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.

 

Just Posted

Grieving mom hopes Facebook message leads to new investigation into son’s Surrey homicide

Criminal Justice Branch didn’t lay charges, concluding no substantial likelihood of murder or manslaughter conviction

Stay home, cats – only pet dogs are OK to attend ‘Cat Walk’ at Surrey park

Surrey Community Cat Coalition’s second annual fundraiser planned Saturday

White Rock’s Mueller wins World Series of Poker bracelet

Third career WSOP win for former professional hockey player

Surrey high school teacher receives Loran award

First ever to be given to Surrey teacher, district says

ZYTARUK: Canal isn’t Surrey’s first ‘different’ idea

Anyone up for waterskiing in Doug’s Ditch?

VIDEO: Trans Mountain expansion project gets green light, again

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the decision in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon

MPs hear retired B.C. nurse’s petition to change compensation for fatal medical errors

Teri McGrath wants provinces to implement no-fault system for medical errors

Horgan says he’ll still defend B.C. coast after second Trans Mountain approval

Meanwhile, one B.C. First Nation has announced plans for a legal challenge

Metro Vancouver’s air quality could be the worst yet this wildfire season

As wildfire season approached, Metro Vancouver experts predict the air will be an issue for many

Demonstrators on either side of Trans Mountain debate clash in Vancouver

Crowd heard from member of Indigenous-led coalition that hopes to buy 51% of expansion project

Update: Multiple fires along the railway tracks in Pitt Meadows

CP rail has closed tracks while firefighters work

B.C.’s measles vaccination program gains traction in May

More than 15,000 doses of the MMR vaccine has been administered across the province

B.C. farmers concerned Agricultural Land Reserve changes choking their livelihood

Dozens voice concerns at special meeting hosted on Vancouver Island

UPDATE: Two-year-old involved in Chilliwack pool drowning has died

Toddler was reported to not be breathing as air ambulance called out Thursday afternoon

Most Read

l -->