There’s been gulls aplenty in Semiahmoo Bay due to the recent influx of herring and anchovy, and Christmas Bird Count numbers will likely reflect that, organizers say. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Herrings, anchovies boost bird-count numbers on White Rock waterfront

Annual Christmas tally expected to reflect phenomenon that drew sea lions to Semiahmoo Bay

The final numbers may not yet be tabulated for this year’s Christmas Bird Count on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, but local count organizer Gareth Pugh can say one thing for certain about what the census of feathered friends will ultimately confirm – a milder winter so far has meant far fewer species have made the trek to the warmer west-coast climes.

“This year, I think we only found one warbler in all of our count,” Pugh said Monday, just two days after volunteers combed a 24-kilometre-diameter circle that also includes Langley and part of Whatcom County in Washington.

Species that typically seek reprieve from winter chill in their own ’hood, such as pine siskins, “haven’t had to migrate quite as far south.”

“It’s interesting to note – there’s definitely a change in species.”

The count, in its 120th year, is held annually across Canada, the U.S. and beyond to collect data that helps track how bird species are faring, and assist in determining which are most at risk. As of Monday, 294 counts had been completed, with nearly 3,000,000 birds counted

Last year, 48,000 birds (109 species among them) were logged in the White Rock count, while the year previous recorded some 67,000.

Pugh said the totals fluctuate from year to year, with local weather also contributing to the results.

Another factor that will likely show in the number of seabirds logged this year is the herring/anchovy phenomenon that has brought stellar sea lions to Semiahmoo Bay to feast in recent weeks.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Seals and gulls swarm White Rock for fish-feeding frenzy

“Millions” of tiny silver fish have captivated beach visitors as they swirl in massive schools – with the carcasses of many littering the foreshore after suffocating (which experts have said is due to oxygen in the water being depleted by the sheer volume of the fish) – offering good eats for the gulls and sea lions. Pugh said the gulls look for the anchovies, which are food for the herring, and the herring are what the sea lions are after.

The sea lions, he noted, are “a very unusual sight” in the bay.

Pugh said he expects to finalize the local bird-count numbers in the next week.

In Langley, Saturday’s drier weather landed more than five dozen species on volunteers’ count totals.

Organizer Mike Klotz said just over 7,800 birds were observed and 65 species tallied in all, up from the previous year’s rain-soaked survey, when just under 5,200 birds were counted and only 52 species, well below the average of 6,000 to 7,000.

Christmas bird counts in the Lower Mainland are conducted on a single day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

– with files from Dan Ferguson



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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