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Local bird count vies for No. 1

Birders spotted a snowy owl in the Vancouver/North Richmond bird count. Snowy owls have been seen at Iona Island and Boundary Bay in Delta this season. - juvethski photo via Flickr
Birders spotted a snowy owl in the Vancouver/North Richmond bird count. Snowy owls have been seen at Iona Island and Boundary Bay in Delta this season.
— image credit: juvethski photo via Flickr

Ladner is poised to yet again come out on top in the annual Christmas bird count.

According to preliminary results, avian enthusiasts spotted approximately 140 bird species in the Ladner and South Richmond area on Dec. 27.

That’s down slightly from last year’s winning 144 species, but count organizer Jude Grass is confident the final tally will be enough for Ladner to retain its title.

“As far as I know, that’s probably going to be No. 1 again,” she said.

Some 85 eagle-eyed volunteer birders braved the wet, windy weather on count day.

They helped scour a 450-square-kilometre area stretching from South Richmond to Point Roberts.

Over 2,000 winter bird counts were scheduled to take place throughout the continent in a three-week period that ended yesterday.

Data collected by birders helps scientists track winter bird populations and identify species in need of conservation.

“We’re trying to get little snapshots of what birds are around, and how many,” said Grass. “Obviously we’re not counting every bird, but you are getting an idea. If lots of people get dark-eyed juncos, then we know that there’s lots around. If people have trouble getting song sparrows, then we kind of wonder where are they?”

On Dec. 18, birders were out in North Richmond, an area included in the Vancouver count. According to the Birding in B.C. website, birders there spotted 132 species.

Highlights included the spotting of a late barn swallow and an orange-crowned warbler at Iona Island and two dozen ancient murrelets off the Iona south jetty. Birders also found a snowy owl in Richmond.

During the Ladner count, conditions proved challenging for some volunteers.

“With the weather the way it was, we had a super high tide in the morning—16-plus feet—which meant it was up to the lip of the dikes in some cases, with a bit of wind,” said Grass.

Volunteers counted seven owl species including the short-eared owl, the long-eared owl, the barred owl, the northern saw-whet owl, the barn owl, the great horned owl and about 40 snowy owls, which Grass said are experiencing an influx after being missing in action the last two years.

At the end of the day, the volunteers gathered at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island for a hot supper, to share details of rare or unusual birds seen, and to tally the species.

Bird-lovers who did not want to brave the elements were still able to participate from the comfort of their own home.

“There’s a number of people that just watch the birds in their backyards and then they send me a little list,” Grass said. “It’s just a nice way of getting them involved.”

The Ladner Christmas bird count was started in the mid-1950s and has always been one of the top three counts for bird species seen on count day in Canada.

The area has the highest number of wintering species in Canada for raptors (hawks, eagles, owls, and falcons), shorebirds and waterfowl.

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