A winter wonderland for birdwatchers

Snowy owls periodically disperse southwards, forced from the tundra by diminishing food supplies every five or six years.

  • Dec. 31, 2011 8:00 p.m.

Winter is here, bring with it some new visitors from the north.

Three interesting species of “snow birds” demonstrate how important the habitats of the Fraser River delta are at this time of year.

White, sparrow-size birds, called snow buntings, spend the winter in small numbers locally, frequenting jetties, causeways, and roadsides near the coast.

They can be very inconspicuous, the white patches on their plumage blending well with their surroundings.

Accustomed to the wide open spaces of the tundra, these little birds are not at all shy and can be approached quite closely as they search around for seeds on the ground.

Snowy owls share a similar Arctic white and grey colour scheme. They roost in the open so are easily seen in coastal grasslands.

Always popular with birders and photographers, these spectacular, large owls periodically disperse southwards, forced from the tundra by diminishing food supplies every five or six years.

A southward irruption is here. In 2005, eighteen of these birds could be seen through the winter months, resting on logs outside the Boundary Bay dyke, and in 2006 a handful of birds visited. This year, dozens have already been spotted.

Photo: David Blevins

Tens of thousands of snow geese have arrived for the winter at the mouth of the Fraser River, where they feed on sedge rhizomes and the remains of the potato harvest.

The geese are pure white with black wing tips, but when they have been grubbing in the mud, their head and necks often become stained rusty-brown.

They will feed for a couple of months around Westham Island before heading to the Skagit Valley, WA for the midwinter period. Long skeins of snow geese then return through the Fraser estuary on their springtime migration to their breeding grounds on Wrangel Island, Russia.

All these winter visitors are here to escape the harsh winter weather up north. Great care should be taken not to disturb them, particularly when taking photographs.

In the past, owls have been harassed by photographers keen to get the perfect “shot” and this upsets both the birds and other people who are hoping to see them.

Please keep your dogs on leash near birds and respect the rights of farmers and landowners; wintering birds are often found on private farm fields, so please do not trespass to observe them.

Enjoy these beautiful creatures before spring comes and they flock elsewhere.

Anne Murray is the author of two books on nature and our local environment: A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past: A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, available at local bookstores. Visit www.natureguidesbc.com for details.

 

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

Just Posted

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock and beyond

APRIL 2: No refunds for Surrey soccer tourney teams, help for post-secondary students announced

‘Shocking decision’: Surrey soccer club won’t offer refunds to 350 teams for cancelled tourney

Registration fees would top $171K for Surrey Mayor’s Cup, postponed due to COVID-19

Tour de Delta cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

This year would have been the event’s 20th anniversary

Surrey brewery distilling hand sanitizer in effort to fight pandemic

Central City Brewers is producing it in bulk and ‘more convenient’ sizes

‘We don’t need this right now’: B.C. man breaks up road rage incident

Two men were throwing punches on Tillicum Road in Saanich on Vancouver Island

B.C.’s senior home staff measures show results in COVID-19 battle

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order restricts care aides to one facility

‘A matter of human decency’: Truckers’ union calls on gas stations, rest stops to fully re-open

Teamsters Canada wants feds, provinces to put pressure on facilities to re-open for transport workers

B.C. unveils $3.5M COVID-19 emergency fund for post-secondary students

Money will help students cover living expenses, food, travel, portable computers

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

COVID-19: ‘The Ballad of Bonnie Henry’ recorded and released

LISTEN: Quick turnaround for song penned by B.C. Order of Canada musician Phil Dwyer

UFV student nurses offering respite to frontline nurses, care aides

Website helping to match volunteers with those who need help with daily errands

B.C. adding $300 to monthly income and disability assistance payments

‘Crisis supplement’ for COVID-19 for April, May and June

Most Read

l -->