Winter is a mixed blessing in our region. Snow lovers must brave the slush that often comes with a south coast snowfall, while others choose to avoid winter and its comparatively barren landscape altogether. Winter is indeed “down-time” in comparison to warmer months when the region’s biodiversity visibly springs to life.
One exception to the rule is our saltwater estuaries, whose cold waters are not just bustling with activity, but providing a dazzling visual spectacle ~ our wintering waterfowl. While our feeders serve our backyard forest birds, estuaries are providing a natural habitat for a great diversity of waterfowl species. Research about these populations yields important information such as the health of our estuaries, and the status of waterfowl populations nationwide and beyond. Whether you’re an avid birder or a hunter, the value of this resource and an ongoing survey about the populations is clear.
Conducted each season of the migration, the Lloyd Center’s Winter Waterfowl Count consists of both a December and a January or February Survey, for the most precise estimate of numbers. This strategy accounts for variable environmental conditions (temperature, ice cover, tides), and timing of arrival of different species, for a good overall snapshot of numbers. On December 6, 2013 a small band of participants, including both long-time Lloyd Center volunteers and some new surveyors, completed the 25th December count. Low wind, low tides, and seasonable cold offered stellar count conditions and a picturesque late autumn glimpse of the cold landscape as is exists before the onset of winter’s wrath.
Each site and each count offers unique adventures, ranging from a quick tally of a frozen system void of any birdlife whatsoever, to a busy site with multiple flocks of different species, diving and flushing at various times, and making counting a real challenge. Just the access to a count station has its events, whether it be driving off road to get there, walking through snow down a long trail, or making a unique discovery along the way. On this day, volunteers came across a snowy owl that had unfortunately suffered mortality and was found in a roadside ditch. Longtime volunteer Philip Sheehan brought the specimen to the Lloyd Center. Is there a connection between this and the historic irruption of snowy owls that is occurring? If so, waterfowl volunteers will have helped answer the question.
Stay tuned for the winter version of the count in 2014, when more interesting discoveries are sure to occur.