A Shortage of Short-eared Owls on the Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count

I was up at around 6 am yesterday to make the drive down to meet a group of birders doing the 2010 Nanaimo Christmas Bird Count. As I scraped the frost of the windows of the car I was hopeful – the sky was clear and it actually felt fairly mild. Weather on Vancouver Island is know to be changeableĀ  so I threw in an extra layer of warm polar fleece and my wet weather gear. I put a pair of rubber boots in the trunk of the car as well since part of our count area included the Nanaimo River estuary.

Nanaimo Estuary - Flooded Fields
Flooded fields at the Nanaimo Estuary Conservation Area make for good duck habitat.

The rain gear came in handy, not because of rain but because the wind from the north was strong and cold all day. Bird counts are funny things. You usually hope for good weather. Yesterday, I found myself thinking that a little drizzle and some shelter from the wind would have been a pleasant change from the incessant wind. It might have helped the birding as well since most of the birds seemed to be hunkered down out of the wind.

Perching Poles - Nanaimo River Estuary
Possible perching poles at the Nanaimo River estuary – but it was too windy for anything to perch.

We focused most of our effort at the Nanaimo Estuary Conservation Area, wading through wet, partially flooded fields and searching hedgerows for birds. One of our target species was short-eared owl. Our team leader, Ryan Cathers had seen and photographed this bird only days before so we were very hopeful to see it again during the count.

Nanaimo Estuary
Blue skies at the Nanaimo River estuary looking back toward Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Unfortunately we were unable to find it – the wind made conditions less than ideal and the only birds of prey we saw were bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and several northern harriers. Check out Ryan’s website to see a great photograph of one of the three short-eared owls seen this year at the conservation area.

Flooded Fields - Nanaimo River Estuary
On an incoming tide, the fields on the ocean side of the dykes at the Nanaimo River estuary flood quickly.

Regardless of the low number of overall species it was a good day out birding and a great chance to explore an area that I hadn’t had a chance to bird before. I’ll definitely be back when the weather is a little better!

More information about birding in the estuary is available from Birding Vancouver Island. Updates on conservation efforts is available through Ducks Unlimited Canada andĀ  BC’s Ministry of Natural Resource Operations.

Need to Know:

  • Rubber boots and an awareness of what the tide is doing is absolutely essential to explore the estuary beyond the viewing platform
  • Be aware that hunters use the estuary as well and are active at the edge where the salt marsh meets the water
  • Featured birds in winter include: Northern Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Northern Shrike, Western Meadowlark

How to get there:

Center map