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COLUMN: Appreciating the bird-watching bounty of Salmon Arm Bay

Bay particularly special because of the abundance of nature to be seen and heard
A Great Blue Heron bundles up for a below-zero night. (Photo by John G. Woods)

Submitted by John G. Woods 

Boasting verified records of 278 species of birds and with a citizen-science database that recently surpassed 11,000 daily observation lists, by any measure Salmon Arm Bay is one of the best known and loved ‘hotspots’ in British Columbia for both birds and bird-watchers.

Take a walk on the Salmon Arm wharf or a stroll on Raven Trail or in Peter Jannink Park and you are likely to see several keen bird-watchers – these folks are easy to spot with their binoculars, cameras and telescopes. You’ll also likely notice that these bird-watching regulars often stop to answer questions from less obvious bird-watchers who are enjoying marvellously close views of wildlife as part of their fresh air and exercise routines.

For example, on an outing to Christmas Island in late November, a lady from Kelowna approached me and hopefully asked if I’d seen any pelicans that day. She’d heard that we had been seeing quite a few on the bay this year and had driven up for the day with the hopes of seeing one. She didn’t have binoculars or a camera but had clearly made the trip to see the first pelican of her life.

Unfortunately, the pelicans had left a few weeks earlier but she was very happy to see a sizeable flock of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans feeding and calling nearby. After I explained the best times to see pelicans on the bay is from mid-April to the end of October, she enthusiastically promised to return in the spring; after all, who doesn’t want to see a pelican!

Salmon Arm Bay with a backdrop of Bastion Mountain, photographed in December 2021, is a scenic place to observe nature year-round. (Photo by John G. Woods)
Salmon Arm Bay with a backdrop of Bastion Mountain, photographed in December 2021, is a scenic place to observe nature year-round. (Photo by John G. Woods)

On the same walk, a gentleman stopped to tell me his bird story. A few minutes earlier he had counted 16 Great Blue Herons standing together on the mudflats in front of the hotel. He said that he had been casually counting the herons on his daily walks for many years and this was the largest number he’d ever seen in one group. He wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss them.

His enthusiasm reminded me of an occasion earlier this year when a breathless group of Grade One students rushed down the wharf to tell me that a heron had flown right over their heads near the pavilion and they had named ‘him’ Blue.

I’m also impressed by how many out-of-town avid bird-watchers I meet at the bay. They come from all over British Columbia and beyond, armed with latest news of rare sightings listed on eBird, the online database that birders from around the world use to share their sightings. With our nesting colony of Western Grebes and thousands migrating shorebirds and waterfowl, some rarity or another is sure to be around.

What makes the bay special to me is the sheer abundance of nature I can see and hear there – from hundreds of migrating swallows feeding over the water on a rainy morning in August to the thousands of ducks and geese filling the air with their voices during migration. As winter locks the inner bay in ice, the marshy shorelines continue to attract many types of birds including Short-eared Owls, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Shrikes often feeding on the abundant voles living in the shoreline grasses and cattails.

As many of us have learned in these COVID times, exposure to nature is a tonic more important than ever. Aren’t we lucky to have our very own birding hotspot – Salmon Arm Bay!

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Read more: Great Blue Herons can be seen carrying construction materials across Salmon Arm

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Several pairs of Bald Eagles nest around Salmon Arm Bay and can be seen every month of the year. (Photo by John G. Woods)