Naturespeak 

Christmas bird counts

The regional aspects and local rivalries

Whistler Naturalists

Finally, the data from the multitude of bird counts is now rolling into the central computer command post, after a month of technical glitches with the system, located at the offices of Bird Studies Canada, Long Point on Lake Erie. There are over 2,000 bird count circles, each 24 kilometres in diameter, spread across the continent. Who would have guessed that B.C. has the fourth highest number of active count circles (74); exceeded only by California, Ontario and Texas! And if the number was based on a per capita ratio, our province would be by far the most active Christmas count jurisdiction in the entire continent.

What has promoted this surge of interest, other than the fact that there are more species of birds here than anywhere else in the country? The mild coastal climate is one additional inducement, but yet another is competitive rivalry. Take, for example, Calgary versus Edmonton; it’s a nip and tuck contest as to who tallies the most species – Calgary usually wins. In British Columbia it is Vancouver versus Victoria in the days of old, but new players are cramping their style considerably. Ladner has by far the largest volume of birds in Canada, around a quarter of a million, and is now becoming the usual top dog in the species count at 135-145. In 2001 Ladner hit 152 species, an exclusive 150-plus goal usually recorded only at several Texas, California and Central America localities. In fact, any count of over 100 species is noteworthy in Canada and by far the most are in B.C., which brings us to the matter of regional counts. There are several which are very noteworthy in this province.

By far, the busiest regional count area is the east coast of Vancouver Island, and adjacent Gulf Islands, with 13 count circles located between Victoria on the south and Port McNeil to the north. If the Canadian co-ordinator has his way, it will add Port Hardy in the near future. Counts of a hundred-plus species are typical at Victoria (as high as 152, historically), Duncan, Nanaimo, Nanoose, Parksville/Qualicum, Comox and, rarely, Campbell River. That is the consequence of a rich marine component that few other centres enjoy. Not surprisingly, this SE/NW coastal transect reveals a dropping species count to the north, especially at Sayward where the marine waterways are narrow.

Another great regional run of count circles is the Okanagan chain with nine to 10 count circles stretching from the U.S. border through to Salmon Arm on the Shuswap-Okanagan drainage divide. For years, Vernon was the top species counter in this hotly contested valley, but Oliver/Osoyoos, with a bevy of expert birders, and assisted by a couple of hot shots from Squamish, is now the recognized leader. These two centres, and sometimes Penticton, tally 100 plus birds. The Okanagan chain also includes Princeton on its stretched out Similkameen tributary, and as of this year a new intermediary count (Apex Mtn/Hedley) was added to provide a missing alpine habitat component, as well as to be a friendly winter resort rival to Whistler! Well, they out-did us in their first count day attempt, 54 to 49, as did Banff by a similar score for this year. It seems that extensive agricultural lands are conducive to high species counts as well, except at Pemberton.

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