Little River Ferry Christmas Bird Count 2009

Queen of Burnaby - BC Ferries
The Queen of Burnaby at the dock on the Comox side of the Little River/Powell River run.

I’ve been meaning to do the Little River Ferry Christmas Bird Count (CBC) since it was inaugurated by Guy Monty in 2003 but for one reason or another was unable to. This count is one of the few in BC that really focuses on “off shore” birds because the count circle essentially is the Strait of Georgia between Little River on Vancouver Island and Powell River on the mainland of British Columbia. It is also one of the counts that always records Ancient Murrelets and Marbled Murrelets as well as other alcids.

There are many things about the Little River Ferry count that make it very different from any other CBC that I’ve done. The late start time is one thing – my mother-in-law, an avid birder, and I joined Guy Monty and several other birders at Little River today (December 30) for the 10:00 sailing of the Queen of Burnaby. Any other CBC generally starts at sunrise, between 8:00 and 8:30 am. Obviously this count is dependent on BC Ferries’ schedule.

Birding on the Little River/Powell River Ferry
An intrepid group of birders scan the water from the ferry during the 2009/10 Little River Ferry Christmas Bird Count.

Most CBCs involve some driving and a great deal of stopping, getting out of a car, birding, getting back in the car, driving to the next stop, and repeat. You get the idea. The Little River Ferry CBC is a little like the luxury cruise of CBCs. Your task is to scan the strait and count birds while the ferry carries you along, no stopping or starting, you are carried to the birds. In addition, viewing from the ferry is fairly sheltered from wind and rain, although today was a pretty good day weather wise.

The group of birders is split into two teams and each takes one side of the ferry. This ensures birders will count on one side of the vessel on the first crossing, and on the other side of the vessel on the return. Both sides of the vessel are counted twice, and the highest count number for each species on each side is taken as representing the number of birds on that side of the vessel. This works much in the same way that Project FeederWatch participants count the highest number of birds that they see visiting their feeder at one time over the course of two days. It also ensures that both teams get to see all the birds possible as well as experience the weather conditions on both sides of the ferry (which may be very different depending on the prevailing wind).

We did see both of the signature species on this count as well as many others. At times it was difficult to keep up with the sheer number of birds with flocks of Ancient Murrelets, Common Murres, and Long-tailed Ducks numbering in the hundreds. In the end, the two sides combined saw 19 species of birds and an astounding 1,424 Ancient Murrelets, 653 Common Murres, and 657 Long-tailed Ducks. Marbled Murrelets were much less common, and only 13 were recorded on this count.

Here’s the complete list starting with the birds that I saw (some birds were only seen by one of the groups). Final numbers will be compiled and available on the Audubon website.

  • Common Murre
  • Ancient Murrelet
  • Mew Gull
  • Pacific Loon
  • Western Grebe
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Glaucous-winged Gull
  • Common Loon
  • Pelagic Cormorant
  • Double Crested Cormorant
  • Bald Eagle
  • Marbled Murrelet
  • Bufflehead
  • Herring Gull

Second group also saw:

  • Brant
  • Pigeon Guillemont
  • California Gull
  • Thayer’s Gull
  • Brandt’s Cormorant

Outside of the count circle I saw:

  • Harlequin Duck
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Surf Scoter
  • Common Goldeneye

Christmas Bird Count 2009