British Columbia

Capital Regional District cancels southern Vancouver Island migratory bird study

A a two-year study of migratory birds on southern Vancouver Island, that would have been the first of its kind in the area in more than two decades, has been cancelled.

2 year study would have been the first of its kind in more than 20 years

Great blue herons are common to waterways on southern Vancouver Island. (Josh Ghory)

A a two-year study of migratory birds on southern Vancouver Island, that would have been the first of its kind in the area in more than two decades, has been cancelled.

The Capital Regional District (CRD) initially planned to conduct a survey of migratory birds along Esquimalt and Victoria harbours, Esquimalt Lagoon, the Gorge Waterway and Portage Inlet and put out a call for proposals to do so in September 2019.

Some common birds in the area include great blue herons, harlequin ducks and short-billed dowitchers. Some species, like marbled murrelets, are threatened or endangered.

The CRD has now decided to scrap the plan, saying it would prefer to find another way to carry out the survey that could get community members more involved.

The harlequin duck is a species of special concern in British Columbia, and one of many birds that frequent the shores of the Capital Regional District. (Simon d’Entremont)

Ann Nightingale, who sits on the board of directors of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory, a Victoria-based organization that monitors the status of migratory birds in the region, was disappointed with the district's decision.

"A number of groups had put in bids for it, and the work that they were going to do was quite extensive," Nightingale explained. "But my understanding was that in the end, the budget was not sufficient to do what they had hoped to do."

CRD spokesperson Nicki Fellinger paints a different picture.

Rather than hiring professionals to carry out a rigorous inventory, she says the district now would prefer to involve the local public.

Fellinger did say, however, that the project, for the time being, is stalled.

The importance of hiring professionals

Nightingale had not heard of the CRD's new vision for the survey.

She said the community is already involved in the inventory of birds in the area and bird watchers regularly report birds they see to a website called ebird.org.

Nightingale gives the example of a rare bird in the region that passed by the Esquimalt Lagoon a few weeks ago and attracted bird watchers.

"Dozens of people went to see it, and they would all submit reports," she said. 

However, Nightingale said, it is difficult to know, based on the information in that database, if a single bird was seen by dozens of people and reported, or, if dozens of birds were seen by less than as many people.

The Esquimalt Lagoon in the City of Colwood, west of Victoria, is a bird sanctuary in the Capital Regional District. According to the CRD, the lagoon becomes critically important for waterfowl, particularly for those wintering inland, during periods of cold weather when freshwater lakes and ponds freeze. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

 Nightingale believes having professionals handle the count is a better way to guarantee the numbers will be accurate.

"You make sure you count even the boring birds and that it's done consistently," she said, adding she hopes the CRD will reconsider its decision.

"In Esquimalt lagoon, there's an awful lot of development going on," she said. "You need to get the data now, because five years from now, the area is going to be very different."

With files from Maryse Zeidler

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