Fraser Delta a migration magnet

Birders flocked to BC Nature conference, hosted by Delta Naturalists' Society

‘Nature on the Move’ was the theme of a recent BC Nature conference and field trips, hosted by the Delta Naturalists’ Society.

Nearly 200 birders and naturalists flocked from all parts of British Columbia – even as far as Kitimat, Terrace and Willams Lake – to hear from experts in the field and to enjoy the beauty of the Fraser delta.

Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and several million shorebirds gather and stage on our local shores during their migratory journeys, as well as songbirds, raptors and gulls of many kinds.

Some of their flights are truly extraordinary. According to Jason Jones, of the Vancouver Avian Research Centre, some birds, such as the bar-tailed godwit and the manx shearwater, travel more than 20,000 kilometres annually, and repeat this feat year after year in their lifetimes.

Other animals, too, make seasonal journeys.

Caitlin Birdsall, of the Vancouver Aquarium, described the longest migration of all mammals, that of the grey whale.

This huge baleen whale travels for 11,000 km between the warm waters of the Baja peninsula and its summer feeding grounds in the Arctic’s Bering Sea.

These whales pass regularly through Boundary Bay and can be seen on spring migration off Crescent Beach and in the Georgia Strait.

Humpback whales have also returned to the Strait, rebounding in numbers since being hunted out a century ago.

Caitlin encouraged everyone to report whale and marine mammals to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network (sightings@vanaqua.org).

Fish can also be long-distance travellers. Marvin Rosenau of BC Institute of Technology explained how the migrant salmon running in the Fraser River are reliant on a healthy delta, including the right levels of sedimentation, dredging, water quality and temperature. All these factors are affected by developments at the mouth of the river and along the banks.

After a full weekend of talks and field trips to wildlife reserves and parks, participants in the conference had recorded more than 100 bird species and taken many beautiful photos.

On the final social evening, they were regaled with tales of Russell Cannings’ 2010 big year of birding, during which he had many funny adventures as he successfully challenged the record for the number of birds seen in a year within B.C.

Cannings’ record-breaking bird, a tropical kingbird, was seen at Reifel bird sanctuary.

The Fraser delta is definitely a migration magnet for humans as well as birds, whales and fish.

Anne Murray, the author of two nature books available in local book stores, writes monthly in the Peace Arch News – www.natureguidesbc.com