Monday, September 6, 2010

HAIDA GWAII


The ferry crossing was quite smooth and sunny (a rare occurrence in the Hecate apparently). In amongst a flock of HERRING and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, I picked out a WESTERN GULL—a nice bird this far north. The first half of the crossing was fairly quiet but once we got closer to the Charlottes, SOOTY and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER numbers started to pick up, and a few nice birds came into view including 2 adult YELLOW-BILLED LOONS (pictured--click to enlarge), a lone BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS (apparently extremely rare in the Hecate), and another nice adult LONG-TAILED JAEGER.

So, after arriving in Skidegate and buying a ticket for Alliford Bay and almost forgetting to pick up my big pack... I was on my way. The only other walk-on passenger was an attractive young girl (apparently orginally from Calgary but now a Sandspit local-- a bit of a change?) who apparently had a truck parked on the other side. Just as I was about to pop "the question" though, a Harley-driving "old friend from back in the day" butted in and offered to drive her up the hill to her car. Damn, too late... we were already at the terminal and a sign read: "foot passengers must wait until all vehicle traffic has cleared before exiting." That meant NO RIDE for me. I eyed up the car closest to me, trying to gauge whether or not they might offer a ride... but their backseat was filled with bags and 5 or 6 noisy chihuahuas so that was a no-go. "Ah well," I thought. "At least it will be a scenic walk."

After all the cars and trucks rolled away I was suddenly all alone on an empty road. Just me and the hemlocks. I noticed a flock of TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS and was about to check them more carefully when the rumble of a V8 Cummins Turbo Deisel engine suddenly broke the silence, and rounding the corner was 'pretty local girl' (I can't remember her actual name) in her black Dodge Ram (clearly the vehicle of choice on Moresby Island).

"Sorry for cutting you off back there, you want a ride?"

"Ummm... well... yeah I guess" "How far is it anyway?" (lier, I knew it was 12km)

"Pretty far," she said.

"Yeah okay I might as well. Thanks!"

She dropped me off at the marina, still 2km walk around the bay to where I had booked a couple nights at "Captain Ron's Guesthouse and Hostel." As I neared the spot where GoogleMaps had directed me, I noticed a handmade sign in front of a normal-looking house. It read: "GAP RON" except the wooden "G" looked like someone had tried to file it down to look like a "C" and the "A" was an upside-down V. Was this "Captain Ron's Guesthouse?" It looked like a house, for sure, but a guesthouse? I asked an old lady working in the "Bun Wagon" (a burger trailer) if she knew where Captain Ron's was. At first she stared at me like I was speaking Flemish or something, then said (in her stereotypical "old lady that has lived in the boonies for a long time" voice), "Captain Ron's?? There's no such thing. I've lived here for over 30 years and ain't never met a guy named Ron... hang on a minute, I think there's a sign down the road that says, 'GAP RON.' Maybe that's what you're looking for."

I thanked her and walked back down the road to the little pink house, knocked on the door and was immediately accosted by 8 chihuahuas, YES the same chihuahuas from the ferry. This was indeed Ron's place. His mother answered the door and hollered at her son to come down. Ron came over and showed me to my quarters-- basically his basement where another German backpacker named Sebastian was also staying (side note: apparently Sebastian's dad is a big-time birder back in Germany). Despite the fantastic-looking website -- complete with pictured of the man himself--(http://www.captainronsguesthouse.com/scrapbook-photos-of-haida-gwaii-us), the guesthouse is a bit of a "project in the works." Lots of cleaning and renovation to be done, but I will say that it is comfortable, cheap, and Ron is Ron: quite the character. He seems to know eveyone in Haida Gwaii including the dude who cut down the Golden Spruce... in fact Ron claims to have been initially accused and arrested for the crime before Thomas Grant Hadwin faxed in his confession. Apparently the chainsaw had been purchased under Ron's name (living on the Haida reserve in Old Masset at the time). You get the idea... as colourful as his language is and all groaning about his various health issues, he has a heart of gold. He treated Sebastian and I to dinner every night, took us out fishing for Pink and Coho Salmon on the Copper River (photo), and gave us bikes to ride around on.

But I wasn't in Sandspit for the fish or for socializing (that stuff is to keep me sane). I was hear for birds, rare birds more particularly which Sandspit has a great reputation for. As a flat grassy peninsula jutting out into the stormy Hecate, and surrounded by rain-forest, many lost birds are attracted to the sandy spits, mudflats, washed up kelp, grassy airport, and berry-producing shrubs in the area.
(Below: grasslands surrounding Sandspit airport)

Among the rarities list for this area are mouthwatering names like: Steller's Eider, Red-legged Kittiwake, Wood Sandpiper, Rustic Bunting, Yellow Wagtail, and most recently: Least Tern.

I'd be happy with any one of those! But first I had to check my fortune at the only business in town: "Dick's Wok-in."

Wow I'm on a roll!

I got out to the tip of end of the runway; I was hoping for golden-plovers and buff-breasted sandpipers but apparently dry weather has kept birds out of the fields. Instead I keyed into a strange bird that flushed off the trail in front of me. It took a few more flushes to figure it out, a new year bird and one I didn't expect until September: LAPLAND LONGSPUR.

The next day I met up with local birder and pastor, Peter Hamel. [Incidentally, Captain Ron also laid all the flooring and carpeting in Peter's church up in Masset-- renaissance man!] He toured me around the spit showing me just where to be relative the what the tide was doing.

Unfortunately there were very few shorebirds around today, but we did have great looks at a couple juvenile PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS (pictured), and just my luck-- a mega rarity from the south-- a MOURNING DOVE flew past off the ocean getting Peter extremely excited. Aw man! Why not a turtle-dove or something?

On the Sunday, my last full day in the Charlottes, rain was threatening but I made another trip out to the spit and was rewarded with 5 AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS (3 adults and 2 juvies all banded together). Otherwise, the only other difference from the day before was that there was only 1 Pacific Golden-Plover and a BAIRD'S SANDPIPER flew in for a close look (pictured).


It rained for most of the day but when the clouds lifted a bit, I went for a walk around the golf-course, checking through large groups of TOWNSEND'S and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS for things like Bay-breasted... yea right. But how neat is that? I could never say that in the Okanagan: "trying to pick through a flock of Townsend's for something cool." That IS COOL... what a smart-looking bird! Anyways, headed back to Ron's after more rain came in and watched the original 2 episodes of "X-Files" on VHS and learned all about breeding Deer-faced Chihuahuas from Ron. Apparently incest is okay in the dog-breeding world as long as it only happens 3 times. Or something... anyways, I must admit I was impressed with how "deer-like" some of his chihuahuas were.

Flew out of Sandspit the next morning, bound for Vancouver (don't worry the government is paying for it!). Managed to see some RED KNOT that evening with the help of Ilya Pov and Carlo G.

The smell of Fall is in the air... must find more birds.

Count update: 355

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