Volunteers will be looking for trumpeter swans such as these during a waterbird survey this spring.

Wildsight’s waterbird survey starts this month

The five year project aims to get an updated count on waterbirds in the Columbia Wetlands through citizen-science.

Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in the Columbia Wetlands could confirm that it’s an environment that is full of a wide variety of bird species. From the majestic trumpeter swan to the tiny bufflehead, the valley’s waters are a hub of activity throughout the spring, summer and fall, especially among water birds.

But just how many birds flock to these waters is mostly a mystery.

Wildsight and a team of volunteers are hoping to change that, starting with a coordinated survey this spring.

According to the project’s manager Rachel Darvill, there are two principal purposes of the survey, which will take five years if all goes according to plan: one being the establishment of a large-scale citizen-science initiative in the area, and the other to accumulate baseline data on the birds in the area.

“Those types of (citizen-science) opportunities are very limited for the entire Columbia Basin. It’s really important to up those opportunities so that people can become more connected to nature-based landscapes…It’s hard to know why it’s important to conserve an area unless you become more connected to it,” Darvill explained.

One of the important benefits of accumulating data is the potential to get the Columbia Wetlands certified as an Important Bird Area (IBA), an application that was previously unsuccessful because of a lack of recent data.

“If we were able to obtain that it would give us the recognition that (the Columbia Wetlands) are one of the most important places on the continent for birds and for their conservation…it would be a significant conservation tool,” Darvill said.

Criteria to be named an IBA is to meet a one per cent threshold of the continental or global number of a species.

“For instance, if we’re able to see approximately 340 trumpeter swans on any single day’s count…then that would trigger an Important Bird Area status. Each species has its own threshold to trigger that IBA,” Darvill explained.

In addition to waterbirds, Darvill is hoping to gain more information about the Lewis’s woodpecker, a threatened species with a few hundred mating pairs remaining in the southern interior of B.C.

“If we’re able to see even eight of these individuals on any single one day count then that will trigger the Important Bird Area status as well,” Darvill added.

Surveys will be conducted at 50 sites from Canal Flats to Donald, with volunteers counting species and numbers with the assistance of binoculars, spotting scopes and tripods.

Darvill has been overwhelmed with the enthusiastic response she has received from locals, many of whom have eagerly volunteered their time to participate.

“It was really challenging to know how many people were going to want to participate in this and we’ve had an overwhelming response for the number of people who want to participate…we’re full for this year and I’ve had to turn a couple of people down…it just seems like there are birdwatchers coming out of the woodwork up and down the valley. It’s really amazing.”

The surveys will continue in October and will follow a spring/fall cycle for the duration of the planned five-year project.

Darvill says she has all the volunteers she needs for this spring but anyone with interest in participating in future surveys or who would like to find out more information about getting involved is encouraged to contact her at 250-344-5530 or by e-mail at rachel@wildsight.ca.