Rease Larson, left, Neil Moss, Heather Pratt, Scott Black and dog Rudy were among about 90 volunteers who turned out for the annual Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count. Tanya Seebacher photo

Bird count tallies up Nanaimo’s feathered friends

Bird numbers down slightly from last year’s count, but some statistics still being crunched

Nanaimo’s Christmas Bird Count tallied lower bird numbers compared to last year, but it’s too early to tell if that was due to fewer birds or bird spotters.

Count day happened Saturday, which started out with heavy rain.

“We had quite a bit of rain that morning, so we lost a few people, last minute, that decided not to come out in the rain,” said Tanya Seebacher, wildlife biologist and Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count compiler.

Seebacher said about 90 bird counters participated and the total number of bird species tallied, as of Monday morning, was 117. In 2017, 122 species were spotted on the main count day, but Seebacher said all the statistics aren’t in yet.

“For count week, which is three days before and three days after the count day, we’ve added a couple more species, so we’re at 122, which is essentially what our count day was last year,” she said.

In terms of sheer numbers of birds, this year’s count is lower, tallying just 23,784 birds compared to 29,820 in 2017, but again, Seebacher cautions that not all of the statistics for 2018 have come in. She is still waiting for tallies from Gabriola and Mudge islands and fewer counters were able to get out on boats because of bad weather this year to tally birds on small islands off Departure Bay.

“We normally have a team that goes out to survey the Entrance Island area and Departure Bay from the water, but they weren’t able to get out this year,’ Seebacher said. “We only had one boat that went out, sort of right in the mid-harbour by the estuary and they got a few of the water birds, but definitely our duck and scoter numbers are a lot lower than previous years. They’re probably still out there, but with the choppy seas not many people were seeing them.”

Some bird species, such as the pine grosbeak, appear to have become scarcer.

“Pine grosbeak is a species that we haven’t seen for a couple of years,” Seebacher said.

Some noted increases in numbers of common bird species around Nanaimo, include Canada geese.

“Their numbers have definitely gone up since 1972,” she said. “Dark-eyed juncos, as well, another little songbird. Their numbers have definitely gone up.”

Less commonly seen species were back. Orange-crowned warblers made an appearance for the second year in a row. The species usually migrates south in the winter, but its range could be changing, which might explain their appearance here in winter. American tree sparrows and a swamp sparrow were also counted, neither of which show up in large numbers in bird counts.

“Some people went out owling that evening after the count day and they got two barn owls, which is kind of unusual for the area. They’re pretty elusive, that they got a couple of those was interesting,” Seebacher said. “They hang out in more agricultural areas where you have a lot of old barn structures, actually, but because a lot of the agricultural land has sort of been taken up by housing developments and old barns torn down, there’s definitely not as many around anymore, so it was good to hear that we still have a couple around.”

Northern saw-whet owls were also spotted in East Wellington.

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 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.
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