- Our Town
Is Bowen the Raven capital of Canada?
Counting birds in winter can be a cold and wet experience but this year we were blessed with a sunny day. One could be forgiven for thinking that a sunny day would produce a bumper crop of birds but, unfortunately, it doesn’t always follow. Conversely, there is certainly no doubt that many birds hide during heavy rain and strong wind. South-facing and sunny areas are the best places to start looking for land birds in winter. The advantage of counting the area in which you live is that you probably know all those places that the birds prefer – a warmer corner here and a berry laden bush there. Small birds of several species will associate together in close proximity to take advantage of the sun, the food, and of the extra pairs of eyes for spotting food and predators.
On January 5th, thirty-eight people either counted a given area or watched their feeders all day. Before the count, we anticipate all those pleasant surprises and rare sightings we’re hoping to see and there were some of these starting with a Snow Bunting on Westside Road for 2 days prior to count day (see http://islandrambles.blogspot.ca/2013/11/victoria-snow-bunting.html for great pictures). The day after the count 40 Surfbirds alighted on Onion Island. My expectation of more Anna’s Hummingbirds was surpassed - we got 35 compared to last year’s 13. At Cowan Point there were 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers who “forgot” to winter in California.
Another surprise was a high count of 95 Bald Eagles, one-third of whom were riding a thermal over the west side of the island. Such a formation is known as a “Kettle” of Eagles.
Each year Raven numbers have increased but this presents me with a problem. Generally, the larger the bird, the larger the territory so, in theory, there shouldn’t be room on Bowen for anywhere near 90 (this year’s total). I think they are being double-counted as they enthusiastically race across island skies, crossing from one counter’s territory to another. I must seek advice on getting a more accurate number. However, as winter is not the breeding season, perhaps no problem exists. As the head of the Howe Sound Count Circle said following 3 years of more Ravens: “Hmm ... Bowen the Raven capital of Howe Sound? Well, maybe it is.”
Bowen has healthy numbers of Crows, Song-Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees and Pacific Wrens to name a few. Seabirds are a different story: despite it having been a calm, clear day for scanning the sea, there were no Loons and only one, two or three of several other species. For example, we recorded 2 Western Grebes whereas, in the 1970s, 2000+ could be seen in outer Burrard Inlet. An exception to this was 36 Marbled Murrelets to the north and west of Bowen. Compared to the large “rafts” of Surf Scoters we periodically see (up to 7,000+ some winters), only 461 were seen in 3 groups and only 195 of their flockmates, Barrow’s Goldeneye. As I scan the Scoter rafts, I still hope to find an Eider or Long-tailed Duck buried in their midst but have had no luck for many years.
In each of the last 3 years, we have recorded 10 Hooded Merganzers; these are almost always seen in pairs. When the male’s black-bordered white “sail” is up, he is truly stunning. Look for them mainly on island lakes, even the small ones, but one pair can sometimes be seen around Cape Roger. At Killarney Lake, Ring-necked Ducks are gradually increasing - 24 this year. The lake was partially frozen, pushing the birds to the sunny unfrozen side making them easier to see. No American Coots were found and the only Pie-billed Grebe flouted convention by swimming off Pebbly Beach near the Cape not at Killarney Lake.
On behalf of the Nature Club, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the count. We always have fun whatever the weather.