Ed Dahl looks out to Shuswap Lake during a bird count at the waterfront on Sunday

Ed Dahl looks out to Shuswap Lake during a bird count at the waterfront on Sunday

Keeping track of the birds

Some 30 dedicated birdwatchers set off in all directions Sunday morning on the annual bird count in thick fog

They were around, but seeing them was an issue.

Some 30 dedicated birdwatchers set off in all directions Sunday morning on the annual bird count in thick fog.

Despite conditions, some 70 different species were seen in a 15-mile circle around Salmon Arm.

“We should have had 77 or 78 species,” said Shuswap Naturalist Club president Ed McDonald, who noted the most common birds were Canada Geese, pigeons and starlings. “We had a huge number of Bohemian wax wings, a beautiful bird  whose favourite food is mountain ash berries.”

A colourful winter bird, McDonald had about 300 of them in his backyard a few weeks ago. They stripped his mountain ash tree of its berries and moved on.

The most sought-after bird is the American dipper, one of the few songbirds that actually sing in winter.

“They hang around the rivers and go underwater to find whatever they can to eat, then hop up on a rock and dip,” McDonald says. “They have a thing like Saran Wrap that comes over their eyes so they don’t get their eyes wet.”

He says one of the strangest thing seen was a mountain blue bird out towards Grindrod.

“The lighting wasn’t very good and the last thing they thought they’d see was a male mountain blue bird,” he says.

In charge of the numbers, naturalist Ted Hillary said 16 species of waterfowl were counted this year – most of them in the Salmon Arm Bay.

“We had 33 red-tail hawks in the 15-mile circle,” he said, noting the circle was drawn when Imperial measure was still used.

Thirty-two bald eagles were counted and 56 California quail.

“We’re just starting to see lots of them because the climate is getting drier and there’s not as much snow in the winter,” Hilary says. “They’ve been in the Okanagan all over the place.”

It may seem that a lot of pigeons like to call the area home, but Hillary says their numbers are actually declining.

“We’ve had up to 1,000, but over the years they’ve gradually been going down, possibly because there are fewer farms with grain in the area.”

But the population is growing for another bird in the same family – the Eurasian collared dove that just began coming to the area in the last few years.

“They’ve been in North America only since 1985. They started in Florida and they’ve colonized the continent so quickly,” said Hillary, noting 100 were counted in the area on Sunday. “They nest in evergreen trees starting in February and while they only have a couple in each nest, they nest up to four times a year. And the young start nesting in a year.”

Hillary says only three pygmy owls were spotted, but they are hard to see and hard to hear and the foggy conditions didn’t help.

There were 78 trumpeter swans counted in Salmon Arm Bay and another 49 along the Shuswap river near Grindrod.

Other fowl residents of the bay area included 750 Canada Geese, 325 mallards and one western grebe near Sandy Point.