Spring on Boundary Bay

Western sandpipers stop by on their long migration route.

  • May. 5, 2011 10:00 a.m.

Spring is ushered in with long light evenings and the sound of bird song.

Skeins of snow geese have been passing overhead, and the big flocks of wintering ducks have almost all departed. A group of mountain bluebirds fluttered near the dyke in Boundary Bay.

They posed on a split rail fence like a scene in a Robert Bateman painting, flashing azure blue against the grey brown grassland. They stayed only a few days on their migration to the parklands and subalpine of the Interior.

Western sandpipers make some of the longest journeys. Arriving from as far away as Peru and Suriname, they have thousands of kilometers to go before reaching their nest sites in the Arctic.

These tiny birds feed in dense flocks on mud flats as the tide rises and falls. Each species of shorebird is adapted for life on the beach.

The large, long-billed curlew probes deep within the mud for crustaceans and worms (the female has the longer bill). Dowitchers repeatedly stab the mud with their dagger-like bills, using the rhythm and tenacity of a sewing machine needle, while black-bellied plovers stand watchfully alert nearby, ready to pipe the alarm.

All these shorebirds are often seen at Blackie Spit and Crescent Beach in spring.

Not all shorebirds are exclusively carnivores. Local researchers have discovered that western sandpipers not only peck for invertebrates on the mud’s surface but also graze on sticky biofilm, sucking it up with their hairy tongues.

This has led to the descriptive term “snot-feeding”.

According to biologist Bob Elner, a large sandpiper flock can consume 20 tonnes a day of biofilm, a mucus-like coating of diatoms and bacteria that clings to the mud.

It is particularly prevalent in areas like Roberts Bank around Brunswick Point, where hundreds of thousands of shorebirds gather during migration stopovers, in mid to late April.

By videotaping the birds as they fed, researchers were able to calculate that sandpipers probe the mud an average of 121 times per minute, poop every two minutes and swallow seven times their own weight in biofilm each day.

Local beaches and mud flats are inestimably important for the survival of these long distance migrants.

While visiting our shores, sandpipers and other birds need peace and quiet to feed, so please keep your dog away from the flocks, and try to avoid interrupting their hectic feeding.

Those little birds still have a long way to fly this spring.

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. See www.natureguidesbc.com for details.


Surrey North Delta Leader

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Man charged with manslaughter in Surrey woman’s death

Duncan Ryan McCabe, 47, is charged with manslaughter in June 2, 2020 death of Karlee May Dixon, 40, of Surrey

VIDEO: North Delta crash sends nine to hospital

Two vehicles and a pedestrian were involved in the crash on Scott Road Sunday night (Aug. 9)

Surrey’s Boze Corn Maze set to open with one big ‘50’ in the design

This year’s maze has some ‘social-distancing bubbles’ built into it, says farmer Mike Bose

Surrey Fire Fighters Charitable Society doing ‘better than we were expecting’ amid COVID-19

At one point, the board thought it might have a donation shortfall of $250,000

Delta police investigating shots fired in Tsawwassen

No injuries reported after police called to Parkrove Crescent Sunday afternoon (Aug. 9)

Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief

Canada is directing all of its aid for this crisis directly to humanitarian organizations, not the Lebanese government

Bear put down after being found on Vancouver Island kitchen counter

Bear trapped and killed near Ucluelet after repeated instances of entering sheds and homes

Who can dismiss the Governor General? A look at protocols and possibilities

The Governor General is appointed by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister

Second phase of NHL draft lottery set for Monday

Each club eliminated from qualifying round has a 12.5 per cent shot at the No. 1 pick

University of Victoria, rowing coach sued over alleged ‘fat shaming’ and verbal abuse

Lawsuit says Barney Williams subjected coxswain Lily Copeland to offensive and belittling language

NHL playoffs: Canucks to meet St. Louis Blues in Round 1

Vancouver takes on defending champs beginning Wednesday

Fraser Valley Bandits fall to Edmonton in CEBL final

Bandits lose 90-73 to Stingers in Sunday’s Summer Series final

1 year since a B.C. teen died in a skate park, his family still waiting for charges

Carson Crimeni’s final moments were broadcast on social media

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

Most Read