A total of 90 Christmas Bird Counts submitted data for the 119th (2018-19) season in British Columbia (BC), four counts less than last year. No new counts were added in BC during the 119th season. A total of 805,458 individual birds of 224 species were tallied by 2901 field counters and 639 feeder counters. Victoria came out on top for species diversity with exactly 144 species on count day for the second year in a row. Victoria also had the most field counters (285) and feeder counters (105) on count day.
Most counts in BC reported cooler weather and more precipitation than usual during much of the count period. Some form of precipitation was reported on count day for 31 circles. The coldest temperatures on count day were felt at Mackenzie with a low of -18 degrees Celsius and a high of -15 degrees Celsius. Nanaimo and Victoria both reported count day highs of 12 degrees Celsius. Nelson reported the highest accumulation of snow with 210 cm, while Big White, Smithers, and Whistler all reported greater than 100 cm of snow depth. Williams Lake was the windiest on count day with maximum wind speeds of up to 75 kms/hr. Most counts had at least some open water to deal with during the period. Nineteen circles had completely frozen still water compared to only one count, Dawson Creek, that reported frozen running water as well.
Victoria reported the highest number of Greater White-fronted Goose (202) while White Rock had the highest Brant numbers (292). A new Canadian record high of 5305 Cackling Geese were at Chilliwack where they also had the most Trumpeter Swans (764) in Canada. White Rock remains the Eurasian Wigeon capital of North America and reported the highest numbers of American Wigeons and Northern Pintails in Canada. Greater Masset, Vancouver, and Victoria reported single “Eurasian” Green-winged Teals. The infamous long staying exotic Mandarin Duck at Vancouver made an appearance on count day.
Oliver-Osoyoos reported the highest number of Chukars for North America, and California Quails for Canada. Three White-tailed Ptarmigan at Big White was a North American high count. The only Dusky Grouse report came from Penticton, while the only Sooty Grouse was at Pender Islands. Victoria had the highest count of Pied-billed (41) and Horned grebes (191) in BC. Fifty Band-tailed Pigeons at Vancouver, and 443 Eurasian Collared-Doves at Vernon represented national highs. The expansion of Eurasian Collared-Doves in BC is impressive given there were none on a CBC as recently as 2002. This year, the 4134 collared-doves reported were less than last year, and much less than the 5601 record two years ago.
All four of the Green Herons reported were at Pitt Meadows, while Black-crowned Night-Herons were unreported. Nine Yellow-billed Loons were on four counts, as were nine Eared Grebes. Horned Grebes (1783) remained the most abundant species reported but Western Grebes (1727) were very close behind. Rose Spit reported the only Sooty Shearwaters (4) and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels (2) in BC. In the alcid department, numbers for most species were on the low side compared to the past few years. Common Murre was by far the most abundant reported by 21 circles. The Little River-Powell River Ferry counted the bulk of the Ancient Murrelets in BC with 774 out of 978. Double-crested Cormorant (3787) was the most abundant and widely reported of the cormorant species.
Of the 20 shorebird species reported across Canada, BC had Canadian high counts for 17 of them. Dunlin were the most abundant, followed by Black Turnstone and Sanderling. Most notably, a Jack Snipe and a Little Stint were reported at Greater Masset. Both Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit wintered at White Rock. The only Ruddy Turnstone reported was a bird at Skidigate Inlet, where they also had the highest count of Rock Sandpiper (24). A total of four Spotted Sandpipers at Victoria was a Canadian high, but only a fraction of last year’s count of 24. Glaucous-winged Gull was the most reported gull species, followed by Mew and Ring-billed. Parksville Qualicum reported the most Mew Gulls (2752) in Canada. The only Glaucous Gull during the period was a count week bird at Nanaimo.
Not surprisingly, Bald Eagles (7754) were the most abundant species of raptor by far. Red-tailed Hawk (968) and Cooper’s Hawk (249) followed. Kelowna and Smithers reported the only two “Harlan’s” Hawks in the province. Turkey Vultures continue to increase during winter in BC. This season’s banner total of 104 was a big jump from an already impressive 62 birds during the 118th season. Reports suggest that owling was productive this season. A total of 212 individuals of 11 species was a hefty increase from 43 individuals of six species last year. Barn Owls (13) were reported among five circles this season while both Great Gray (3) and Northern Hawk owls (2) were in low numbers. Only three count day Western Screech-Owls were reported, although encouragingly, two individuals at Victoria and a count week bird at Parksville-Qualicum Beach continue the increasing trend in detection of this species on south Vancouver Island. Great Horned, Barred, and Northern Pygmy-Owl were the top three most detected species respectively. The only Snowy Owl in the province was at Vancouver.
Anna’s Hummingbird numbers continue to rise with 3654 reported from 32 counts, a new provincial high. Only one Red-naped Sapsucker was reported, a bird at Lardeau, and Duncan and Galiano-North Saltspring shared the high of 11 Red-breasted Sapsuckers. Victoria had the most Northern Flickers in Canada and the only Black-backed Woodpecker was one at Golden. Canadian high counts for both Merlin (14) and Peregrine Falcon (14) came from Victoria. A count week Prairie Falcon at Pitt Meadows was the only one reported during the period and single Gyrfalcons on count day were at Chilliwack and Prince George.
The star songbird of the season was undoubtedly a long staying Fieldfare discovered on the Salmon Arm CBC on December 16th. The tradition of finding vagrant Eurasian passerines on a CBC continues for yet another year. This bird lingered after the count and was observed by many. A Say’s Phoebe was at Vernon while Pitt Meadows and Vancouver reported single California Scrub-Jays. Steller’s Jays continue a recent trend of decline in detection with only 1634 reported this year compared to 2776 two years ago, and 5260 four yours ago. Meanwhile, Blue Jays continue a steady westward expansion. One Mountain Bluebird at Penticton was the only reported in the whole country, as was the only Eurasian Skylark at Sidney-South Saltspring. Two species of swallows in the province were two Barn Swallows at Vancouver, and one Violet-green Swallow at Parksville-Qualicum Beach. Victoria had North American high counts for Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, and Golden-crowned Kinglet, a testament to the excellent coverage in this circle. Nanaimo reported a provincial high of 34 Marsh Wrens. One Gray Catbird was a good find for Peachland, and Kelowna and Victoria had single Northern Mockingbirds.
Victoria kept a tight leash on sparrows with high counts for Fox Sparrow (356), White-crowned Sparrow (458), Golden-crowned Sparrow (1018), and Dark-eyed Junco (4471). Ten count day Harris’s Sparrows were detected on ten different counts. A very uncommon wintering bird in the province was a LeConte’s Sparrow at Greater Masset. One Lark Sparrow was at Port Alberni and one count week Chipping Sparrow was at Bamfield. Warblers were uncommon in the province this season. Ten Townsend’s Warblers at Sooke, and two Palm Warblers at Greater Masset were noteworthy. A single Common Yellowthroat was at Kelowna and a single Wilson’s Warbler was at Chilliwack. Finch numbers generally were unremarkable with Pine Siskins being by far the most abundant (39,045). Kimberly had the highest count for Red Crossbill (207) and Lesser Goldfinches (3) were reported again at Oliver-Osoyoos. Only six Rusty Blackbirds were reported on four counts this year.