By Krista Kaptein (IBA Coordinator) and Vanessa Sadler (SPES Conservation Projects Manager)
2018 has been declared Year of the Bird by the Audubon Society, BirdLife International, National Geographic, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. To mark the centennial of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, these partners and other participating organizations will be celebrating birds while raising awareness about their challenges. In the Lower Mainland of BC, 2018 will also be a year of enhanced focus on birds, with the 27th International Ornithological Congress and Vancouver International Bird Festival in August. The BC Nature Annual General Meeting hosted by Nature Vancouver in May will be another opportunity to appreciate birds of the area.
The Lower Mainland has several Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) including English Bay-Burrard Inlet, which was designated as an IBA because the sheltered waters support large numbers of waterbirds during the winter months. The shoreline areas are also important for breeding birds like cormorants, killdeer and great blue heron.
Burrard Inlet lies between the city of Vancouver and the north shore municipalities of West Vancouver and North Vancouver. The site includes False Creek and English Bay, Vancouver Harbour, Port Moody Arm and Indian Arm. Several parks border the IBA, including Indian Arm Provincial Park, Belcarra Regional Park, Pacific Spirit Regional Park and Stanley Park. The inlet is bounded to the north by the steep-walled, granitic Coast Mountains, and on the south by the densely urbanized areas of Vancouver. Most of the shoreline is rocky or built up, but there are extensive tidal sandflats at Spanish Banks and some remnant mudflats and saltwater marshes, such as those at Maplewood Flats and Port Moody Inlet.
This IBA was designated for large numbers of Western Grebe, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Surf Scoter. Historically, Western Grebes wintered here in globally significant numbers, the highest concentrations occurring in the English Bay-First Narrows area. However, counts of this species since 2000 have decreased dramatically throughout the Salish Sea. Efforts are ongoing to study the decline of this forage fish feeder, and identify possible conservation measures.
Globally significant numbers of wintering Barrow’s Goldeneye were also regularly recorded historically. Since 2000, mid-winter combined counts by the British Columbia Coastal Waterbird Survey and standard surveys conducted in Indian Arm, point to a local decline in wintering populations of this marine invertebrate feeder.
The IBA also regularly supports globally significant numbers of Surf Scoter. The species congregates with other sea ducks to feed on clams in the mud- and sandy-bottomed bays. Recently a King Eider, rare for this area , was seen with hundreds of Surf Scoters in Vancouver Harbour!goldeneye
Threats in the IBA include pollution risk from shipping; industry and urban areas; disturbance and development. Several oil spills have occurred in the IBA. The amount of oil shipped through the IBA by tankers departing from a terminal in Burnaby has increased several orders of magnitude, raising concern about the risk of another spill. The effect of pollutants from urban and industrial activities on water quality and food sources for waterfowl are also concerning. Loss or degradation of natural habitats to residential and industrial development could impact shoreline foraging species such as scoters and goldeneyes. Direct disturbance of birds on the water is an increasing concern as the amount of commercial and recreational boating has increased within the IBA.
A number of environmental groups are active in the area. Several organizations monitor water quality in the inlet, including the Tsleil Waututh First Nations, Metro Vancouver, the Ministry of Environment and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Several other non-profit organizations are actively involved in ongoing bird conservation and monitoring activities. The Pacific Wildlife Foundation conducts surveys of birds in Burrard Inlet. The Wild Bird Trust manages the Conservation Area at Maplewood Flats, an important wildlife sanctuary in the IBA.
The Stanley Park Ecology Society (SPES) are Caretakers of the IBA and report to BC Nature’s IBA Program on bird conservation efforts. “We have resumed monthly Coastal Waterbird Surveys for Bird Studies Canada and monitor the western portion of the Park from Siwash Rock to Second Beach,” says Vanessa Sadler, Conservation Projects Manager for SPES. “BCIT students with the Fish, Wildlife and Recreation program have been conducting weekly waterfowl surveys in the fall and winter, with a focus on Barrow’s goldeneye, surf scoter, and Western grebe. These surveys encompass the entire seawall and have been conducted for 15 of the past 20 years. In addition, SPES has led an annual winter seawall survey in November of each year since 2008.” With so many birding opportunities, 2018 will be a great year to get more involved in bird conservation!