Last Monday my brother Vince and I went biking and birding along California Beach. It was gloomy; flurries fell from the sky every now and then, but we decided to brave the weather anyways and get outside. My scope tripod gave me some trouble as I tried to lash it to my bike, and I could not for the life of me remember how I did it last year when it worked so well! I decided to lash it to Mom’s bike instead, which Vince was borrowing. Her bike has a crate-carrier type thing on the back which made my tripod a lot more secure. It started to flurry lightly; my brother and I booked it for the beach.
Vince biked down a sandy slope a few times as I set up my scope on my favourite sand peak and began counting the waterfowl. An immature Bald Eagle perched on the lake ice close to the water, watching the ducks and surveying the lake. He looked regal despite his scruffiness and odd colours. None of the ducks braved venturing near that part of the open water. A massive flock of ducks easily seen with the naked eye huddled in the cold water, trying in vain to protect themselves from the snow. The scope showed that they were all Northern Pintails… over 150! Six Trumpeter Swans were scattered down the lake, and a cluster of five Tundra Swans coasted the far shore. Further on my scope found four Bonaparte’s Gulls bobbing in the water; grey on grey. A fifth sat on a rock not far from the others. A Yellow-rumped Warbler sang a short burst of song while flitting from leafless tree to leafless tree. The everything was so grey that even the warbler’s bright yellow rump looked dull.
I could also hear a Robin doing its contact call across the street. I turned back to the scope to see the snow getting heavier and fast approaching our side of the shore so Vince and I packed up and went for our next spot. Along the way we stopped to listen to the Robin sing its ‘before the rain’ song, a sweet-sounding bell announcing the arrival of a storm. Six more Robins went to join it and they all tucked deep inside a giant spruce tree before falling silent. Further down the road a large flock of Common Redpolls/Juncos/American Tree Sparrows flew by, causing a few moments of sudden disturbance.
Some of the ducks on the water at our next stop were fairly flighty, so we scoped them before going to my usual spot on the shore. It was mostly Northern Pintails, but a male American Wigeon, some Mallards, Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Goldeneye were mixed in with them. Even through the gloom their feathers gleamed brightly. A Nearby pair of Canada Goose posed for us and looked as though they were the king and queen of the lake: they held their heads high and stood with an essence of magnificence. A pair of Bald Eagles displayed the devotion of soul-mates with their high-flying dance. A Greater Yellowlegs foraged along the shore seeming to be at one with the mud. Only his bright yellow legs gave him away to my scope. Occasionally he would stand tall and let loose a loud rambling chorus of song to announce his availability to the ladies.
The snow had passed us by, so we were able to enjoy a nice ride back home. I felt very lucky; unlike the birds we had just observed, we had only 1km to bike to get back home where we could enjoy warmth, shelter, and a hot stew Mom had made. Birds are built for migration, cold weather, and the occasional lack of food. They have strong muscles and senses to see them safely on their way, feathers to keep them warm, and fat stores when food in scarce. This is their way of life; it’s bred in their bones. Even so it’s only human to feel a bit of pity towards them. They have a hard life travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometers twice a year to get to and from their breeding grounds. Their dangers include predators, difficult climate and weather, and in some places a lack of food sources. They are migrating to the Yukon right now, and migration for some of these birds won’t end until early June. After all that some will begin their long journey back home in late July. This leaves some of them little time to raise a brood in the Yukon. When I watch migrating birds arrive tattered and exhausted, or leave to begin their long dangerous journey back home, alongside the pity I feel is also a deep and unwavering respect.