A winter wonderland for birdwatchers

Snowy owls periodically disperse southwards, forced from the tundra by diminishing food supplies every five or six years.

  • Dec. 31, 2011 5:00 p.m.

Winter is here, bring with it some new visitors from the north.

Three interesting species of “snow birds” demonstrate how important the habitats of the Fraser River delta are at this time of year.

White, sparrow-size birds, called snow buntings, spend the winter in small numbers locally, frequenting jetties, causeways, and roadsides near the coast.

They can be very inconspicuous, the white patches on their plumage blending well with their surroundings.

Accustomed to the wide open spaces of the tundra, these little birds are not at all shy and can be approached quite closely as they search around for seeds on the ground.

Snowy owls share a similar Arctic white and grey colour scheme. They roost in the open so are easily seen in coastal grasslands.

Always popular with birders and photographers, these spectacular, large owls periodically disperse southwards, forced from the tundra by diminishing food supplies every five or six years.

A southward irruption is here. In 2005, eighteen of these birds could be seen through the winter months, resting on logs outside the Boundary Bay dyke, and in 2006 a handful of birds visited. This year, dozens have already been spotted.

Photo: David Blevins

Tens of thousands of snow geese have arrived for the winter at the mouth of the Fraser River, where they feed on sedge rhizomes and the remains of the potato harvest.

The geese are pure white with black wing tips, but when they have been grubbing in the mud, their head and necks often become stained rusty-brown.

They will feed for a couple of months around Westham Island before heading to the Skagit Valley, WA for the midwinter period. Long skeins of snow geese then return through the Fraser estuary on their springtime migration to their breeding grounds on Wrangel Island, Russia.

All these winter visitors are here to escape the harsh winter weather up north. Great care should be taken not to disturb them, particularly when taking photographs.

In the past, owls have been harassed by photographers keen to get the perfect “shot” and this upsets both the birds and other people who are hoping to see them.

Please keep your dogs on leash near birds and respect the rights of farmers and landowners; wintering birds are often found on private farm fields, so please do not trespass to observe them.

Enjoy these beautiful creatures before spring comes and they flock elsewhere.

Anne Murray is the author of two books on nature and our local environment: A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past: A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, available at local bookstores. Visit www.natureguidesbc.com for details.

 

Just Posted

Man charged after alleged ‘violent’ robbery at Surrey SkyTrain station

41-year-old Aaron Sutherland, of no fixed address, is ‘well known to police’

Police looking for ‘high risk’ missing man last seen at Surrey Memorial Hospital

Delta Police spokeswoman Cris Leykauf says Adam Summers is deemed a high risk due to medical reasons

Surrey RCMP find no evidence of gunfire after report of shots fired

Police say investigation ongoing; CCTV footage is being reviewed

Surrey boccia champ is back competing after beating breast cancer

Fleetwood’s Mildred Thomas among winners at 2019 Canadian Boccia Championships

OUR VIEW: Safe Surrey councillors’ silence at budget meetings was shameful

Their excuse for biting tongues when asked to defend position suggests lack of backbone

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

What’s happening: week of Dec. 5

Events and community listings for North Delta

Grandparents raising children: Shuswap grandma sees need for support

Peer group formed for those who have unexpectedly taken on the role of parenting

Final appeal rejected for man convicted in deaths of missing Alberta seniors

Lyle and Marie McCann were in their 70s when they left their home in St. Albert in 2010 and vanished

Thieving gun-toting Santa breaks into Princeton restaurant, makes icing sugar sandwich

The suspect allegedly made a sandwich of icing sugar and ham

Infants should be tested for autism if older siblings are diagnosed, Canadian study suggests

Blood test for infants with sibling who’s been diagnosed would get information to families earlier

Company’s ‘toxic’ stench at Abbotsford school prompts district’s appeal to Ministry of Education for help

Enforcement centered on voluntary compliance has “no teeth” while kids become sick

New centre opens in Fraser Valley to help people on the autism spectrum

The Pacific Autism Family Network opened its Fraser Valley location in downtown Chilliwack

Province gives $4.93M boost to school-based gang prevention program

The funding will see the ‘Erase’ program expand from 12 to 16 communities

Most Read