The harlequins are here again

Just this past week, we’ve spotted the harlequin ducks on the creek, within a week of the time they show up every year – shortly after the sandhill crane migration has moved further north. Friends on Haida Gwaii report seeing over 200 of the ducks just offshore from Sandspit. Why some choose mountain streams and others stay on the coast is a mystery. Maybe for the same reasons some of us leave the salt chuck and head for the mountains.

I wrote this post for my Say The Names blog back in May, 2012 and thought I’d share it here.

We’ve been out looking for a couple of weeks now, wandering the edges of the creek, noting the rise and fall of the water, the muddy and nutrient foam tricking our eyes into seeing ducks bobbing in the back eddies.

This morning, just across from a small viewing platform in Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, we saw the usual three: two males and a female. We stood high up on one bank of the creek; they hopped up onto rocks on the other side and we all had a good look at each other.
There’s a fascinating Species at Risk Study that outlines their use of creeks for breeding – they tend to form long-term bonds and the females will take up to four years to reach reproductive maturity. Having clear, fast-flowing streams seems to be essential to their survival because they feed on the “invertebrates in the substrate” – i.e. all the little creatures wriggling around in creek gravel. Dippers eat from the same table.
They are both markers of the ways in which home is one specific and familiar place connected to the greater world in ways we barely comprehend.

Sandhill cranes (Grus Canadensis)

joan's sandhill cranesIt’s that time of year again – wild onions on the south-facing hillsides, black bears in the anthills, white-crowned sparrows cleaning up under the bird feeder, the snow gone leaving the garden’s soil dark and expectant. A shiver of expectation, a momentary clarity before the tumult that explodes when the long days of spring bring everything rushing to fruition.

 Oh  yes, there are geese honking, ducks flapping wildly to stay aloft, but it’s when we hear that wild noise way up high, see the spiraling flocks rising and rising in the thermals, then we know it’s spring.

another dan crane (600x400)The Bulkley Valley is on the interior flyway for cranes heading from California to Alaska to nest. They pass in the thousands, resting in hay fields, in grain fields, beside lakes and swamps to feed before continuing north. They are stupendous, ancient creatures that link us to a primordial past with a fossil record that goes back at least 2.5 million years.

This poem is from the weather from the west, my 2007 collaboration with visual artist Perry Rath.

Sandhill cranes

dan's crane 2Their cries at night –

the sound snags on difficult angles comes out bent – torn metal screech sparking in the darkness overhead

In the morning standing sideways in a field stripped of barley –

thousands of them – like gods they have descended all unaware

dan's crane 3 Dazed we finally drive away –

their clamouring the bright memory of barley in the sun

  Thanks to Joan Patriquin and Dan  Shervill for the photographs.