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

33-storey highrise proposal coming to Surrey council, first of three phases

Second and third phases include 36-storey and 31-storey towers

Surrey city council moving to virtual meetings

For public hearings, people can register to speak via telephone

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

COVID-19: Daily update on the pandemic in Surrey, White Rock, Delta and beyond

APRIL 4: Two people in Delta fined for trying to re-sell N95 masks

Man injured in reported stabbing near Surrey SkyTrain station

Incident happened around 9 p.m. Friday night

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

Exercises move online with YMCA’s new nationwide virtual workout program

YThrive Home offers dozens of free workout videos for people during COVID-19 self-isolation period

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at Mission Institution; two other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, says correctional officer

B.C. community service provider hosts friendly art competition for youth

Theme for Pacific Community Resources contest is ‘finding the silver lining in difficult times’

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

TransLink to reduce service on some bus routes, SeaBus, West Coast Express

Changes start April 6 ‘due to low ridership and financial pressures’ amid COVID-19

Most Read