Volunteers Kailli Pigott, left, Dee Cullon, Kim Shotton and Rease Larson scan the area around Westwood Lake for bird species during the 2017 Christmas Bird Count.Photo by Tanya Seebacher

Christmas Bird Count tally tops 120 species

Twenty teams tallied bird species in Nanaimo 2017 Christmas Bird Count

Fewer volunteers came out to tally birds for Nanaimo’s 2017 Christmas Bird Count, but those who did spotted 119 species in the region on count day.

Tanya Seebacher, wildlife biologist and Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count compiler, said a good portion of volunteers who normally turn out were down for the count, either due to weather or illness – about 60 volunteers this year compared to the usual 100 or so – but there were still enough to put together 20 bird-spotting teams, including a team for Mudge Island this year.

The Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count area includes all of Nanaimo and the slopes of Mount Benson, the Nanaimo River estuary and Gabriola, Protection, Newcastle and Mudge islands.

The annual count happens Dec. 30, but figures are actually tallied from sighting made during bird count week, which started Dec. 28 and ran until until Monday.

The annual Christmas Bird Count was started on Christmas Day, 1900, by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, one of the early officers of the Audubon Society. The count was proposed to replace the Christmas Side Hunt – hunters formed teams and competed to shoot the biggest pile of feathered quarry – and provide an annual bird species census that could generate data to be used in determining the health of ecosystems and bird species.

“For the actual number of bird species that were tallied, we were actually right on par with last year, so we had 119 species that were tallied,” Seebacher said. “Usually we count from three days before and three days after the count and that tallied up to 124 species so far. So definitely it was a good amount of species that we found despite the lower number of participants.”

The 124 species figure includes statistics taken during Nanaimo’s Christmas Bird Count for Kids, held at Buttertubs Marsh Dec. 28.

Species that stood out from the flock in this year’s count included a yellow-billed loon that was spotted near Snake Island. Yellow-billed loons are only spotted in the Nanaimo area a few times a year. The species normal breeds in the Arctic.

“To have one on a count is definitely exciting,” Seebacher said.

A white-winged crossbill drew attention as well.

“For some reason there’s been a lot of them at the Island this year,” she said.

A mourning dove was spotted at a bird feeder in Departure Bay. The bird used to be more common on the Island, but is being displaced by the Eurasian collared dove in recent years.

A gray-crowned rosy finch, normally found in higher elevations in the B.C. interior and Alaska, was also spotted at the same feeder.

“They’re kind of like a medium-sized finch bird. Usually they’re kind of at the tops of mountains, usually from Alaska, down into California, but usually at higher elevations, so yeah, that was really neat to have at a feeder here in town,” Seebacher said.

A slaty-backed gull was spotted Monday in the Nanaimo River estuary. The gulls’ usual range is the coastlines of northeastern Asia, but they are also seen in western Alaska in the summer months. In winter, some of the gulls stray south to various areas in North America, including the odd one that makes it to Nanaimo.

“There was one last year around the same time, but to get one into count week was very exciting,” Seebacher said.

She went on to add that Island Timberlands allowed access to its lands on lower Mount Benson for this year’s bird count and Bees Knees CafĂ© on Wallace Street provided the space for bird count volunteers to gather and compile count data.

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