A total of 86 Christmas Bird Counts in British Columbia (BC) submitted data for the 120th (2019-20). Two new counts were added: Denny Island-Bella Bella and Kuskanook; and Yoho N.P. was revived after a 12 year “hibernation”. December 15 was the day most counts took place (16), followed by December 14 (12), and December 28 (11). Victoria had the most Field Counters (286) and party effort, followed by Vancouver (207), and Pitt Meadows (144). Participants on the Victoria CBC also put in the most nocturnal effort. Parksville-Qualicum Beach had the most Feeder Counters (59), followed by Creston Valley (32) and Victoria (30).

A total of 787,151 individual birds of 211 species were tallied by 2904 field counters and 533 feeder counters. Victoria was the top count with 135 species on count day, despite recording nine species less than last year. Four species only detected during Count Week include: Black-backed Woodpecker (Powder King), California Scrub-Jay (Pitt Meadows), Lapland Longspur (Nanaimo), and Common Grackle (Nelson). The top 10 most abundant species in BC, in order of most to least abundant were: Canada Goose, Mallard, European Starling, Glaucous-winged Gull, Northwestern Crow, Dark-eyed Junco, American Wigeon, Pine Siskin, Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), and Bufflehead. Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) a species that historically has had highest winter abundance along coastal BC, has been lumped with American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and will no longer be recognized as a separate species on subsequent summaries. Common Raven was the only species reported on all counts, and Bald Eagle was reported for all except one.

The weather in BC leading up to and during the count period was generally seasonal although coastal areas received colder temperatures early on that may have contributed to lower species diversity. Fourteen circles reported precipitation during both the morning and afternoon on count day. Dawson Creek had the coldest low temperature on count day (-20 Celsius) while Parksville-Qualicum Beach enjoyed a count day high of 15 degrees Celsius. Nelson reported the highest accumulation of snow for the second year in a row, and Big White, Powder King, and Yoho N.P. all reported 1 m or more max snow depth.

Species and notes

Canada Goose (65,856) was the most abundant waterfowl species reported in BC, followed by Mallard (65,625), American Wigeon (27,978), Bufflehead (14,092), and Surf Scoter (12,437). White Rock reported the highest counts in Canada for Brant (552) and Cackling Goose (1871) this year. Chilliwack again, had the most Trumpeter Swans (1041) in Canada. Both Greater Masset and Victoria reported at least one “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal. Seventeen of the 28 Ruddy Ducks reported in BC came from Duncan.

The North American high count for Chukars (67) came from Kamloops this year. Th three White-tailed Ptarmigan at Big White was a North American high count. Victoria had the highest count of Pied-billed (69), Horned (481), and Red-necked grebes (255) in Canada. Four Eared Grebes at White Rock and 821 Western Grebes at Skidegate Inlet also represented national high counts. Band-tailed Pigeons were scarce during the CBC season with a high count of five at Parksville-Qualicum Beach, and Vancouver took the highest national total of Eurasian Collared-Dove (380).

Green Heron reports were down from four last year to one (Vancouver) and a Great Egret was a treat for Abbotsford-Mission. An impressive total of 1349 Pacific Loons at Nanoose Bay and seven Yellow-billed Loons at Hecate Strait represent North American High Counts. The most abundant grebe species was Horned (2723), followed by Red-necked (1712) and Western (1471). Low numbers of Eared Grebes came in from seven circles. Nine Short-tailed Shearwaters at Rose Spit were the only tubenose reported in the country. Common Murre was again the most widely reported and abundant alcid (6468), followed by Ancient Murrelet (2233). Hecate Strait and Skidegate Inlet each reported three Thick-billed Murre. New all-time high count for Canadian CBCs were set for Pigeon Guillemot (583) at Sidney-South Saltspring and for Double-crested Cormorants (2361) at Vancouver. Victoria’s Pelagic Cormorant count of 809 was the highest for North America this year.

As is often the case, circles in BC reported North American high counts for Black Oystercatcher (197, Skidegate Inlet), Black Turnstone and Surfbird (540, Pender Islands). A new all-time high count of 583 Pigeon Guillemots was recorded for Sidney-South Saltspring and there were 560 Ancient Murrelets at Little River-Powell River Ferry. North American high counts for Glaucous-winged Gull (8899) came from White Rock and “Thayer’s” Iceland Gull (711) from Powell River. Galiano-North Saltspring reported an impressive 12 Western Gulls. A total of seven Glaucous Gulls were reported from six circles on count day this year, compared to only one count week bird last year.

Bald Eagle (6983) was the most abundant species of raptor, followed by Red-tailed Hawk (1258), Cooper’s Hawk (306), Northern Harrier (197), and Sharp-shinned Hawk (138). Merritt reported the only “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk in the province. An increasing trend in Turkey Vulture winter abundance (Figure 1) in North America continues, and was evident in BC with 77 reported. Owls were well represented on CBCs with a total of 343 individuals of 11 species, compared to 212 individuals of 11 species during the 119th and 43 individuals of six species the year before that. Great Horned (102) and Barred owls (97) were the most abundant and widely reported species. Vancouver reported the only count day Snowy Owl in BC. Western Screech-Owls were up to seven compared to three on count day last year.

Victoria set a new record all-time high count for Anna’s Hummingbird (1256) and the species continues to increase elsewhere in the province (Figure 2). One Rufous Hummingbird was at Cortes Island.  Northern Flicker was the most abundant Woodpecker (6549), followed by Downy Woodpecker (1467), and Hairy Woodpecker (648). At least ten circles reported count day American Three-toed Woodpeckers. Penticton had an impressive 35 American Kestrels on count day. Fifteen Peregrine Falcons at Victoria and three Gyrfalcons at Abbotsford-Mission were high counts for Canada. Single Prairie Falcons were reported at Oliver-Osoyoos and Pitt Meadows.

A well-documented Red-throated Pipit was at Victoria and a Fieldfare was reported at Rose Spit, Haida Gwaii. The only reported Say’s Phoebe was at Kelowna and a House Wren was at Deep Bay. Steller’s Jays have bounced back in abundance (4738) compared to 1634 reported last year. Prince George by far reported the highest count of Bohemian Waxwings in BC (2539). A Northern Mockingbird at Greater Masset was a good find. No swallows were detected on the CBC this winter. Victoria had North American high counts for Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, and Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Canadian high counts for Marsh Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, and American Robin! Penticton BC had a banner year for Western Bluebirds (268) setting a new Canadian all time high count. Also at Penticton were two Mountain Bluebirds, while Hat Creek reported 27 Townsend’s Solitaires.

Dark-eyed Junco was the most detected sparrow in the province by a wide margin (33,521). Song Sparrow was in second place (9764), followed by Spotted Towhee (8253), Golden-crowned Sparrow (4414), and White-crowned Sparrow (3395). The only Harris’s Sparrow in the province were at Creston Valley in stark contrast to last season when they were reported on 10 different counts. Victoria reported the highest Canadian total for Spotted Towhee, Fox Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco. Other BC national highs included Savannah and White-crowned sparrows (Abbotsford-Mission) and Song Sparrow (Vancouver). Two Yellow-headed Blackbirds at Vernon were a high count in Canada, and the only reported in BC. Single Rusty Blackbirds were at Prince George and Victoria. Notable over-wintering warblers were few and far between with only one Common Yellowthroat at White Rock and one Palm Warbler at Victoria. Pine Siskin was the most abundant finch species although in lower than usual numbers. House Finch was the second most abundant (13,613), followed by American Goldfinch (3550), and Common Redpoll (1214).

Figure 1: Abundance of Turkey Vulture on CBCs in North America:1967 to 2019 (www.audubon.org accessed Nov, 2020)
Figure 2: Abundance of Anna's Hummingbird on CBCs in North America:1967 to 2019 (www.audubon.org accessed Nov, 2020)
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