Serpentine Fen: December 17th 2009

Yesterday I had the opportunity to bird at Serpentine Fen located along the Serpentine River in the South Surrey area. It’s a location that I have never been to before.

From the observation tower closest to the parking lot I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk sitting atop a utility pole. These birds are typically “sit-and-wait” predators and so elevated perches in open country are an important habitat requirement (Preston and Beane 2009). Development, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation appear to have helped the Red-tailed Hawk to expand its range and maintain relatively stable population numbers over much of North America (Berry et al 1998 and Farmer et al 2008).

A little while later a group of eight Trumpeter Swans lifted off to the north of my position and flew to the south east. These birds were once prized for their feathers and skins leading widespread hunting pressure and subsequent population declines (Mitchell 1994). In 1935 only 69 birds were known to exist; however, undocumented populations persisted in areas of Canada and Alaska (Mitchell 1994). Today, numbers have rebounded as a result of effective conservation measures, but winter range habitat loss and lead poisoning from the ingestion of lead shot and sinkers still threaten the continued survival of the species (Gale et al 1987 and Blus et al 1989).

Most of the ponds were frozen over with a thin layer of ice. This Great Blue Heron decided that the middle of one such pond was a good place to rest…

The Serpentine River had several species of duck including large numbers of American Widgeon and Mallard, Bufflehead, Gadwall, Common Merganser, and two Lesser Scaup. There also quite a few American Coot. The surrounding brushy vegetation held Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, and a lone Downy Woodpecker.

At the northwest corner of the property I observed a Northern Harrier chase a Red-tailed Hawk. It got a few swipes in before the Hawk landed on an electrical power line pylon. The Harrier continued hunting to the southeast.

I had an excellent time at Serpentine Fen and I look forward to birding there again.


Preston, C. R. and R. D. Beane. 2009. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Berry, M. E., C. E. Bock, and S. L. Haire. 1998. Abundance of diurnal raptors on open space grasslands in an urbanized landscape. Condor 100(4):601-608.

Farmer, C. J., L. J. Goodrich, E. Ruelas, and J. Smith. 2008. Conservation status of North American raptors. Pages 303-420 in State of North America’s Birds of Prey. (Bildstein, K. L., J. P. Smith, E. Ruelas Inzunza, and R. Veit, Eds.) Nuttall Ornithological Club and American Ornithologists’ Union, Series in Ornithology, No. 3, Cambridge, MA and Washington, D. C.

Mitchell, Carl D. 1994. Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Blus, L. J., R. K. Stroud, B. Reiswig, and T. McEneaney. 1989. Lead poisoning and other mortality factors in Trumpeter Swans. Environ. Toxicol. and Chem. 8:263-271.

Gale, R. S., E. O. Garton, and I. J. Ball. 1987. The history, ecology, and management of the Rocky Mountain Population of Trumpeter Swans. U.S. Fish & Wildl. Service, Montana Cooperative Wildl. Research Unit, Missoula, MT.


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