. The birds were pretty nice too, though it was a bit quiet to begin with. Eventually we began bumping into little groups of Surf Scoters, as well as Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets. A few Marbled Murrelets made brief appearances as did several Cassin’s Auklets. Two or three small pods of Harbor Porpoises were a treat to see, as they played hide and seek with the waves. Once we hit the open ocean more birds began to appear; Pacific Loons, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and White-winged Scoters were all seen. Reluctantly we paused for lunch, hoping we didn’t miss too much outside. Back out on the deck after lunch some of us were lucky enough to spot an adult breeding plumage Yellow-billed Loon, and Real and I were treated to views of the only Leach’s Storm Petrel of the trip. Scanning through the Sooty Shearwaters I pointed out one Short-tailed Shearwater, but we probably saw quite a few of them today without being able to identify them. We reached the east coast of Haida Gwaii’s Graham Island and

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Bald Eagle. Haida Gwaii, BC. 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

paralleled it as we traveled south towards Skidegate. I pointed out a Sabine’s Gull flying low over the water, yet another nice bird to add to the trip list. Our fourth loon species of the day, a Red-throated Loon, dove beneath the water as the boat drifted by. Once we got close to land numbers of Common Murres and Rhinocers Auklets were high. Waiting to greet us at the dock were Red-necked Grebes, White-winged Scoter and the usual Common Ravens and Northwestern Crows. I went and retrieved the van from Skidegate Village nearby, then returned to pick everyone up and we made the short drive into Queen Charlotte together. The town was abuzz with activity as tomorrow William and Kate of Royal family fame are visiting the area.

Day 3 – Our first morning on Haida Gwaii began with a hearty breakfast at the Ocean View Restaurant in Queen Charlotte, and then we made our way to the Skidegate Ferry Terminal for the 8:35 AM crossing to Alliford Bay. As we waited for the ferry we saw a few birds including a stately Bald Eagle, and some Song and Fox sparrows. During the short ferry crossing we noted good numbers of Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as Pacific Loons and a few Black-legged Kittiwakes. Once on Moresby Island the sunshine came out and we enjoyed a

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Harlequin Ducks. Sandspit, BC. Sep 30. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

spectacular day of birding in the Sandspit area. We spent much of the morning walking around the northern perimeter of the airport, starting off with excellent views of several Harlequin Ducks. A group of 20-30 Black Turnstones were a nice addition to the list as they foraged along the pebbly shoreline. Out on the water were Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, and Common Loon, all three scoter species, and some Pigeon Guillemots. Savannah Sparrows were numerous along the grassy edge of the airport, and we repeatedly bumped into a large flock of 100+ Lapland Longspurs here as well. An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk attempted several times to catch a longspur, but appeared to be unsuccessful. Also in the grassy habitat along the edge of the beach were Lincoln’s and Song sparrows. A Northern Flicker, our first for

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Pacific Golden Plover (right). Sandspit, BC. Sep 30, 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

the tour, perched atop a small fir tree. Just before lunch we added a few more goodies to the list;  Pacific Golden Plover, along with a group of a dozen or so Black-bellied Plovers, and a single Dunlin. The rarest sighting of the day today was not a bird. We just happened to have our scopes and binoculars set up as the private jet carrying the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, arrived and stepped off the plane and onto a search and rescue helicopter bound the Queen Charlotte.

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William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, arrive at Sandspit. Sep 30, 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

We had lunch in a cafe in the Sandspit airport and then headed back out in the field to continue our explorations of the area, this time focusing on the south end of the airfield. A flock of 30 or so ‘Dusky’ Canada Geese were seen along the beach and soon thereafter we found 9 Greater White-fronted Geese and a couple of Cackling Geese in the same area. Two Pectoral Sandpipers dropped into the long grass, briefly causing excitement before their identities had been ascertained. At Mather’s Bight we sat on a log and watched seabirds pass by with Black Scoters putting on a nice show for us. A flock of 40 or so Sanderlings

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Sanderlings. Sandspit, BC. Sep 30, 2016. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

entertained us here, and we scanned through the Savannah Sparrows finding a single Horned Lark amongst them. Feeling rather tired and quite content with our day we made our way back to the Alliford Ferry Terminal to catch the last boat of the day. We arrived quite early so we had some time for birding in the mixed forest around the terminal. This was very productive and we had Pacific Wren, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, and some lovely Townsend’s Warblers here. Our first Double-crested Cormorant of the tour flew past and we watched several Black Oystercatchers through the scope as well. Once back at Queen Charlotte we returned to our motel and went out for a nice dinner before retiring for the evening.

Day 4 – We found ourselves bathing in sunshine again this morning, our last morning in Queen Charlotte City. What have we done to deserve this amazing weather? A short stop at a little park towards the west end of the village yielded our first Dark-eyed Juncos of the tour, along with distant views of a male Hairy Woodpecker. We then stopped at the Haida

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Fox Sparrow. Skidegate, BC. Oct 1, 2016. Photo: Chris Charlesworth.

Heritage Center to admire the totem poles that the Haida people are well known for. A male Red Crossbill sat atop a Sitka Spruce for scope views here as well. We strolled the streets of Skidegate, finding a nice selection of birds including a lovely Red-breasted Sapsucker, as well as a ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow, more juncos, Song Sparrows, American Robin, and a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Carrying on our northward journey, we paused at Halibut Bight Rest Area and scanned the sea. Several Harlequin Ducks were admired here, and farther offshore were Black, White-winged and Surf scoters, Red-necked Grebes, Common Loons and a few Pigeon Guillemots. We had lunch at the Crow’s Nest Cafe in Tlell, where the home made food was scrumptious. Sharon pointed out an adult Red-tailed Hawk out of the window of the cafe. After lunch we looked out at the sea where on last year’s tour we had Red-throated Loon. I was quite surprised to see a Red-throated Loon today in exactly the same place. Next, we checked wet meadows near Tlell where we added a few duck species including American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal. A pair of Sandhill Cranes was a nice surprise here and Sharon spotted yet another Red-tailed Hawk here. In trees nearby we found a little feeding flock that included several immature Cedar Waxwings, as well as Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and our first Brown Creeper of the tour. We took a little drive along the Tlell River, and saw very few birds, but the scenery was very nice.

After a short pit stop in Port Clements we carried on to Masset and made our way to the Alaska View Lodge B & B, which lived up to its name today as the great weather made it possible to see Prince Of Wales Island in Alaska approx 70 km to the north across Dixon Entrance. Out on the ocean we saw many of the birds we had already seen earlier today, and I pointed out a pair of Parasitic Jaegers as they sailed past. We headed back into town and had dinner at a local Chinese establishment and then returned to our lodge. Once it was dark we headed out to try for a Northern Saw-whet Owl, with no luck tonight. The show of stars were rather spectacular however.

Day 5 – We enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise on the beach in front of our b & b this morning. We could see Alaska in the distance, and the sun rose over Tow Hill. A large mass of gulls on the beach included two adult Western Gulls, the only ones we had on the entire tour. Sanderlings were rather abundant here with several hundred running up and down the beach.

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Sunrise with Tow Hill in the distance. Oct 2, 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

After a hearty breakfast prepared by our host Ben, we headed out birding, stopping first at Agate Beach. Out on the surf were the usual suspects; Red-throated and Pacific loons, Surf, Black and White-winged scoters, Pelagic Cormorants and an assortment of gulls. Two Peregrine Falcons slid through the treetops and out of sight. The weather was spectacular

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Red Crossbill. Tow Hill, BC. Oct 2, 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

today, maybe even too spectacular for birds which would have just been migrating overhead given the excellent conditions. I walked in the bushy edge habitat where the sand met the forest and I pished and squeaked but only attracted Song Sparrows, Pacific Wrens, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a couple of Red Crossbills. It was still a lovely walk nonetheless.

We picked up lunch in Massett and made our way to the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary where we had a picnic. The weather began to change and the skies got gray and cloudy quite fast, and the wind picked up. In the slough we had a few interesting birds including our first Greater Yellowlegs and Long-billed Dowitchers, as well as waterfowl including Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal and a single Blue-winged Teal.

Dinner this evening at a local restaurant called Charters was fantastic, and highly recommended if you are in Massett. We tried, unsuccessfully to find a saw-whet owl tonight, but the stars ended up being quite impressive.

Day 6 – We said goodbye to Ben this morning and made our way to the Dixon Entrance Golf

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Greater White-fronted Goose. Massett, BC. Oct 3, 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Course for a quick look in the rainy, breezy weather that had materialized overnight. We saw very little at the golf course, other than a Lapland Longspur and a solitary Greater White-fronted Goose.

A wander around Old Massett was somewhat unproductive, with only a few Song Sparrows and Common Ravens found. We did seem to pique the interest of every dog in the neighborhood. Along the shore of Massett Sound were Herring, Mew, Glaucous-winged and Thayer’s gulls, and out on the water there were the usual Common Loons and Surf Scoters. We began the drive back to Queen Charlotte, stopping off along the way for a comfort break at Port Clements. In Skidegate we visited the Longhouse Gift Shop for some much needed retail therapy and then we waited for the 3:45 PM ferry to Alliford Bay. We killed some time at a little park in Queen Charlotte where a few species including Black Scoter, Western Grebe, Mew Gull, and some gorgeous Harlequin Ducks were added to the day list. The conditions were rough as we crossed the ferry, and Real tried to ‘tough it out’, but was driven in by the wind and rain. We saw a Sabine’s Gull, along with Black-legged Kittiwake and Common Murre. Once we made our way to Sandspit we were dealing with a full on wind storm. Gusts of up to 120 kph were recorded over the course of the evening at the Massett Airport. We checked into our inn and headed for the only restaurant open in town, Dix Wok In. It was a very pleasant little restaurant with good food and friendly owners.

Day 7 – It was our last morning on Haida Gwaii and the overnight wind storm had calmed down which we were quite happy about. Brian and Suzanne were to catch a ferry early this morning, but the boat was delayed due to the weather and rough seas. We had breakfast at the little cafe inside the Sandspit airport and then we walked around the northern perimeter of the property. Ellen and I were lucky enough to ‘bump into’ a Golden-crowned Sparrow, an immature bird, hiding in the shrubs next to the airport. Tide was quite a long way out, but the waterfowl numbers were impressive, especially the Harlequin Duck which numbered into the hundreds. Also present were Surf and White-winged scoters, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose and a nice selection of grebes and loons. On the shore we had several Killdeer and 20 or more Black Turnstones. In the distance several Black Oystercatchers foraged along the rocky shore. The large flock of 150 or so Lapland

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Immature Peregrine Falcon. Sandspit, BC. Oct 4, 2016. Photo: Real Sarrazin.

Longspurs were again present, and still being chased about by Sharp-shinned Hawk and Peregrine Falcon. 5 Pectoral Sandpipers came in and landed on the edge of the runway allowing good scope views and a Long-billed Dowitcher flew over several times. The best bird of the morning however was a Short-eared Owl that showed itself nicely from all different angles just before lunch. After all was said and done we tallied up our list at lunch and the bird species tally stands at 91 species. It was a pleasure to lead my group around. They were a fun crew and we had some good times together, and saw a lot of great scenery, birds and wildlife in general.

Chris Charlesworth

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