45th annual Christmas bird count in Williams Lake

A male Tanager seen at Terra Ridge looking very festive with its winter plumage, which is normally scarlet during breeding season. - Rita Proulx photo
A male Tanager seen at Terra Ridge looking very festive with its winter plumage, which is normally scarlet during breeding season.
— image credit: Rita Proulx photo

The Williams Lake Field Naturalists held their 45th annual Christmas bird count on Dec 16th under very favourable weather conditions. Williams Lake had frozen a little more overnight leaving about 30 per cent open water but unfortunately for counters, most of the water birds had seen the writing on the wall and left while they still could.

3646 birds of 56 species were counted on the day by 31 observers in the field and as well as 16 feeder watchers. Individual bird numbers were a little below normal while the number of species was 4 above the 10 year average.

The hoped-for Snowy Owl which was seen a couple of days before at Scout Island and on South Lakeside was not found on count day. But there were compensations. The bird of the day, which eclipsed all others, was not identified until 3 days after the count.

Feeder watcher Marion Corless had phoned in her report from Terra Ridge with a note that she had seen an unusual bird that she could not identify. Two days later Marion, who is 91 and has been watching birds since she was 11, saw the bird again and after poring through her bird field guides was able to identify the bird as a Tanager. The Western Tanager occurs in the Cariboo as a breeding bird and winters in Central and South America. Marion was not satisfied that the bird was this species but the only other two Tanagers breed across Eastern N. America, winter south of the Equator and are accidental in BC

She informed count coordinator Phil Ranson and by the time he arrived she had come to the conclusion the bird must be a Scarlet Tanager, a bird that has never occurred in the interior of the province and has only been recorded 6 or 7 times previously on the coast.

Photographs were taken and sent to experts who confirmed the identity as a Scarlet Tanager.

Why the bird turned right on fall migration and ended up in Williams Lake at this time of year instead of Colombia or Peru is a mystery but excited birders who are driving from Quesnel, Prince George and as far afield as Chilliwack, Richmond, and even flying from Vancouver to see this rarity are not too sorry for the error.


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