A visit to Point Roberts, fun facts about Chickadees and eBird is now hiding sensitive species from public view and a cool new way to conserve shorebirds!

I went to Point Roberts on the weekend and had a great time.

You could tell it was winter as all the wintering birds were back. I had Pacific Loons, Long-tailed Ducks, Harlequins, Red-breasted Mergansers, all species of Scoters (including Black), Sanderling, Dunlin, Black Turnstones. I also hada  Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Harrier, Savannah, Golden-crowned, Song and White-crowned Sparrows and Spotted Towhees. Bewick's Wrens, Gulls and some Bonaparte's. I missed the Ancient Murrelets that my friend Ken Klimko had there a few days earlier. It's strange to me that I saw Ancient Murrelets at the White Rock Pier already this year but haven't yet in Point Roberts!That never happens! I don't think Ancient Murrelets did so well this year during the breeding season as the return numbers so far are low. Usually by now you would have much more reports.

Soon it will be time to look for a Rock Sandpiper to show up there again and maybe a Yellow-billed or Arctic Loon. A girl can dream :D. I think I'll be dreaming a long time on that last one! haha

I settled in for some photography. My dogs laid on the beach and watched as I knelt down and laid on my belly to photograph the Sanderlings and Dunlin. There are only a  few places where you can literally walk right up so easily  and lie down with these species like this.

They are pretty used to people and dogs there too. My dogs don't go near them that would of course stress and flush them. They have no interest in chasing birds or any animals. They just lie there and watch me. I'm lucky that way.

Dunlin at Lighthouse Marine Park  in Point Roberts - Photo: Melissa Hafting

3 Juvenile Sanderling moulting into 1st winter plumage in Point Roberts - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After shooting them, I continued my walk and was surrounded by House Finches and American Goldfinches as they fed on some thistle weeds. Well a few Black-capped Chickadees joined in the fun and one even posed for me! I have been trying for that perfect Black-capped Chickadee shot for so long and finally got it! I know that Black-capped Chickadees are so common but rarely do they sit still long enough for a photo and when they do there is usually a branch in front of their cute faces! This guy sat on this blackberry branch for 1/2 a second luckily it was long enough.

Finally got a decent shot of a Black-capped Chickadee in Point Roberts - Photo: Melissa Hafting

A few days ago, one flew into my house. It just sat there staring back at me on top of a candle (funny enough), frozen like a statue. Try as I might I could not get him to move and go back outside. I almost thought he had a heart attack and died. I have a cat and quickly locked him up... it wouldn't have ended well. The chickadee literally did not move at all. I had to go open a large window and play the call a few times and then he woke up from his trance and flew out of the window and onto a suet cake. He started feeding and was Ok thankfully!

They are one of my favorite birds on the planet. They have the happiest songs of any bird. They nest every year in my yard and are so much fun to sit, listen to and watch. They can be little bullies in their dominance hierarchies though but it's just another fascinating thing about them. Their dominance hierarchies are similar to ones you see in Chimps.

In the winter you notice these flocks where these hierarchies are very evident. The dominant birds have a higher social status, have access to larger territories, are healthier, have better access to food and better quality food, have higher offspring reproduction rates and sing more than their lower counterparts.

Yes, Black-capped Chickadees are little bullies and the social status of  birds in these hierarchies stay they same for several years. All males are dominant over females and all older birds dominant over younger ones.

The subordinates are forced to search for and eat food in dangerous areas that are more vulnerable to predators. They also are nott picky about what they eat as compared to the dominant birds.

 When you are walking and hear the unmistakable call of the Black-capped Chickadee you just can't help but feel happy. When they land on your hand to feed and connect with you all seems right in the world in that moment. Fun fact about them : They can lower their body temperatures during cold nights in a torpor-like state as hummingbirds do. They can literally reduce their body temperature by 12 °C to conserve energy from their normal body temperature of 42 °C . Just when you thought the Black-capped Chickadee couldn't get any cooler ;).

 Now onto a different topic.

eBird has done something to help combat a sad reality in our world. They are hiding sensitive species to prevent them from extinction, harassment from such things like overtaping, photography and noise disturbance. Also from poaching, trapping for falconry, hunting, killing,the  illegal pet trade, owl cafes and sorcery.  

In BC the only birds affected so far are the Gyrfalcon which are unfortunately trapped for Falconry in BC. They are also severely threatened by climate change, which you can read about HERE. The trapping of these Gyrfalcons in bc islegal with the necessary permits. In my opinion I don't feel it should be allowed.  For one these majestic birds should be left in the wild to fly freely and do as they please .Falconry is necessary for birds that need rehabilitation but there is no need to take wild birds, especially a Gyrfalcon. I want to make it clear that I don't think Falconers treat their birds bad, there are good and bad ones, as in any sport or operation. Most falconers are dedicated to their birds, love their birds and provide them with amazing care. The fact is they still live in small conditions in comparison to the wild and even if flown daily (which not all are) can never replicate what they had in the wild. Many Falconers buy their birds from breeders and do not trap wild birds. I simply do not feel a threatened or declining species should be trapped and taken from the wild. I have seen falconry Gyrfalcons used on wild bird control,  including to kill wild Short-eared Owls at the Vancouver Airport. This is not normally legal but apparently the airport gets away with it as any bird on the tarmac is endangering human safety.  Truly upsetting but another fact of life. Falconers train their birds to hunt prey usually grouse or ducks but are also used on pigeons again for pest control. The BC laws that allow for the capture of Gyrfalcons are archaic. Currently Falconers can take up to 2 birds a year with the proper permits. A minimum of two young must be left in each nest of a Gyrfalcon. Young can't be moved from one nest to another to meet the requirements.

You can read how this trapping happens HERE and the laws surrounding the trapping of Gyrs HERE

At the present time the BC government is proposing to put falconry activities as a regulation in the Wildlife Act. They also want to issue licenses instead of the permit system. This could introduce a greater level of transparency and consistency with less abuses with regard to the management of falconry in B.C.

The trapping of wild Gyrfalcons is not a huge problem in Vancouver, as most wild-caught falcons are trapped further north in our province. I definitely will not be reporting any northern Gyrfalcons on the rare bird alert but will continue reporting them in other parts of BC, unless we start to observe problems. I know my friend Mike Tabak saw a falconer trying to trap a wild Gyrfalcon once in the lower mainland. I saw the same thing with a Red-tailed Hawk, of all birds. It isn't unheard of but something we need to be vigilant about. I will be sure to stay on top of it so that birds are not purposefully put in danger of capture.

Owls are never reported on the RBA, especially in the Lower Mainland, due to the sensitivity of these species to disturbance. If one owl is around sometimes 40 or more photographers and birders will go and photograph it day in and day out. This is very stressful to the animal and owls really need to roost in peace. It is imperative that they can conserve their much needed energy to hunt. I have seen atrocities go on, we all have where photographers flush and run at clap at, cut branches around and even throw rocks at the bird. I've seen smaller owls flushed and killed by other larger owls and nocturnal owls mobbed by crows some even grounded by them. Nocturnal owls like Long-eared Owls especially should not be flushed during the day and left alone as they need to sleep because they don't hunt in the day. It is abnormal to see a nocturnal owl like a Barn or Long-eared Owl hunting during the day. Either the animal is starving due to illness or weather conditions or has been flushed. This is therefore a much needed and overdue service but doesn't go far enough for the owls in BC.

Right now eBird is only hiding Northern Spotted Owls, Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk-Owls. These owls tolerate humans fairly well but unfortunately the latter 2 are baited terribly by photographers.Baiting these birds is only illegal in National Parks. This is another archaic law that must be changed. Baiting is not ethical because it causes reliance of the owls on humans for food and if baiting near roads can put them in danger of being hit by cars.  Northern Spotted Owls are sadly virtually extinct in BC, so it is not a concern but of course their locations should always be hidden. I am very glad that this is happening, especially in Washington where I go to see some of the few remaining birds there.

Not all photographers bait or are bad to owls, that is a very important distinction I want to make. Also some photographers probably do not even realize how much disturbance they are causing the bird. Yes some only care about getting the shot and to hell with how the bird feels or acts but most people are just happy and excited to see an owl and get carried away in the moment. Some think well "I'm just one person taking a few shots" but they forget to think about the fact that if they keep going back to that owl, so are others and it has to sit there and endure so much stress. It's just not right if you see an owl enjoy it and take a few shots and move along.Learn to read the signs of stress in a bird I have seen photographers totally clueless that the bird in front of them is scared to death. When an owl is puffed and mantling it is not cold but it is trying to get you to back away and appear large and scary to you. It is highly stressed. If it's eyes are open wide and alarmed it is stressed and you should go away. If the bird is shifting from one foot to the other and looking around and defecating it is highly stressed. These are all signs that you are too close for comfort for that owl. Just back up we all have long lenses for a reason. I love looking and and photographing owls just like anyone but you need to read the situation, not linger, keep your voices down and not repeatedly visit.  Do not return day in and day out and especially do not do so if you find a nest. Sadly I have observed just this countless times.

In BC we have many owls that need to be added to that list and probably will be added shortly. This is just a start and eBird reviewers will soon be able to hide more sensitive species in their counties.
Birds in BC that I would like to see most added are the Long-eared Owls, Snowy Owls, Barn Owls, Burrowing Owls and the endangered Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse subspecies.Ending harrassment of sensitive species all comes down to education. You can't know what to do if you aren't informed.

Anyways, this is a good thing that is happening but sad that this has to happen at all. Reading about how many birds are trapped for food in cruel ways in Europe and Asia is not easy. Seeing nocturnal owls being petted all day long by people tethered to a chair in a owl cafe in Japan is simply heartbreaking, you can watch a video HERE. Seeing the illegal parrot trade and how many birds die and are poached worldwide from Africa to Latin America is truly devastating. What we as humans are doing to the birds is just horrendous but in turn it is only us that can solve these issues.

To read the full list of species added to the sensitive species list on eBird click HERE

To get more info about why this is being, done click HERE
Lastly, on a positive note did you know that temporary wetlands can be made and rented out to save birds? You can read the full research paper: "Dynamic Conservation for Migratory Species" HERE.

The abstract is below:

"In an era of unprecedented and rapid global change, dynamic conservation strategies that tailor the delivery of habitat to when and where it is most needed can be critical for the persistence of species, especially those with diverse and dispersed habitat requirements. We demonstrate the effectiveness of such a strategy for migratory waterbirds. We analyzed citizen science and satellite data to develop predictive models of bird populations and the availability of wetlands, which we used to determine temporal and spatial gaps in habitat during a vital stage of the annual migration. We then filled those gaps using a reverse auction marketplace to incent qualifying landowners to create temporary wetlands on their properties. This approach is a cost-effective way of adaptively meeting habitat needs for migratory species, optimizes conservation outcomes relative to investment, and can be applied broadly to other conservation challenges."


  1. What stunning shots, especially of the chickadee. Glad to hear what Ebird is doing to protect certain species

  2. gorgeous shots! love the color in the BG of that chickadee shot!

    1. Thanks so much vikyor!! I was happy the little
      Chickadee posed so nicely!

  3. Thanks for the info about ethical bird watching and photography practices. I love photographing birds- But don't want to stress them out or cause them any problems. Can it reduce stress on birds if you back away and make yourself smaller? Ie by crouching down and not looking at them directly?

  4. Hi Teesa, yes especially with shorebirds it's nice to get down low as you look less intimidating and also it provides a better point of view for your photo. Photos always look better taken from whe level with the bird rather than looking down or up at it. It's always good to maintain a comfortable distance you can read the birds behaviour and that can help dictate if you are too close or not. Does it run away from you if it's a Shorebird or if it's an owl does it shift its feet and defecate? Does the bird make small flights away from you? Does it's eyes look wide and alarmed especially in owls? All those are good signs to notice for being too close. If you seem to be chasing after the bird you are too close Best stay in one spot and let the bird come to you. Thanks for reading and caring about ethical photography!


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