[Tweeters] seabirds down?

Wayne Weber contopus at telus.net
Tue Mar 17 08:46:47 PDT 2015

Dennis (and Tweeters),

When you say "seabirds", what exactly do you mean? Mainly loons, grebes,
cormorants, alcids, and the like? Do you include ducks and gulls as

I do some birding at Blaine and Drayton Harbor about once a week, on average
(I have a mailbox in Blaine). I bird Boundary Bay in BC even more frequently
(it's about 2 miles from where I live). I have been birding these and
similar areas regularly since 1967 (48 years).

I have not noticed an overall decline in waterbirds in recent years, with
the major exception of Western Grebes. The huge flocks of Western Grebes
that used to winter in Bellingham Bay, Boundary Bay, and English Bay
(Vancouver) simply are not there anymore. It appears that this is more a
shift to more southerly wintering areas rather than an overall population

I hope you record numbers of birds seen on each visit, species by species. I
do, and I enter these data in eBird. (However, it will take me at least 5
years to enter all my old data in eBird, which I am doing year by year.)
Unless you record birds systematically, it is easily to be fooled by
erroneous impressions and vague memories of former years.

You mention Blaine and vicinity in particular. This is an area with which I
am very familiar. One thing which should be noted is that birds using
Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay are part of the larger Boundary Bay
ecosystem, and move frequently back and forth in different parts of that
ecosystem. A large flock of Pintails or other dabbling ducks can move
several miles after a Bald Eagle attack, for instance, and you might think
they were "gone". Tidal cycles also have a huge impact on numbers of birds
seen in a visit. The place may be packed with shorebirds and gulls if you
are there at low tide or mid-tide, but they are somewhere else at high tide.
If you are comparing counts, it should be at the same stage of the tidal

If some of the "missing birds" you couldn't find are waterfowl, it should be
noted that some species, like Mallards, Pintails, and Am. Wigeon, start
their spring migration very early. I have noted huge flocks of these
arriving in southern interior B.C. in the last few days of February or early
March. So the numbers in wintering areas like Drayton Harbor can start
declining quite early in the spring, giving the impression of low numbers in
March when there were thousands in January. In summer, of course, there are
few dabbling ducks and not as many scoters, but there are usually impressive
numbers of Canada Geese, gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants, which nest on
the Blaine breakwater.

So no, I have not noticed significant declines of waterbirds in the Blaine
area, either in the last few years or the last 2-3 weeks, other than the
aforementioned huge decline of Western Grebes. However, smaller declines may
go unnoticed, and bird populations are always changing, so it is a good idea
for everyone to always record numbers of birds when they go out birding.

Wayne C. Weber
Delta, BC
contopus at telus.net

-----Original Message-----
From: tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu
[mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Dennis
Sent: March-16-15 5:01 PM
To: TWEETERS tweeters
Subject: [Tweeters] seabirds down?

Hello, tweets.

I've been going out just about every week to some high-quality birding area
in the Puget Sound region, as I've had friends visiting who wanted to go out
and was actually able to score some sunny weekend days. But everywhere I go
I have the feeling there are fewer seabirds than usual.

I was appalled at the low numbers of birds in general (except of course
Double-crested Cormorant) when visiting Blaine/Semiahmoo two weekends in a
row. I was shocked at how few birds were visible in an hour spent at Point
Wilson in Port Townsend (of course my memories go back 45 years). I have
scarcely seen a Red-necked Grebe all winter, and they are usually common at

With unusually high temperatures to the north of us, I was wondering if a
lot of birds just aren't coming south, and I thought it would be worth
getting the opinions of others. It will be interesting to see what the
Christmas Bird Counts tell us.

Has anyone had similar thoughts? Best that you have been birding actively in
the area for 10 years or more, so you have some perspective. I've been doing
it for 46 years.

Dennis Paulson
Seattle, WA

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