A finch pauses on a branch while foraging for food at Buttertubs Marsh this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A finch pauses on a branch while foraging for food at Buttertubs Marsh this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A charm of finches lifts Christmas bird count numbers in Nanaimo

14,000 more birds tallied than in last year’s count

There might have been more decoys than ducks spotted in the Nanaimo River Estuary, but volunteers ultimately tallied almost 15,000 more birds than in last year’s Christmas Bird Count.

Volunteers covered off COVID-19 precautions by using their own cars or riding with someone in their bubbles to get out to 20 birdwatching sites such as the Nanaimo River Estuary and local lakes and parks throughout Nanaimo on Sunday.

Heidi van Vliet, a biologist who is this year’s bird count data compiler, said COVID precautions kept some people home over the holidays who wouldn’t normally be in town, which made for a different mix of volunteers compared to past years.

“It’s kind of COVID-friendly anyway because of having Nanaimo sorted into 20 different areas,” van Vliet said.

Her team covered the Nanaimo River Estuary where duck species numbers appeared to be down compared to previous counts, although as of Tuesday, van Vliet said, she still had to compare numbers to prior years.

“Usually up at Nanaimo River Estuary there’s tons of ducks and this year there wasn’t,” she said. “It was similar for the Cedar team as well. They were expecting more ducks. I’m not sure about Cedar, but at the estuary there were hunters everywhere, so we think that the ducks just knew not to go to those spots … because we were seeing more decoys than there were ducks.”

Van Vliet said they could see more ducks farther out onto the water, but they were too far away to count them accurately or identify the birds.

story continues below

Overall, 118 species were counted compared to 113 counted in 2019.

But there was a big jump in the number of individual birds of all species with more than 40,000 birds counted compared to about 26,000 in 2019.

Van Vliet said the number of species counted is up, but that is not unusual. What is unusual is the total number of birds counted, which hasn’t been higher than 30,000 in the previous five years of bird counts.

“One thing that’s interesting is that we’re having a finch irruption this year,” she said. “So we are getting really high numbers of finches, pine siskins being the most notable ones.”

Last year’s tallied 900 pine siskins, but this year there were 8,000, a number van Vliet credited to the finch irruption. The pine siskin is a small sparrow-like bird that is widespread across North America and flocks around feeders.

READ ALSO: Birdwatchers view nature through a different lens

Crossbill numbers were up, too. This year 311 of the birds were tallied compared to just 31 last year.

“They’re a pretty cool bird. Their bills are crossed to be able to pry open pine cones,” van Vliet said. “We also got white wing crossbills, which are not normally down here in the winter time. I think they would be more of a mountain or interior bird … so that would be a rare species that we wouldn’t normally get. We’ve also got quite a few owls this year.”

Great Horned, barred, northern saw-whet and barn owls were all noted in this year’s count of 25 owls spotted with 14 of those being great horned owls. Just five owls were spotted in 2019.

READ ALSO: Nanoose Bay photographer self-publishes Vancouver Island birding guide

READ ALSO: Fewer birds tallied in Nanaimo’s 2019 winter count



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

birdsBirdwatchingWildlife

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

An eagle drying his feathers prepared to take off from its perch in a dead tree at Buttertubs Marsh this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

An eagle drying his feathers prepared to take off from its perch in a dead tree at Buttertubs Marsh this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A heron clears trees while lifting off from Buttertubs Marsh to find another fishing spot this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A heron clears trees while lifting off from Buttertubs Marsh to find another fishing spot this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A red wing black bird sings from his perch above the bull rushes and reeds in Buttertubs Marsh this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A red wing black bird sings from his perch above the bull rushes and reeds in Buttertubs Marsh this week. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Just Posted

Police in Nanaimo hope to find the owner of a Giant Reign mountain bike that was seized after a man was spotted riding it without a helmet on the wrong side of the road on Christmas Eve. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP suspicious to find expensive bike covered in layer of duct tape

Police looking for owner of Giant Reign mountain bike that they believe was stolen

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker causes pain and damage at downtown Nanaimo gym

VIDEO: Suspect breaks fire alarm, slams door on business owner’s foot after attempting to defraud her

Scott Saywell, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent and CEO, has seen his contract renewed for four years, the district announced Wednesday. (SD68 YouTube screenshot)
Nanaimo school district renews superintendent’s contract for four years

‘Singing superintendent’ Scott Saywell under contract through 2024-25 school year

Cyclists pick up swag and cycling trail maps at city Bike to Work Week ‘celebration station’ a few years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo’s active transportation plan will be about more than infrastructure

City working on goals to double walking trips and quintuple cycling and busing trips

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
20 tires punctured in ‘slashing spree’ in Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP ask for any tips about Jan. 12-14 incidents in Country Club and Boxwood areas

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read