Ladner bird count vies for No. 1
Ladner is poised to yet again come out on top in the annual Christmas bird count.
According to preliminary results, avian enthusiasts spotted approximately 140 bird species in Ladner and the surrounding area on Tuesday, Dec. 27. That’s down slightly from last year’s winning 144 species, but count organizer Jude Grass is confident the final tally will be enough for Ladner to retain its title.
“As far as I know, that’s probably going to be number one again,” she said.
Some 85 eagle-eyed volunteer birders braved the wet, windy weather on count day to help scour a 450-square-kilometre area stretching from South Richmond to Point Roberts.
This season, more than 2,000 winter bird counts are scheduled to take place throughout the Americas and beyond from Dec. 14, 2011 to Jan. 5, 2012. Data collected by birders helps scientists track winter bird populations and identify species in need of conservation.
“We’re trying to get little snapshots of what birds are around, and how many,” said Grass. “Obviously we’re not counting every bird, but you are getting an idea. If lots of people get dark-eyed juncos, then we know that there’s lots around. If people have trouble getting song sparrows, then we kind of wonder where are they?”
Count day conditions proved challenging for some volunteers.
“With the weather the way it was, we had a super high tide in the morning—16-plus feet—which meant it was up to the lip of the dikes in some cases, with a bit of wind,” said Grass.
Fortunately, the ground was not frozen and the rain did let up at times.
“Given the weather and everything yesterday (Tuesday), I think we did remarkably well,” Grass said.
The birding team assigned to Point Roberts spotted plenty of woodpeckers and pelagic birds, such as the murre or guillemot. And Boundary Bay, as usual, was a hot spot for shorebirds.
Volunteers counted seven owl species including the short-eared owl, the long-eared owl, the barred owl, the northern saw-whet owl, the barn owl, the great horned owl and about 40 snowy owls which Grass said are experiencing an influx after being missing in action the last two years.
One longtime Christmas birder was again granted access to the Vancouver Landfill where he counted 698 bald eagles and some 32,000 glaucous-winged gulls.
At the end of the day, the volunteers gathered at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island for a hot supper, to share details of rare or unusual birds seen, and to tally the species.
Bird-lovers who did not want to brave the elements were still able to participate from the comfort of their own home.
“There’s a number of people that just watch the birds in their backyards and then they send me a little list,” Grass said. “It’s just a nice way of getting them involved.”
The Ladner Christmas bird count was started in the mid-1950s and has always been one of the top three counts for bird species seen on count day in Canada.
Grass said the area’s generally mild winters and availability of food make Boundary Bay and the Fraser River estuary a major wintering area for many species that spend their summers in Siberia, Alaska and Northern Canada. The Ladner count area has the highest number of wintering species in Canada for raptors (hawks, eagles, owls, and falcons), shorebirds and waterfowl.
But despite the bounty of birds counted each year, Grass said many naturists are worried about manmade threats to the natural environment.
“There are some changes in the habitat out there which are concerning to some of us because we’re losing a lot of the farm land to industry and to highways that have wiped out some nice habitat,” she said.
As of Wednesday, Grass still had to confirm a couple of feathered species participants claim to have counted, but she was convinced Ladner would pull past its main competitor, Victoria, which is reporting a species count in the mid-130s.