Another early morning and I was on my way north to Campbell River to do my second (and last) Christmas Bird Count of the 2011/12 count period. I didn’t do the Campbell River count last year (substituting it with the Nanaimo CBC) and, since I was able to do the Comox count this year, I thought it would be good to squeeze one more into the holiday break.
The Campbell River count is an interesting one and includes a diverse amount of habitat. The count circle stretches south towards the prime area that includes Woodhus Slough, the former UBC Experimental Farm (not what it sounds like), the shorebird and waterfowl mecca of Oyster Bay, and the gull-rich mouth of the Oyster River. To the north, the Campbell River estuary is often very productive as is the city landfill which requires sorting through thousands of gulls. In the middle is a stretch of boulder beaches, the downtown core, and sprawling suburbs.
I joined my teammates Luisa and Collin around 8:00 am prepared for a full day of birding. The weather wasn’t quite as warm as it was on the Nanaimo count, but it looked like the rain was going to hold off for the morning at least. Still, I was glad that I had my long-johns on and a couple of layers on top. My new Bogs were a blessing as well. I had field tested them in Nanaimo and my feet have never been drier or warmer during a bird count. Given the mud and cold rainy weather that is typical for Christmas Bird Counts, these boots have my endorsement as the official footwear of bird counters here on the “wet” coast!
We started on the coast and worked our way towards Rotary Beach. The onshore wind made distant marine birds hard to pick out, but we got excellent looks at all three species of cormorants perched on large boulders near Rotary Park along the Rotary Sea Walk. It was at the Rotary Beach Park that we also got some nice looks at the other signature bird along the walk, the gorgeous Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani). Black Oystercatchers, or BLOYs, are one of my favourite shorebirds – I love the contrast between the black body, yellow eye, bright red bill and pinkish legs!
The stretch of waterfront in our area was fairly short and relatively quiet – we got most of the expected species here but nothing out of the ordinary. Moving inland we struggled. Suburban streets and blackberry thickets were quiet and we had to work hard to find much of anything. Perhaps the wind and threatening rain kept things hunkered down. We found a couple of hot spots where mixed flocks of birds gathered at feeders, but these were few and far between.
My impression overall was that there seemed to be fewer birds about. We only managed 47 species despite putting in a fair amount of effort right up to our last new species, a single Bewick’s Wren at twilight.
For those of you who may be interested in doing a little birding, but don’t want to devote a day peering into blackberry bushes in the pouring rain, think about counting birds at your feeder. The Great Backyard Bird Count begins on February 17th through to the 20th and there’s lots of time to get your feeder up if you don’t have one already. It’s a good way to ease into bird counting from the comfort of your home, coffee in hand. And it might just inspire you to brave the winter weather for next year’s Christmas Bird Counts!