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Good Birding: Christmas Bird Count records fewer intertidal foragers than usual – possibly fallout from the heat dome

Count week number of species in normal range
C. Great Horned Owl (Getty Images) resized
The great horned owl is a species regularly found on the Sunshine Coast but it isn’t usually found in the Christmas Bird Counts. This year it was one of the 78 species spotted between Port Mellon and West Sechelt on Dec. 19. (This photo is not that owl.)

The Sunshine Coast Natural History Society conducted its 43rd annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Dec. 19, covering the area from Port Mellon to West Sechelt. The 31st Pender Harbour count, organized by the Pender Harbour Wildlife Society, covers Middlepoint to Egmont and was held on Dec. 22. The Sunshine Coast count was delayed by one day to avoid wet and stormy weather and consequently was held in clear, calm conditions. The Pender count was held in overcast conditions with strong winds in exposed locations and intermittent showers.

The Sunshine Coast count area was covered by 19 participants in eight separate parties, with extra help from feeder watchers. Despite the excellent weather conditions the count was disappointing and produced only 78 species, the lowest total in 35 years. However, an additional 11 species were observed in the count week, which extends three days before and three days after the count day, bringing the total to 89 species, which is within the usual range. Last year we found a near record high of 100 species. There were some mitigating factors such as high tides in all daylight hours that precluded finding birds that feed in the intertidal zone, and there were access problems ranging from COVID restrictions and trail washouts. The “best” bird spotted was a great horned owl, a regular species, but not often found on these counts. The low number of species on count day remains a mystery!

The local Christmas Bird Count is part of a huge continent-wide project that has operated for more than 100 years and the accumulated database can be analysed both locally and globally. After the heat dome event of June and the massive die-off of mussels and other species in the intertidal zone, there was concern that this might affect those species that feed in this zone during the winter. The CBC data lends credence to this, as the scoters and goldeneyes that normally forage here were recorded in lower than usual numbers.

The Pender Harbour count participation was 27 people in six parties and they recorded 84 species. This is in the normal range as 15 of the previous 30 counts have recorded between 80 and 84 species. Highlight birds were yellow-rumped warbler, white-throated sparrow, and spotted sandpiper. The count detected that black-capped chickadees are continuing their range expansion northward along the Sunshine Coast. This was the first time that Pender Harbour has recorded more species than the Gibsons-Sechelt area.

To report your sightings or questions contact tony@whiskeyjacknaturetours.com or 885-5539. Good Birding.