Rare snowy owl turns shy during annual south Island Christmas Bird Count

This snowy owl, popular on the Peninsula for its Sidney perch in public the last couple weeks, didn’t show itself for the annual Christmas Bird Count in Sidney/South Salt Spring Island on Dec. 19, but was spotted on Monday. (Photo by Christy Grinton)This snowy owl, popular on the Peninsula for its Sidney perch in public the last couple weeks, didn’t show itself for the annual Christmas Bird Count in Sidney/South Salt Spring Island on Dec. 19, but was spotted on Monday. (Photo by Christy Grinton)
In the annual Victoria Christmas Bird Count region, the Oak Bay team of 15 tallied 89 species – one more than the previous record for that area – and spotted a rare king eider. (Photo by Geoffrey Newell)In the annual Victoria Christmas Bird Count region, the Oak Bay team of 15 tallied 89 species – one more than the previous record for that area – and spotted a rare king eider. (Photo by Geoffrey Newell)

Despite a couple of big misses and a wild storm, one team broke a record for species spotted during the annual Christmas Bird Count around Greater Victoria.

During the Victoria count, held Dec. 18 with rain coming in sideways and blowing winds, only the land-based teams of 20 leaders could get out and count. The three boat-based teams were grounded.

“The weather was the story on Saturday,” organizer Ann Nightingale said. One watcher’s phone was still sitting in recovery rice Tuesday after being drenched in the downpour. Watchers use their phones to record lists and e-bird their identifications with an app run by Cornell University.

In the Victoria region, the Oak Bay team of 15 tallied 89 species – one more than the previous record for that area – and spotted a rare king eider. The Arctic bird was seen the night before, as dusk fell between Ogden Point and Beacon Hill Park, Nightingale said.

READ ALSO: Rare bird spotted visiting a backyard feeder in Sidney

Oak Bay leader Geoffrey Newell and his team managed to catch up with it the next day.

“To get it on the Christmas Bird Count, that made it extra special,” Newell said, noting it’s only been spotted a couple times before in the region. He caught it in flight – and on camera – at McMicking Point.

Early numbers show the roughly 250 volunteers spotted 135 species for the 2021 Victoria Christmas Bird Count – just shy of the average of 140 to 143 over the last decade. They documented about 52,000 birds, well low of last year’s 90,000.

“The birds are pretty smart when it comes to extreme weather too and they tend to hunker down. It does make it harder to find them,” Nightingale said.

There were a couple of known misses, such as the tundra swan – there’s one that usually hangs out with the other swans – a brown-headed cowbird and an American dipper that hangs out in Goldstream Park.

But they weren’t as big a miss as Sidney encountered the next day, Nightingale said.

READ ALSO: Christmas comes early for Greater Victoria bird watchers

During Sunday’s Sidney/South Salt Spring Island count, a current popular bird simply didn’t show.

“We’ve been keeping tabs on the snowy owl for two weeks. On the count day there were at least eight people looking for that bird and we could not find it. It was present on a rooftop first thing in the morning on Monday,” Nightingale said.

The Peninsula birdwatchers had better weather however, and despite being a newer count, had about 100 volunteers out looking and counting, both on land and sea. While awaiting some final reports from team lead Daniel Donnecke there, Sunday’s count shows at least 118 species.

Visit christmasbirdcount.ca for more information or to register for the Sooke area count on Dec. 27 or the Dec. 17, 2022 Victoria Christmas Bird Count.

c.vanreeuwyk@blackpress.ca


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