Owl and Raptor Harassment in Delta and the City of Richmond has banned Rodenticide use.

When we take photos of Owls, we must ask ourselves at what cost? - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Update: The Mayor of Delta has written to the province asking for help to better protect the birds and their habitat from harassment at Brunswick Point.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the deplorable harassment I and others had witnessed in Delta (in particular at Boundary Bay). You can read it in full  HERE 

Well nothing much seems to have changed in Metro Vancouver. Now Brunswick Point is the new "hot spot" that bird photographers are flocking too and some are demonstrating unethical behavior. Current "best practices" suggestive signage hasn't helped either.

Take a read of today's news story at the Delta Optimist HERE

Not long ago we watched a group of 15 photographers encircling a Short-eared Owl on the ground with food (a vole). Only for that owl to get so distressed and fly up trying to get away as they proceeded to get their flight shots as he lost his hard-fought meal to Harriers.


People must understand the energy these owls expend to get their food and how hard it is for them when they must compete with Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Ravens and Rough-legged Hawks. Most of the time the Shortie loses his meal even without human disturbance, so why are we continuously making it harder?. Short-eared Owls are listed as a species of "Special Concern" by COSEWIC. It seems some photographers just want to get "likes and follows" on Instagram and Facebook. It is high time we put the birds well-being first. Several years ago, a few of us even witnessed the baiting of owls with pet store white mice at Boundary Bay and photographed it. It was done by a well-known and highly praised bird photographer. 

It is best not to follow and praise photos of people who are baiters or of photos showing completely distressed birds that are wide-eyed and mantling. It just encourages these people to bait more and harass birds. When you see photos of an owl flying at you with talons extended and all their shots are like that, it is a good indicator that it is a baited bird. It is a very hard shot to get naturally.

In addition to what is going on at Brunswick with surrounding birds out in the marsh. They are also surrounding and running after Rough-legged Hawks. Because much of the marsh got flooded many voles have surfaced. This is why Roughies have been so easy to photograph, as it is attracting loads of photographers to get close to a bird they normally don't get the chance to. One birder and another bird photographer told me they saw 30 photographers walking out in the marsh in a straight line flushing everything. It is just a shame and a disgrace. There is so much pressure already on these birds... from the warming of the climate and the loss of nesting and hunting habitat from urban development and agriculture. The least we can do is to respect their space, not chase them and let the birds come to us. Sure, it takes patience and you will end up with less instant gratification but in the end you can go home with your head held high, as you will know you did the best possible thing by the bird. Plus when you really nail that shot after doing it the right way, it is all the more rewarding.

Rough-legged Hawks are causing a negative stir in Delta right now - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I wish hunting would be banned in the marshes (on another note 4 Trumpeter Swans have been illegally killed at Brunswick last year and reported to the CO). The hunters and their dogs make some wildlife photographers feel if they can do it why can't I?, which I totally get. If all one did was to just stand out there in one spot, it would be a lot better but one person out there attracts another and another, until it is way too many who block hunting habitat for the raptors; even if you are behaving really ethically.

I was sent a few photos of photographers in the marsh from concerned birders and photographers:


Again, I must say this is not meant to condemn all bird and wildlife photographers. I am one myself. We cannot paint everyone with the same brush. There are many wildlife and bird photographers who are ethical who don't blast calls spinning birds in circles, who don't crowd, run at, flush, clap at and harass wildlife and who don't bait. However, we also must speak out and educate and report to the BC Conservation service and Federal Wildlife Enforcement (where applicable) when we see any unethical or detrimental behavior. I know many of us feel the conservation officers don't do enough when we call them (myself included) and it is hard not to lose faith when we see how the government handled the Abbotsford Peregrines and other wildlife complaints but we cannot lose hope. We have to keep fighting. We cannot bring about change without some discomfort and failure. We must continue to keep rising despite our defeats. This is a call to action to all of us to step up and say something when we see something that is blatantly wrong. We must also check ourselves to make sure we are making the least impact possible when we are viewing or photographing these wonderful and threatened birds.

We need to appeal to our provincial government and get them to have more signage and enforcement. We need stronger laws including an endangered species law. If there is no enforcement for harassment under the BC Wildlife Act what will be the incentive for these people to stop?. Sadly my 2017 post was just one of many. This has been an issue that has been going on long before 2017 as we all know. It is an issue that has increasingly got worse as more and more people have picked up raptor photography. We want more people engaging with wildlife. We want more people discovering the magic of birds, sharing and photographing special moments they have in the field but they should be doing so ethically. We should be doing our best to gently educate new bird photographers that we meet about the proper ethics while doing our best to make them feel welcome. We want to build a good sense of community that is safe and fun for all. It is important that we don't divide but work together. Let's hope we can all make it a New Year's resolution. It is one that will benefit us all and most importantly the birds.

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Now on to some happier news. The city of Richmond has banned the use of Rodenticides for 1 year on civic lands. 

You can read the full news story HERE

Sadly, the proposed Cat education policy failed and did not pass but the city of Richmond has made a powerful step here. If the ban succeeds they will make the ban permanent. Their rationale is to make sure that there are no infestations that can't be controlled with the more humane methods. The city will be requesting that the province makes a full ban of the sale and use of rodenticides across the province on public and private property.

I learnt during the council meeting that one of the Barred Owls I saw a few days ago in my local park died. He will be tested soon but I won't be surprised if it is due to rodenticide poisoning. There are bait boxes everywhere because the city had a contract with Vancouver Coastal Health where they give out free rat poison to any Richmond resident who requests it.

Thank you to councilor Michael Wolfe who took this motion up with city council very soon after I wrote him almost a year ago now. He is such a kind and empathetic city councilor who really is trying to make a big environmental difference in Richmond. Thanks also to all the conservation organizations who have supported this effort by writing letters to the City of Richmond. Also a big thanks to those organizations who added their logos to the fact sheet that was created to educate city councils across the province about the dangers of rodenticide use.

Barred Owl who died and was tested it had 2 types of Rodenticides in its body - Photo: Deanna Pfeiffer

Comments

  1. This post is straight from the heart of someone, you, Melissa, who cares truly about the welfare of our birdlife and other wildlife. Birders and photographers don't need further division in the field, but need to work together to make continuing to observe these amazing creatures of God. I agree on stronger enforcement of protection of critical habitat, I feel inspired to write the provincial govt once I get the energy. Sorry I sound a bit carried away, but this post was so well written.
    Bravo on your contribution on getting rodenticides banned in Richmond!

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    Replies
    1. thanks shou im truly touched by your words. im glad you will write the province. if they hear from enough concerned citizens it is the only way we can help to bring forward change. meaningful change takes a long time to achieve but we have to continue to chip away at the brick wall slowly and tediously until we get to our end goal. Regarding the rodenticides im really happy so many municipalities including my home city has banned them. I can only hope the province bans them as well and that is the end goal. again thank you for your words here it's so kind.

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  2. I am glad to know you and grateful for your ongoing advocacy for the animals.
    I am also Thankful I have you on my side when I call you from out in the field at 9am crying for help.!!
    You are a blessing.

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    Replies
    1. thanks so much that means a lot. Next time that happens at any time of day please call im always happy to help you and the birds. that day still brings tears to my eyes. thanks for being there as well.

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  3. Mel!! Outstanding post - as usual! Well done! I'm Sharing it on twitter! I hope everyone reads it but I fear the people that really need to understand the problem don't care - Please don't give up trying to educate everyone on Ethical Birding Behaviour! And great news about Richmond BC - its a start at least and I hope we can push To ban rodenticides altogether - forever! ALWAYS KEEP FIGHTING!

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    1. thanks kate! you know me i'm just like you relentless when it comes to these issues. even though it feels at times that I am banging my head against a brick wall... I feel in my heart it is imperative to stand up for those who literally have no voice. in the end it will benefit not just the birds and other wildlife but ourselves as well. We need our govt to step up enforcement pronto instead of tearing down active peregrine nests and allowing logging in old growth forests where the last 3 spotted owls are. they need to properly protect the critical limited habitat and species we have left. thanks always for your kind support and for standing up for birds it means a lot.

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  4. Excellent post Melissa. Thank you for advocating for the birds and animals. It is a shame this is even necessary but clearly it is. Please keep up the good work!

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    1. thanks so much brian. Yes it is a shame all around. the bc wildlife act is contravened when birds are harassed but there needs to be more enforcement and a more clear definition to the public of what constitutes harassment. thanks again for reading and for your support.

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  5. This was very informative on unethical bird photography and what to watch for. Awful how some people care more for their likes than an animals well being. Great stride forward for blocking the rat poison, good advocacy and work on this!

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  6. As someone who has walked out into the marsh for better shots of harriers and owls, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing this. Last year I was upset when I saw people walk right up to a short-eared owl sitting on the ground. However, I didn't think how my being out in the marsh may have encouraged them. I'm going to try to do a better job of giving space, and looking out for signs of distress in birds.

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    1. great to hear that kris. yes it is upsetting when you see those sort of things glad to hear you will rethink going into the marsh especially at this time when they are under more pressure than ever. best wishes to you!

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  7. Thanks for updating your blog with these photos Mel - of unethical photographers who care nothing for wildlife and nature - they should be ashamed of themselves! Dreadful behavior! - I hope these people are held accountable for their actions! Destroying the fragile marshland and Ruining sensitive environment for the SEOW and other marsh inhabitants!! Keep on fighting Mel!!

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