The Fraser River delta is western Canada’s most important overwintering habitat for birds. While human snowbirds are heading south, unparalleled numbers of waterbirds, raptors and shorebirds are spending the winter on the fields and beaches of the Fraser River delta. For bird lovers, now is the time to head out and start counting or otherwise observing the birds.
The Dunlin is one of the species being studied on the delta. This small shorebird overwinters on the delta in the tens of thousands; volunteers have counted approximately 70,000 in a single winter. For the last two years, researchers have been out at night putting radio-telemetry tags on a small number of Dunlin.
The cities of Surrey and Delta, along with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks have helped by hosting receiver stations that pick up signals from the tags and track the tagged birds as they move around the delta, such as flying from Brunswick Point to Blackie Spit or Mud Bay. The resultant information helps land use planners and resource managers understand which areas are important to shorebirds.
Large numbers of geese and other waterfowl also overwinter on the Fraser River delta. Some species forage heavily on agricultural land and can damage farmers’ fields.
Knowing the numbers and distribution of field-feeding waterfowl aids in the design of stewardship programs to support both farmers and waterfowl.
Monitoring events like the Fraser Estuary Important Bird and Biodiversity Area survey happening this November help us understand the total number of birds using the delta to overwinter.
Regardless of whether you are an expert or picking up binoculars for the first time, you can help the birds around you by counting them. One of the best ways to start is just around the corner: the annual continent-wide Christmas Bird Count! So keep your eyes peeled for announcements of a Christmas Bird Count near you or check out: www.birdscanada.org/cbc.
Editor's Note: Nature Notes is a twice a month column written by the Delta Naturalists Society and their other community partners.