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Bird Flocks in BC’s Fraser River Estuary Inspire Awe

By Graham Sorenson, BC Projects Coordinator, Birds Canada
 
 
When’s the last time you encountered a flock of birds? Was it 300 Canada Geese flying over in a “V” while you were walking down the street, or dozens of American Robins landing in a tree while you were out birding? In the Fraser River Estuary, flocks of birds can reach a different scale entirely. Imagine striding along Boundary Bay in Delta, BC and seeing 13,000 Dunlin in murmurations over the water while thousands of Northern Pintails and American Wigeons float on the shallow coastal water. Or imagine counting 3200 Snow Geese overhead. These big numbers represent actual flocks that birders encountered during a recent bird count in the Estuary.


Snow Geese Photo: Graham Sorenson

 
 
An important place for birds and birders

Birding in the Fraser River Estuary, just south of Vancouver, is an amazing experience, especially during the winter months and shorebird migration. The large delta created by the Fraser River provides estuarine waters and mudflats that are perfect for waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls, as well as coastal marsh habitat that supports a high diversity of raptors and waterfowl. Even the open farmland serves as important habitat for many species. There, geese and ducks feed, Great Blue Herons hunt in the ditches, raptors scan for prey, and large flocks of shorebirds rest when the tide forces them off the coast.

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. Sites can be designated as IBAs when birds of one species are found in numbers that meet global, regional, or local thresholds that are equal to 1% of the population of the species for that area. In Canada, a site can also be designated an IBA if 20,000 or more individuals of a given species are counted there.
 
 


Left to right: Nancy Baron, Rob Butler, Trisha Beaty, and John Reynolds Photo: Graham Sorenson

Birding for awareness and science

On November 17, 2019, Birds Canada organized a second annual count of the entire Fraser River Estuary IBA. The goals of this event were to get updated numbers of the waterbird and raptor species present and to increase awareness about the importance of the Estuary to birds. Forty-seven local birders participated. They focused their counting on waterbirds (shorebirds, waterfowl, gulls, marsh birds, etc.) and raptors, while also documenting the presence of other avian species. All the data were submitted to the eBird Canada Citizen Science database, following this eBird Canada IBA protocol.

During the 2019 count, 130 species and 233,700 individuals were detected, highlighting the impressive winter diversity in the Fraser River Estuary. Among the most common species groups, 24 duck, 11 shorebird, 7 gull, 5 hawk, and 5 owl species were observed. Species counts surpassing the IBA thresholds are presented in the table below, and all data can be found at this page.

American Wigeon and Glaucous-winged Gull counts exceeded the global IBA thresholds, Dunlin counts exceeded the Canadian threshold, and Great Blue Heron (fannini subspecies) and Peregrine Falcon (Peale’s subspecies) counts exceeded the subspecies thresholds. Snow Goose and Northern Pintail totals surpassed 20,000 individuals, a significant number for Canadian IBAs.

Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed to the count! For information about last year’s bird count, check out this summary by James Casey.
 
 
You can help protect key places for birds

The Fraser River Estuary IBA and its wealth of birds and biodiversity face threats from development and land use. Such significant threats, in fact, that the site has been identified as an “IBA in Danger” by BirdLife International. Large scale development projects and land conversion from in-ground crop fields to greenhouses, blueberry fields, and urban development reduce the amount and quality of land available to birds. One simple action you can take is signing this Fraser River Delta petition calling on our government to create an Estuary Restoration and Management Plan prior to approving any new industrial and development.

Anyone living near an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area can help monitor their local IBA. Find one near you by exploring this map! Counting and reporting birds through eBird Canada or other Citizen Science projects helps inform decisions that impact IBAs. Learn more about how you can get involved at IBAs.
 
 

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