by Michael Dunn and Nancy Gibson
Despite its relatively small land area, Mayne Island is a mosaic of forests, clearings, and agricultural fields that offer diverse habitats and ecosystems for many bird species. Wetlands are not common on the island, but we do have a range of forests from the dry Douglas fir and arbutus, to the moister alder, big leaf maple and western red cedar. Besides our domestic and introduced varieties, native salmonberry, thimbleberry, arbutus and honeysuckle produce abundant food for fruit-eating birds, and those preferring seed have access to grass seed on our farms and in our gardens as well as the many forest tree and shrub seeds. A myriad of marine birds find food in the surrounding ocean waters.
Birding in December on Mayne
By December, the migrant species have passed through, and only our year-round residents and overwintering species remain. Because many trees drop their leaves during the winter, identifying flocking forest birds such as kinglets, juncos, siskins and chickadees can be easier. Fields flooded by November rains host wigeons, mallards, Canada geese and sometimes killdeer. Many bald eagles forage and roost around Active Pass during the winter months, and groups of marine birds such as goldeneye, harlequin ducks, loons, cormorants and scoters can also be spotted. Bufflehead, mergansers and grebes are found in the quieter bays around the island during the winter months. Our rocky shorelines, particularly the shores from Georgina Point to Edith Point extending to the Belle Chain Islets, are prime winter foraging habitat for the black turnstone, surfbird and black oystercatcher.
The Christmas Bird Count, which was started in 1900, is North America’s longest-running citizen science project. Counts happen in over 2000 locations around the Western Hemisphere. Thousands of volunteers participate in collecting one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data. These results are crucial in the day-to-day study by conservation biologists to understand bird population trends. Each Christmas Bird Count takes place on a single day between December 14 and January 5. (This year we are counting on December 19th.) These individual counts, which are organised by birding clubs or naturalist groups, are carried out within a 24km circle that remains the same year to year. We are part of a count circle that includes the Penders and Saturna Island.
Whether or not you are one of the volunteers participating in this year’s count, we encourage everyone to get outside and look for birds! A booklet called “Birds of Mayne Island: a checklist” is available through the Conservancy, and this, plus a good illustrated bird guide and a pair of binoculars, is all you need to get started. There are several particularly rewarding birding areas on Mayne. For marine species: Georgina Point Lighthouse Park, Horton Bay, Village Bay, Campbell Point, Miners Bay dock and Reef Bay. For forest and inland birds: Horton Bay Road, Merryman Road, our farm fields and ponds, and the trails of Mount Parke. Our newest park, St. John Point, is a good place to see marine species as well as forest birds because of the variety of forests, shrubs, and types of shoreline.
At this point in time, updated to 2017, approximately 200 species of birds have been observed and recorded both on Mayne Island and the rocky islets and shoals within one kilometre of our surrounding waters. Since 2017, keen birders on Mayne have confirmed four more species to the list: gadwall, western sandpiper, wandering tattler, and American dipper. To report any new species or interesting bird observations, please contact Michael Dunn, Executive Director of the Mayne Island Conservancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.