Birding in British Columbia

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Winter: Waterfowl, seabirds, and wintering passerines

Winter is waterfowl season and usually offers great birding opportunities around Greater Victoria.

Now with the dampnes and morning chill in the air, it takes more time for the songbirds to "warm-up." Most of the bird chatter you hear at this time is year is often a bird's 'cal'" rather then it's 'song.' Listen carefully and you may be able to distinguish the differences between species.

At the same time, most species are in winter plumage making them look drab.

November to March is the wintering period for sea ducks and bay ducks, which can be found mainly along the Victoria waterfront and in Saanich Inlet. Birds to look for include: Oldsquaw; Black, Surf and White-winged Scoter; Barrows and Common Goldeneye; Common, Pacific, and Red-throated Loon; Red-necked, Western, Horned and Eared Grebe; Red-breasted and Hooded Merganser; Harlequin Duck; and Bufflehead.

Alcids in the deeper waters include Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Marbled Murrelet and Ancient Murrelet. Other rarer birds may be present as well. Clark's Grebe, King Eider, Common Eider, Yellow-billed Loon, and Brown Pelican have been recorded in past winters.

Wintering freshwater waterfowl located in the flooded farmer's fields include Trumpeter Swan, Greater White-fronted Geese, and many dabblers with the odd rarer duck such as Eurasian Wigeon (also found in Beacon Hill Park). Diving ducks such as Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater & Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck and Hooded and Common Merganser are found on the freshwater lakes and saltwater lagoons.

Regular wintering shorebirds in the region include Whimbrel, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Dunlin, Sanderling, Greater Yellowlegs and Black-bellied Plover.

The common gull species in winter is Glaucous-winged Gull though most other west coast gulls are present, including Herring Gull, Mew Gull, Western and WesternXGlaucous-winged Gull hybrids, as well as out of season (and harder to find) Bonaparte's, Ring-billed, and California Gull. Thayer's Gull (a regular winter arrival from the Arctic) is a sought after species as 10% of the entire popular winter in the Greater Victoria Area.

Goldstream Provincial Park is a good place to see Gulls from November to January as they are attracted to the post salmon spawn. (They are the "clean up" crew.)

Annual Christmas Bird Counts for Victoria regularly reach over 130 species. The Martindale Valley and adjacent Island View Beach can often turn up the majority of these birds, as well as usually one or two rare birds.

Owling around the region is generally good from December to mid-March though disturbing the owls through calling and playing tapes is highly frowned upon.

Anna's Hummingbird begin nesting in February/March.

Brant Geese are first seen in late January and continue migrating through into early May.

Some colder years produce an irruption of Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, and/or Common Redpoll. Other rare but regular visitors include Glaucous Gull, Tufted Duck, and Rock Sandpiper. Recent winter accidentals include Say's Phoebe, Slaty-backed Gull, and Iceland Gull.

Places to go

Martindale flats for Sparrows, Waterfowl and Raptors: During the winter, you are likely to observe Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Cooper's Hawk and Red-tailed hawk feeding on the abundance of passerines, ducks, and shorebirds that winter in and around the flooded farm fields. Check the hedge rows for rare sparrows such as White-throated sparrow, Harris'sparrow, and Swamp sparrow. Also watch for Northern Shrike and Western Meadowlark in the fields.

Goldstream park for Eagles, Gulls, and American Dipper. Check the feeder at the nature house for sparrows and purple finch.

Anywhere on the Victoria Waterfront for seabirds, gulls, wintering shorebirds, and waterfowl.

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