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Wintering waterfowl aplenty

AUTUMN is the season when birds are really on the move (such as in peak migration) but by December, birds that are going to stay for the winter have settled in. Of course, there are always a few late-comers, or stragglers.

AUTUMN is the season when birds are really on the move (such as in peak migration) but by December, birds that are going to stay for the winter have settled in.

Of course, there are always a few late-comers, or stragglers. For example, we recently saw two Townsend's warblers at Maplewood Conservation Area, a rare sighting for the late fall season, but not for summer.

Shorebirds have long passed through the North Shore, but a few winter here like the greater yellowlegs, long-billed dowitcher, dunlin, and sanderling. The black oystercatcher and Wilson's snipe are local resident species of shorebirds to watch for.

Local beaches usually have a good selection of gulls.

Interestingly, there is no such thing as a "sea gull," and sorting gulls can often be a challenge (a good up-todate field guide helps).

On the North Shore, you can expect to see mew, ringbilled, California, glaucouswinged and Thayer's gull.

Our common North Shore gull is the glaucouswinged, but what makes identification sometimes tricky is that it hybridizes with other gull species like the western gull. These hybrids often don't fit the pictures in the field guides. Sometimes it's just best to say, "I'm not sure."

It is always productive to scan offshore for loons, grebes, cormorants and seabirds. We have a nice selection of grebes to watch for, in marine habitats, including horned, western, and red-necked; and in freshwater ponds like Maplewood's, or Ambleside's, you may be lucky enough to spot a piedbilled grebe.

The most commonly seen loon is the common loon of the "loonie" coin, but check also for the red-throated and pacific loons. And a really rare sighting is the yellowbilled loon, or Arctic breeder.

The parade of waterfowl seen in local freshwater and marine habitats includes familiar dabblers like the mallard, northern pintail, green-winged teal and American wigeon.

In the diving duck group expect to see bufflehead, greater scaup, goldeneye(s) and surf scoter. Quiet ponds like Maplewood's West Pond are good spots to check for the ring-neck duck, wood duck, and hooded merganser.

Recently, at Maplewood Conservation Area, and Ambleside, long-tailed ducks have been seen. It is a beautiful black and white duck that breeds in the Arctic, and is only seen here in winter.

Three species of mergansers or sawbills are regularly spotted in North Shore waters - common, red-breasted and hooded - all make their living by fishing.

Winter is always a good time to watch for raptors like falcons, hawks, and eagles; peregrine falcon, merlin, redtailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, and sharp-shinned hawk are some of the raptors to be watched for. The golden eagle, northern goshawk and rough-legged hawk are rare possibilities.

The northern shrike is a song bird with a hooked bill and feet that are like talons. The habit of impaling its prey (mouse, small bird, etc.) on a thorn has earned shrikes the title of "butcher birds." Shrikes often sit at the tops of shrubs along field edges where they can get a good view.

Wintering songbirds on the North Shore include the familiar dark-eyed junco, song sparrow, black-caped chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch and house finch. Less commonly seen are the white-throated sparrow, fox sparrow, purple finch, and evening grosbeak. This winter might also be a big one for pine siskins, often seen at bird feeders. And while you are watching the siskins keep an eye out for redpolls, (a few have been reported), and wintering American goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls love to feed on seeds of alder and birch trees - a clue to finding them in winter. Enjoy winters birds from the seashore to the mountains.

Al Grass is a naturalist with Wild Bird Trust of British Columbia, which sponsors free walks at Maplewood Flats Conservation Area on the second Saturday of every month. The next walk is Dec. 10, where you can learn about the winter residents of Maplewood. Meet at 10 a.m. at Maplewood, 2645 Dollarton Hwy. (two kilometres east of the Iron Workers Second Narrows Memorial Crossing). Walks go rain or shine. www.

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