150 Madness

Birders can carry out some pretty outlandish quests when they put their minds to it. In 2015, Noah Stryker set off on a Big Year to see how many birds he could see before year’s end.  Forty-one countries later he had seen 6,042 of the slightly more than 10,000 species in the world. Years earlier and as a graduate student, my thesis advisor the late Jamie Smith told me how the list of birds heard while on the loo in his field camp on tiny Mandarte Island in British Columbia began to level off. The solution? Cut a window in the side of the outhouse thereby boosting the bird count.

There might seem no justifiable reason to spend my time trying to see 150 species of birds in Vancouver by Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1. And I would have agreed at the outset when on a frozen, ice filled bleak January 1, 2017 I started my quest. Except I had a secret mission.

A few years ago, Vancouver City Council approved a bird strategy developed by the Vancouver Bird Advisory Committee that I chair. Among the aims of the strategy was the enhancement of the city’s native birds. The 150 challenge was an opportunity to see how many birds could be seen within the city limits – with some effort, I might add – and where we could make improvements. Not too surprising was that some species were present in very low numbers. I had to search a long time for a pied-billed grebe – finally located in Beaver Lake and later on Trout Lake. The two pairs might be the only nesting grebes in the city where lakes are few. Similarly, despite large numbers of species of shorebirds on the neighbouring Fraser River delta, the mudflats they prefer are just thin slivers along the Fraser River within the city limits. The city has many trees and there are large tracts of wild forest in Stanley Park and a few other parks. The need for understory is an important feature for birds. Few birds use isolated trees but add several trees, some understory shrubs and a pond, and the bird numbers soar.

Careful planting and siting of green space provides more opportunities for us to share some time with our birds. However, the city can only do so much. Vancouver is fortunate to be located near the Fraser River delta, the ocean, and forested. Birds freely move in and out of the city and we need to not lose sight of the fact that a bird strategy needs to become region wide to ensure continuity.

My tally by mid-April was 108 species. While writing this blog, I got a comment that someone in the Okanagan was at 139 species. The 150 challenge is within their reach. For me, another 50 species is possible, but 35-40 is most likely. I am restricting my count to within the city limits of Vancouver. Spring migration is just gaining steam when the numbers of species should grow. I am daily watching the Rare Bird Alert and eBird for unusual sightings. So far, the tufted duck alluded me (duck 4:me 0). So did the snow bunting and Say’s phoebe but I saw a California scrub jay on the third attempt.

From May 6 to 13 we will be running Bird Week with over 40 events for all levels of birding skills. The bigger event is coming in 2018 when Vancouver hosts the International Ornithological Congress and we launch the first Vancouver International Bird Festival. You can visit the web sites and I will be writing more about these events in subsequent posts, but mark your calendars and plan to visit Vancouver. Hopefully, I will have seen my 150 species by then.



About rob butler

I am a scientist, author and naturalist with over four decades of field study of wild animals. You can read more at my web site at robbutler.ca.
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