Young Birder Christmas Bird Count by boat and a bonus PINYON JAY!

We had a great Young Birders CBC yesterday. This year BC Nature and Birds Canada (in particular would like to thank Yousif Attia who helped incorporate our count with the Ladner CBC) generously sponsored us to go on a boat by White Rock Sea Tours and survey the birds from water. They covered the cost for all the youth and me! Thank you so much for doing this! The young birders were thrilled and excited. We met up at Crescent Beach Marina and dressed up in our fashionable survival suits and headed out on the water just after 8:30 am. Thanks to the captain and crew who were so kind to the youth and I and provided us with the most comfy zodiacs I have ever ridden on!

Young Birders before boarding the boat in Surrey, BC - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Rosie Yeon caught me explaining the safety briefing and plan to the youth before the count!

Young Birders in the boat heading out near Blackie Spit Park in Surrey - Photo: Melissa Hafting

As we headed out on the water past Blackie Spit, the youth told me their most wanted birds and most said Yellow-billed Loon and a few wanted Ancient Murrelet for the count list! Others really wanted good views of Long-tailed Ducks. We had gotten Ancient Murrelet in Tofino on our overnight pelagic trip which was then a lifer for most who came. We saw Common Loons and one of the resident Marbled Godwits and a Black-bellied Plover at Blackie Spit.

Marbled Godwit in Blackie Spit - Photo: Heather Tocher

We headed out fast towards the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and as we did we went through hoardes of beautiful Long-tailed Ducks so everyone was happy and awed by the sight, especially Markus, for whom it was a lifer! We also had a single Gray Whale which was phenomenal as they aren't very common here! Heather and Julia were really excited by the close up views they got!

Long-tailed Ducks off Boundary Bay, BC - Photo: Heather Tocher

On the way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal jetty, Bentley spotted our first Ancient Murrelet and it went flying by our boat allowing great views by all. When we reached the jetty we had at least 600 Brandt's Cormorants sitting on the breakwater and some Black Turnstones.  Nicole spotted some Red-throated Loons flying by and Bentley, Cam and Nicole spotted a Rhinoceros Auklet on the US side.

Brandt's Cormorants in Tsawwassen, BC - Photos: Heather Tocher

Brandt's Cormorants in Tsawwassen, BC - Photos: Toby Ye

On our way back, we started driving very slowly and counting all the birds we saw. As we rounded the tip of Lighthouse Marine Park in Point Roberts we had our first Pigeon Guillemots of the day ! We also had quite a few Common Murres near the Point Roberts Jetty, Common Goldeneyes, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. We also had Short-billed, Glaucous-winged and Olympic Gulls and Horned, Western and Red-necked Grebes. We spotted a few Harbour Porpoises too!

Common Murre in Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Bentley Colwill

Surf Scoters off Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Toby Ye

We got lucky on Loons today and Bentley spotted a Pacific Loon for us and a Yellow-billed Loon that only Markus was quick enough on the trigger to get a decent photo of, before it dove. I was so happy for us to see the Yellow-billed Loon as it was a lifer for many including Toby (whose wanted one for years) and the first time I had ever seen one in Point Roberts! My friends Kevin Louth, Roger Foxall and Ken Klimko had been so lucky but I had always dipped, so it was nice finding our own! We also had several Red-throated and Common Loons during the 4 hour boat trip; so we got all the possible loons (unless you count Arctic which the youth reminded me of !).

Yellow-billed Loon in Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Markus Duhme 

Pacific Loon off Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Heather Tocher

As we continued on to Lily Point we had some Marbled Murrrelets and 8 Ancient Murrelets on the water close to our boat; allowing for lovely views and photos! We also had a large flock of over 100 Western Grebes, and many Brant Geese, Red-necked Grebes, White-winged Scoters, Common Murres and the like. We also got to see some Steller's Sea Lions resting on a buoy and got some nice pics of them.

Ancient Murrelets in Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Bentley Colwill

Ancient Murrelet off Lily Point, Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Heather Tocher

Steller's Sea Lions near Lily Point, Point Roberts-WA - Photos: Bentley Colwill

As we came back into Canadian waters it was so beautiful and peaceful drving through and listening to the many chatter of the Long-tailed Ducks doing their wailing calls and seeing flocks of Brant Geese. It was a beautiful time on the water and the youth were thrilled. Thanks again to everyone for coming.

Brant Geese off Boundary Bay, BC - Photo: Toby Ye

Surf Scoter off Boundary Bay, BC - Photo: Bentley Colwill

Common Murre off Boundary Bay, BC - Photo: Toby Ye

We were next going to go to Reifel but the young birders heard about the Pinyon Jay that was found on the Vancouver CBC the day before in West Van and begged me to find a way to take them. I had to arrange with the participants who were doing the land portion only of our CBC and with Reifel about the cancellation. The young birders who were signed up for the land portion all wanted to come too so I had to coordinate with all the very flexible and kind parents and organize carpools to get all the way from Crescent Beach in Surrey to West Van. I had to stop and pick up a few youth in Delta too who really wanted to join us! Boy this was a last minute stressful adventure but thanks to the wonderful parents we got it done!

We got some lunch and some stopped and got the Pine Grosbeak at Blackie Spit and we headed up to Sinclair St in West Vancouver. 

Pine Grosbeak in Surrey, BC - Photo: Markus Duhme 

The houses were affluent and I made sure the young birders weren't trespassing on driveways or pointing lenses at people's houses. Luckily when we arrived young birders Nicole and Lochlan spotted the bird atop a tree at Hay Park! Cole noted how it looked like a pale blue Clark's Nutcracker and I had to concur.  Sunny was ecstatic to get her lifer. It was so cool and unusual to see this bird here in BC. It is only the second ever record for the province. The closest these birds normally come to BC is Southern Oregon where I have seen them. The bird was silent and was loosely associating with Steller's Jays. There were no feeders we could see and it was not eating peanuts. It did eat some pine seeds. Who knows how long it was in the area before it was discovered and who knows how long it will stick if it is not going to a feeder but sure hope it does for many. There was a Pinyon Jay in Olympia, WA  briefly last month and some are wondering if this is the same bird. 

Pinyon Jay in West Vancouver - Photos: Heather Tocher

Young Birders looking up at the rare Pinyon Jay - Photo: Yuseon Park

Pinyon Jay in West Van (a new BC bird for the young birders and I) - Photo: Melissa Hafting 

It was a lovely way to end our Young Birders Christmas Bird Count for youth today. Thanks to all the youth for coming and all the parents for helping me out today, those who drove and those who were flexible and patient! Thanks also to Reifel Bird Sanctuary for being so understanding and flexible as well. Thank you to the parents and youth who brought me cards, gifts and cookies and candy I am so touched! You didn't have to do this and I am very grateful. All the young birders and their families have helped me in what will be a very sad Christmas, as it is the first one without my father and another without my mother who died Xmas Eve 2021. You guys really are a bright light that lifts me up in a sad time. Wishing all the youth who came out a wonderful holiday season with their families. Thank you.


  1. What a wonderful day for the young birders. A massive amount of work for you, Mel and you deserve all the credit in the world for the positive impact you have on these lucky birders.

  2. Oh my gosh there are so many good things in this post. I'm so happy for all for you. Birding at its best in so many ways!

  3. Beautiful day! These young birders are so LUCKY to have you guide & inspire them Melissa!
    -love the photo of them all looking up at Pinyon Jay! -fantastic they were able to see it and
    I am sure they will remember this moment & trip for the rest of their lives, & appreciate your dedication, direction & enthusiasm to help bond with our wonderful bird life in Metro!

  4. What an amazing trip! Fantastic to do a boat ride!


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