Maplewood: October 3rd 2009

I had an excellent afternoon of birding (when is time spent birding ever not excellent?) at Maplewood Conservation Area last week Saturday. A Bewick’s Wren was active in the brush near the mudflats as well as several Song and one (Sooty) Fox Sparrow. The tide was out and American Widgeon, Northern Pintail, and Mallard were in the shallows close to the water’s edge. Out on the water were several Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants and a Common Loon (now in non-breeding plumage). A Great Blue Heron was also foraging about 25m away from the viewing area and a Bald Eagle was perched on one of the pylons.

A Belted Kingfisher was perched on branch close to the footbridge that separates the east and west side of the area. I watched as it made three dives into the water but each attempt was unsuccessful and eventually the Kingfisher flew off.

While watching the Belted Kingfisher I noticed a Horned Grebe swimming about in the small bay to the south of the bridge. It preened itself for a minute or two before settling its head onto the feathers of its back and resting. The Horned Grebe appears to be undergoing a breeding range contraction towards the northwest resulting in the species being Blue Listed in the USA (Tate 1986) and “vulnerable” in Quebec (Shaffer et al 1995). In British Columbia no changes in range have been noted (Cambell et al 1990). Both Breeding Bird Surveys and Christmas Bird Counts show declines for the population but, due to methodology used (ex. BBS involves driving along a road which may not be located in prime wetland habitat), these may not be the best tools to study population change in Horned Grebe (Stedman 2000). The biggest threat facing the species in its wintering range is habitat degradation due to oil spills and pesticide accumulation in the ecosystem (Stedman 2000). Horned Grebe is seen as an indicator species for wetland health and in my opinion its population declines can be seen as sign of poor or lower quality habitat in eastern North America; this serves to stress the importance of protecting B.C.’s wetland habitat for the conservation of the species and other wetland organisms.

A group of Double-crested Cormorants were preening, sunning, and resting on a sandbar viewable from the southwest corner of the area.

While making my way back along the southern path on the western side of the property a Cooper’s Hawk flew across the trail and into a group of trees. When it noticed me it flew further east and I followed only to have the bird take flight again. As I continued walking along the path I came across a group of six or seven Black-capped Chickadees which were all actively giving scolding alarm calls. I wonder if perhaps I disturbed the hawk’s hunt and thus forced it into a poor position that made it noticeable to the Chickadees which then must have notified almost every other bird in the immediate area.

In contemplating my incident with the hawk and what I have learned about the threats facing the Horned Grebe it is clear that we all have some measurable and ultimately avoidable affect on birdlife. Had I chosen not to stop and stare at the Cooper’s Hawk it might have had a more successful hunt and if we, as individuals, make a similarly small change in our lifestyles regarding agricultural products and the use of pesticides the Horned Grebe and many other birds would be better off.

References:

Tate, J. 1986. The Blue List for 1986. Am. Birds 40:227-236.

Shaffer, F., P. Laporte, and M. Robert. 1995. Rapport sur la Situation du Grebe cornu (Podiceps auritus) au Quebec. Tech. Rep. no. 242. Can. Wildl. Serv. and Environ. Canada, Québec Region, Ste. Foy.

Campbell, R. W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. M. Cooper, G. W. Kaiser, and M. C. E. McNall. 1990. The birds of British Columbia, Vol. 1: introduction and loons through waterfowl. R. Br. Columbia Mus. Victoria.

Stedman, Stephen J. 2000. Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/505doi10.2173/bna.505

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