A Long Walk at Iona Beach

I spent last weekend in Vancouver doing some bird watching at Iona Beach Regional Park, famous for its sewage lagoon and the long sewage outfall (approximately 4km one way). The last time I was at Iona was back in December of 2004 looking for a MacKay’s Bunting that had been reported out at the end of the outfall. Here’s what I wrote at that time:

Flashback to Iona, December 17, 2004

It is a long walk out on the jetty (actually a sewage out fall pipe) but it was at the end of the jetty that the MacKay’s bunting had been seen with a flock of snow bunting. The jetty is 4 km long (one way) but provides good views of the water on both sides of the pipe. Many birders actually bring their bicycles and ride out to the tip of the jetty rather than making the long walk.

Iona Sewage Outfall - 2004
Iona Sewage Outfall - 2004

The target bird of the day was the MacKay’s bunting, a bird very rarely seen this far south. Its behaviour was predictable – it tended to show up at some point during the day with the flock of snow bunting, stick around for 10 minutes or so and then leave. The difficulty was that it never seemed to show up at exactly the same time! I talked with a couple of birders who had given up after spending the better part of a day waiting for this bird only to find out that it arrived shortly after they left. Others had made the trek to the end four or more times without success.

Faux Snow Buntings - 2004
A flock of faux Snow Buntings, set up by a bored/frustrated birder in 2004 on the Iona Beach sewage outfall.

Birders waiting for this rare bird have a lot of time on their hands(perhaps too much time) and this seems to have encouraged humorous creativity in some. A flock of cleverly constructed bunting decoys was deployed in the grass on the outfall … and from a distance through binoculars these decoys actually look like real birds. This causes no end of excitement especially if they are missed on the way out to the tip of the outfall!

I was unable to find either the snow buntings or the single MacKay’s bunting before having to leave so I had to make do with the decoys. Regardless, it was a fantastic morning for a walk. Even without the buntings it was amazing to watch the hundreds of dunlin at the tip of the jetty flying in unison and flashing brightly in the morning light. Birding isn’t always about getting the rare bird – it’s also about enjoying the ones that you do see even if you’ve seen them hundreds of times before.

Fast forward to January 24, 2010 (where did all that time go?!?) and I was back at Iona once again. There was no report of a MacKay’s Bunting, or even a Snow Bunting this time but I thought that for old time’s sake I would take the long walk.

Iona Sewage Outfall - 2010
Looking out toward the end of the Iona sewage outfall.

The interesting thing was that many of the birds that I saw in 2010 were similar in makeup to the birds I saw in 2004 – large flocks of Canvasbacks, Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters. There was even a small flock of Sanderling and a lone Dunlin way out towards the end of the jetty. Bufflehead and Barrow’s Goldeneye were common.

Iona Sewage Outfall - 2010
Looking back towards Iona Beach Regional Park from the tip of the Iona sewage outfall.

The weather wasn’t quite as good (grey and cloudy) and there seemed to be a lot more non birders using the jetty, many with dogs off leash. That might be one of the reasons why there wasn’t too much to see on the outfall itself. For that reason, I’d recommend checking the RBA before making the walk or bicycle out to the end because once you’ve walked the 4km to the tip you’ve got to walk the 4km back to the beach.

Unless of course, the weather is fine and you’re in the mood for a stroll!

If you’ve enjoyed the retrospective portion of this post let me know – I’ve got lots of archival posts from an older blog called Knowing Nature that is no longer on-line. Might be kind of fun to do a “flashback Friday” post!