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By Rémi Torrenta, BC Projects Coordinator, Birds Canada

Birds Canada held a third successful bird count within the Fraser River Estuary Important Bird Area in British Columbia on November 20, 2021. Sixty-five volunteer surveyors detected 132 bird species and more than 180,000 individuals in this crucial wintering bird hotspot! An immense thank-you to all who contributed.

Birding in the Fraser River Estuary, just south of Vancouver, is an incredible experience if the weather cooperates, especially during the winter months (because of the ocean-moderated climate), and during shorebird migration (as one of the most important stopover locations along the Pacific Flyway)! The large delta created by the Fraser River provides estuarine waters, mudflats, and coastal marsh habitat that are perfect for waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and raptors. Even the open farmland serves as important bird habitat, hosting geese and ducks, Great Blue Herons, raptors, and large flocks of shorebirds.

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South Arm Marshes, Ladner Photo: Anne Murray

The Fraser River Estuary has been designated an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) because of the incredible abundance and diversity of birds that rely on it. For more details on how IBAs are identified, visit the IBA Canada website. The Fraser River Estuary is also transitioning to become a Key Biodiversity Area.

The goal of the count is to provide an annual count of waterbird and raptor species present in the entire Fraser River Estuary IBA and increase awareness about the importance of the Estuary. Sixty-five birders participated in the count, including many local birders and a few beginners willing to learn from more experienced volunteers. They submitted 153 checklists. Participants focused their counting on waterbirds (such as shorebirds, waterfowl, gulls, marsh birds) and raptors, but also documented the presence of other bird species. All data collection was conducted through eBird Canada, primarily through the eBird app, using a specialized protocol tool for surveying IBAs in Canada. 

The 2021 Fraser River IBA eBird survey was supported by TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

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Richmond Nature Park Photo: Rémi Torrenta

RESULTS

During the 2021 count, 132 species and more than 180,000 individual birds were detected in total, highlighting the impressive winter diversity in the Fraser River Estuary. This includes 24 duck, 11 shorebird, and 8 gull species. Five species of hawks and 4 species of owls were detected, as well as 397 individual Bald Eagles.

Participants tallied significant numbers of American Wigeon, Cackling Goose, Dunlin, as well as the fannini subspecies of Great Blue Heron and the Peale’s subspecies of Peregrine Falcon. Uncommon or rare species detected during the count included Blue-winged Teal, Snowy Owl, and Rusty Blackbird. Several species, including Brant, Short-billed Gull, and Green-winged Teal, were detected in higher numbers compared to previous years, while Northern Pintail, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Harlequin Duck appeared in lower numbers or not at all. To view a report including detailed results, click here.

HOW YOU CAN HELP BIRDS IN THE FRASER ESTUARY

Despite the wealth of biodiversity in the Fraser River Estuary, a large number of development and land use projects are proposed and ongoing within the IBA. This reduces the amount and quality of land available to birds. Many count participants, local naturalist and environmental groups, and the public are concerned about the future of the IBA and the birds it supports. 

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Rusty Blackbird with Brewer’s Blackbirds and European Starlings Photo: Sabine Jessen

Birds Canada is working to raise awareness about the importance of this IBA through counts like this, furthering conservation and management goals within the IBA through work with partners, and by committing to outreach around the importance of birds in the Fraser River Estuary. 

You can help protect the Fraser River Estuary IBA by sending the Minister of Environment an email expressing concern about the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project on the delta.

More generally, anyone living near an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area can help monitor their local IBA. Counting and reporting birds through eBird Canada or other Citizen Science projects helps inform decisions that impact IBAs. Thank you for looking after the special places that birds are counting on for their survival!

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The Fraser River provides essential habitat for countless wintering and migrating waterbirds. Photo: David Bradley
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