Thousands of people have been enjoying the snowy owls on Boundary Bay this winter. The number of owls is unusually high, 20 to 30 on the bay and up to nine at Brunswick Point, and the crowds of spectators enjoying them have surpassed all previous records. New to the scene are dozens of photographers sporting long-lens digital cameras, no longer just the tool of professionals, and the obliging owls have allowed the creation of some magnificent images.
Living most of their lives in the Arctic tundra, the owls are unaccustomed to crowds of people. Some are first year birds with perhaps the naïve curiosity of the young. Consequently, a number of owls regularly sit quietly on logs beside the dyke, giving everyone wonderful, close-up views. It is wildlife viewing at its easiest. As well as the snowies, there are northern harriers, peregrine falcons, great blue herons, bald eagles and even a short-eared owl to spot from the same stretch of dyke.
Hopefully, the snowy owls will have confirmed many people’s interest in watching other local wildlife, for which Boundary Bay is renowned at every season. Several techniques can help reward the patient watcher with memorable moments, and perhaps the photographs to go with them. Here are a few recommendations from experienced naturalists for general wildlife viewing:
• Be prepared to quietly wait, as often a bird or animal will approach from curiosity.
• Conversely, avoid directly moving towards wildlife, which only herds them away.
• Know where to look; every animal (and plant) has a specific habitat where it thrives best.
• Visit the right habitat at the right time of year; this is especially important around Boundary Bay which has many seasonal species, migrating through on amazingly punctual schedules.
• Consult tide tables before a trip to the dyke; incoming high tides are often best for birds.
• Take proper equipment (binoculars, telescope, long lens, field guides).
• Never harass wildlife by going too close for a better view or photograph, and restrain your dog (or leave it at home); dogs are viewed as predators, even if your dog never chases birds.
• Join a naturalists’ group for a field trip to meet other enthusiasts and have fun!
Anne Murray is a local naturalist and author of A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past ~ A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, available at bookstores: see www.natureguidesbc.com.