The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in British Columbia

By Monica Nugent and Yousif Attia

Provincial Summary

A total of 87 Christmas Bird Counts in British Columbia (BC) submitted data for the 122nd (2021-22) count. One new Circle, Jaffray-Wardner, was registered during the 122nd. Sunday, December 19 was the day most counts took place (20), followed by Saturday, December 18 (14), and Monday, December 27 (9). Victoria had the most counters in the field (249), followed by Vancouver (151), Galiano-North Saltspring (133), and Pender Islands (111). Parksville-Qualicum Beach and Galiano SaltSpring Islands tied for the most Feeder Counters (40), followed by Victoria (36) and Creston Valley (32).

A total of 862,131 individual birds of 223 species were tallied by 2669 field counters and 671feeder counters. Victoria was the top count with 136 species on count day. Victoria recorded the highest number of species: 136 species on count day, a decrease of seven species compared to the previous year. Two species only detected during Count Week, American Bittern and Red Knot, both came from Ladner. The top 10 most abundant species in BC, in order of most to least abundant were: Mallard, European Starling, Snow Goose, American Crow, Glaucous-winged Gull, Canada Goose, Dunlin, American Wigeon, Bohemian Waxwing, and Dark-eyed Junco.

The beginning of the season was characterized by typical weather, but a mid-season cold snap and snow early in the new year gripped the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. The coldest count award goes to Tumbler Ridge (-40 Celsius) while Bamfield and Victoria shared the warmest Count Day temperatures (8 Celsius).

Species and notes

Mallard (73,521) was the most abundant waterfowl species reported in BC, followed by Snow Goose (54,077), Canada Goose (48,142), American Wigeon (40,678), and Bufflehead (13,396). The only King Eider reported was in Victoria, one of several noteworthy records from that Circle. Greater Masset had two “Eurasian” Green-winged Teal and a third came from Parskville-Qualicum Beach, up from one in the province last year.  Two Dusky Grouse at Oliver-Osoyoos was the highest count on a North American Circle. The most abundant grebe species was Horned Grebe (2794), followed by Western Grebe (1099), and Red-necked Grebe (925). Following an unprecedented invasion of Short-tailed Shearwaters in the summer and fall of 2022, one was reported at Hecate Strait, where two Northern Fulmars were also tallied.

The only American Bittern in BC was a Count Week bird in Ladner. Nanaimo recorded the highest Pacific Loon total (947) for a North American Circle this year, a title held by Parskville-Qualicum Beach last year. Highlights in the alcid department included two Thick-billed Murres (Galiano-North Saltspring and Hecate Strait), two Cassin’s Auklet at Bamfield, and one Parakeet Auklet also in Hecate Strait. Sidney-South Saltspring had Canadian high counts for all three cormorant species. Dunlin were far and away the most abundant shorebird (43,548) followed by Black Turnstone (2363), and Black-bellied Plover (1801). North American high counts for Black Oystercatcher (Deep Bay; 189) and Surfbird (Port Clements; 60) also deserve mention. One Marbled Godwit at White Rock-Surrey-Langley was a drop compared to nine the previous year. A Short-billed Dowitcher in Victoria was an excellent record, and one Count Week Red Knot at Ladner is noteworthy. Twelve Least Sandpipers in Ladner was a high Count, and Ladner also had the highest Dunlin count in North America.

A long-staying and very popular Red-shouldered Hawk near the town of Agassiz in the Harrison River CBC was present on Count Day. Bald Eagles were the most abundant raptor, and Ladner’s 2174 was a North American high. Owl numbers were the lowest they have been in the past few years. A total of 303 owls of 12 species was a dive compared to 425 individuals of 10 species during the 121st. Singles of Snowy Owl (Vancouver), Long-eared Owl (Pitt Meadows), and Boreal Owl (Lillooet), were the only ones on Count Day, and Smithers had the only two Northern Hawk Owls in the province. A single Prairie Falcon was in Oliver-Osoyoos, and single Gyrfalcons were at Abbotsford-Mission and Pitt Meadows

Pender Island reported the only swallow in the province, a Barn Swallow. It was an irruption year for Bohemian Waxwings, where nearly 33,000 were counted in the province. Surprisingly, Western Scrub-Jays were absent even on Count Week in the province. Numbers of overwintering Western Bluebirds in the Okanagan continue to increase. There were two Mountain Bluebirds at Prince George and one at Oliver-Osoyoos. A Gray Catbird was reported in Vancouver, and Northern Mockingbird was at neighboring Ladner. North American high counts for Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Brown Creeper were reported from Victoria.

Not one, but two Bramblings were in the province during the 122nd CBC, one in Narcosli and one in Revelstoke. Apparently, a new and spreading tradition for the Interior is recording Lesser Goldfinches on CBCs. Revelstoke, Oliver-Osoyoos, and Penticton each had one bird; Kelowna also had one last year. On the heels of last year’s Pine Siskin irruption, Common Redpolls were on the move further south than usual. Small flocks lingered throughout the winter in the southernmost parts of the province. One Chipping Sparrow was at Pender Islands and one Lark Sparrow was at William’s Lake. Again, Victoria reported North American high counts for Fox Sparrow and Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco. The only Rusty Blackbird was in Creston Valley. A Northern Waterthrush at Ladner, a Tennessee Warbler at Victoria, and a Wilson’s Warbler at Ladysmith rounded out the warbler highlights on Count Day.