British Columbia

Victoria to conduct 2-year survey of region's harbour birds

Vancouver Island's Capital Regional District wants to conduct a two-year survey of migratory birds in the region — the first study of its kind in more than 20 years. 

Local birder says taking stock of changes can help indicate environmental problems

Great blue herons are some of the most common birds along Victoria's harbours. An upcoming survey will determine any changes in the region's migratory birds. (Jean Bergen)

Vancouver Island's Capital Regional District is about to conduct a two-year survey of migratory birds in the region — the first study of its kind in more than 20 years. 

The CRD recently issued a request for proposals to study the birds along the Esquimalt and Victoria harbours, the Gorge Waterway, the Portage Inlet and the Esquimalt Lagoon. 

Glenn Harris, the CRD's senior manager of environmental protection, says he expects to see a few significant changes from the last time the birds were surveyed.

"I was out on the water last weekend and saw pelicans off of our Sooke waters," Harris said. "That's the first time I've ever seen [them] and I'm born and raised here." 

Western grebes are another bird that can be spotted along the shores of the Capital Regional District. (David Komljenovic)

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.

Harlequin ducks are listed as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), an expert panel that reports to provincial and federal environment ministers.

On its website, the CRD says some of the biggest threats to migratory birds in the area include habitat loss, lead poisoning from fishing pellets, human disturbance and pollution. 

Noting problems over time

Ann Nightingale, vice president of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory and coordinator of the Victoria Christmas bird count, says she was glad to hear about the count. 

The organizations she serves also count birds, but she says standardized surveys can be more accurate in noting changes over time. 

"You don't know when things are going wrong if you haven't been keeping track," Nightingale said. 

"We can fix things that we've broken sometimes, but we can't fix them if we don't know they're going wrong."

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)

Nightingale says it took years before biologists noticed that the insect repellant DDT was decimating some bird populations like eagles and raptors. Populations of those birds have now rebounded, she says, thanks in part to banning the chemical for the most part. 

Various organizations have noted that the CRD's seabird population has plummeted in the last 40 years, Nightingale says, mostly as a result of food and habitat loss. 

Sewage treatment obligations

Harris says the survey is part of the CRD's obligations to monitor migratory birds and other harbour species because of the region's lack of sewage treatment. 

Critics have said Victoria's long-standing practice of dumping raw sewage has dramatically altered the surrounding ocean ecosystem.

In 2016, the Capital Regional District Board finally reached a decision to proceed with the construction of a tertiary sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt. 

That facility is expected to be completed by 2020.

The Esquimalt Lagoon in the City of Colwood, west of Victoria, is one of three bird sanctuaries in the Capital Regional District. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"That's a big project and a big change for the environment," Harris said. "We'll see if that has any direct effect within the harbours and any effect on the migratory birds."

Harris says the CRD has three of Canada's 97 migratory bird sanctuaries: The Esquimalt Lagoon, Victoria Harbour and Shoal Harbour in Sydney.

The survey is part of a larger ecological inventory of CRD harbours that's occurring concurrently. 

 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from Roshini Nair

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