Coastal Waterbird Survey

Waves resurface food

 Birds gather at winter time

Count them from the beach

Birds are great indicators for assessing the state of our environment.  They inhabit forests, lakes, oceans and wetlands.  They migrate thousands of kilometres and rely on healthy ecosystems along their journey.   Programs like those developed by Bird Studies Canada provide a platform for the public to participate in conservation and to gain a better understanding of the health of our environment.

Running the Wetlands Education Program is a busy job and I rarely have the opportunity to reflect on some of the related activities I do outside of the BCWF. I can’t resist sharing one event I attended in November of 2012 where the topic was identification and reporting of coastal waterbirds, something that overlapped very nicely with the freshwater activities that are typically my focus.


On one of the last sunny Saturdays in November, I joined both newcomers and long-time birders to gather at Cammidge House for a workshop put on by the Delta Naturalists Society and Bird Studies Canada.  The participants of this workshop, a group of bird-loving beachcombers, were taught how to put their love of watching nature to good use.  Ms. Karen Barry trained us on the basics of two popular citizen-based science programs developed by Bird Studies Canada.  The Coastal Waterbird Survey is an initiative to monitor populations of gulls, waterfowl and other winged coastal visitors.   Meanwhile, the Beached Bird Survey helps to act as a rapid detection and early response to abnormal wash-ups of dead birds along the coast.

In a short but information packed 5-hour workshop, we learned techniques for species identification, counting birds off the shoreline, and how to identify species by parts alone (e.g. beak, leg, wing).  Karen brought in some beautiful examples of taxidermied waterbirds from the Royal BC Museum in Victoria to provide hands on practice in identifying species. We measured the tarsus, the wing, and beak; we went through identification keys with only a foot as evidence of species. This detective work was enjoyable and the participants were all thoroughly engaged.

Tsawassen beach

We also enjoyed a walk out to Tsawwassen Beach for hands-on practice.   Using scopes and binoculars, we were able to see hundreds to thousands of birds just off the coast, and none of these were even visible to the naked eye!  Karen taught us about how we might do a survey along the wrack line, where the most recent debris is washed up along the beach. We learned to search among the washed up bull kelp and driftwood but did not come across any bird remains.

John Neville

The coastal bird identification quizzes helped to differentiate summer and fall plummage, and tackle tricky families such as the gulls, which to a casual observer all look like grey and white “jobbies” (this takes some serious practice and is confounded by the fact that some gulls will hybridize). I was happily surprised to find among our group of participants none other than John Neville, president of the BC Naturalists Society and well known bird song  educator with a series of popular cds. When the moment was right, I dashed out to my car to grab one of his cds (some regular listening material for my commutes) for him to autograph.

Individuals willing to monitor the coastline for deceased birds will be happy to know that there is a cool book that you’ll be provided with. This contains all information for the program with species specific information to do detective work on bird corpses (if you’re interested in that sort of thing).  Karen emphasized that she is especially looking for volunteers to help out with this program on the mid and north coast of British Columbia.

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