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Cowichan birders brave winter weather for Christmas Bird Count

Organizers are calling this year’s Christmas Bird Count a success, despite enduring some of the most challenging and diverse weather in years, including rain, cold, wind, driving snow, and, yes, sunshine and rainbows.

Spokesperson Tania Tripp said a total of 104 species were recorded during the Jan. 3 event, up from 102 species last year.

It’s officially the Duncan count, but actually takes place in several zones mainly within North Cowichan and Cowichan Valley Regional District.

The annual citizen-science event is conducted across North America as a way to monitor changes in numbers and species of birds.

Counts are carried out within a 24-km diameter circle that stays the same year to year. Each count is conducted on a single day from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5.

In some cases, it is the sheer number of birds that are noteworthy.

Participants in the Duncan count recorded an estimated 1,500 robins in a vineyard off Mays Road, about 200 swans in the Koksilah Road area, and about 280 ring-necked ducks and 720 lesser scaup at the municipal sewage lagoons near the corner of Lakes Road and Tzouhalem Road.

Overall, three species of swans were recorded, mostly trumpeter, but also some tundra and mute, which is not native.

Among the rarer sightings: tufted duck, common redpoll, western meadowlark and northern shrike. Turkey vultures normally migrate to South America in winter, but birders recorded two sightings of the species.

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg

Raptors are always a highlight of any bird count. At least five species of owl were recorded — barred, great horned, pygmy, screech and short-eared.

At just one location, observers recorded four raptor species — red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, merlin, and bald eagle.

A bald eagle was also spotted stealing a green-winged teal from a peregrine falcon, which furiously ate what it could before the larger raptor swooped in.

The 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve, which has been heavily logged over the decades, was not included in the bird count.

Tripp said, in part, the forests are “typically at higher elevations and are in general not accessible in the winter without some dedicated 4X4 or hiking. We focus on the lower elevations where the birds are hanging out for the winter.”

Hopefully, the forest reserve can be included in future bird counts.

A consultant’s draft report for the Municipality has estimated 141 species at risk in North Cowichan, including 21 breeding birds. They include the peregrine falcon, common nighthawk, purple martin, and northern goshawk.

The public consultation process into the future of the forest reserve has chosen not to list the draft report as a reference source. Here’s a link: https://bit.ly/3ePWsxb.

John Gordon (http://thecanadianwarbler.blogspot.ca) photo of tufted duck and two lesser scaup. Barry Hetschko photo of kestrel.

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— Larry Pynn, Jan. 5, 2022

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg

Al Siebring photo _edited.jpg