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Bald Eagle

James Casey, Fraser River Estuary Specialist, Birds Canada
49.068130, -123.151835

Brunswick Point, Key Biodiversity Area along the Pacific Flyway

James Casey in conversation with Amy-Claire Huestis

Audio Transcript / Canoe Pass, June 2022

Amy-Claire: This site gives us the chance to experience the mystery of migration, and Birds Canada is working hard to understand more about migration ecology. What have we learned about how migratory birds are using this place that we call Hwlitsum, or She-shem-qun, Brunswick Point, or largely Roberts Bank?

James: This area of Brunswick Point is globally significant to a range of bird species. It's a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site in terms of over a million shorebirds that rely on the site. It's also an important bird area for the hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, depending on the species you're looking at, geese and waterfowl that are overwintering here. We're recently discovered the importance of this site for migratory shorebirds such as Western sandpiper which are stopping over here as part of their long distance migration to feed on a substance known as biofilm and what's in that biofilm is essential fatty acids such as omega fatty acids that you would add to your diet as a supplement. These birds are relying on these fatty acids to power their long-distance migrations and making this a really key site in the global context.

Amy-Claire: So they're coming here to eat the biofilm that we find right here at Brunswick Point.

James: So the thing that's exciting about this site is particular influences of the Fraser River on the marine system of the Salish Sea so that you have mixing of freshwater and saltwater that's triggering productions of these higher levels of these essential fatty acids. Here we still have that natural connectivity between the river and the sea that allows for this remarkable productivity.

Amy-Claire: Wow. Let's imagine I'm one of the 500,000 Western sandpipers that come to this place in the spring. What's it like for me?

James: Well, I mean first off, remember, you're going to be exhausted. Western Sandpipers are a long distance migrant. They've made a long-distance flight from Peru or the Bay of California or even the eastern shores of the US all the way up to this site, and they're hungry and tired and they see these big mud flats which are extremely rare, I mean less than 2 percent of BC's coast is estuarine habitat and none of it as big as these mud flats off the delta that we have. So they see this and they're like, oh this is a great opportunity to finally settle down and find some more food to power what is a big jump for them. So they come down to the Delta and find a place that is nice and big and open, so they can see any particular predators such as the Peregrine falcons that might threaten them, and they have this very rich source of fatty acids that allow this next big long jump to the Copper River Delta in Alaska.

Amy-Claire: It's so neat to get a sense of how the Fraser River Estuary fits into a connected global network for birds and that we're just one stop on a journey. So we talked about the birds that are traveling through, but there are birds that nest here too.

James: Right. So I mean the intertidal marsh habitats are great nesting sites for things like Marsh wrens and then we also have some shorebird species as well that use the Delta and the Brunswick Point area as nesting habitat. So Killdeer are an example of a groundnester that will be nesting either on the agriculture lands or even sometimes along the dike.

Amy-Claire: So let's imagine I'm a nesting Killdeer at Brunswick Point. What's it like for me?

James: Extremely stressful for a nesting Killdeer or any nesting bird this time of year. They're really trying their best not to be discovered in terms of other birds or other sources of predations, from racoons, from rats or from other mammals. So the Killdeer or groundnester is relying heavily on camouflage. And so their eggs blend into the ground extremely well and the birds themselves also blend in extremely well and so every time there's something that goes by they will freeze and hope they don't get noticed by what's going by. If you get too close to a nesting site for a Killdeer you'll start to see a broken wing display from the nesting adult as they attempt to lure you away from their nest.

Amy-Claire: What can we do to help the Killdeer or other birds that are using this site, as we walk here?

James: If you see a nesting bird, keep your distance, be respectful, and let them have a lot of space as they try to raise their young. If you come back to the same nest time and time again it starts to cue predators that there might be something of interest there so try to stay away as much as possible. Also keep your pets under control. Keep your dog on a leash and train your cat to be on a leash and if you don't feel you can do that keep your cats in doors. Because they're a major threat to nesting birds as well.

Amy-Claire: I've heard you say that it's up to the community to act together to ensure the continued existence of this place. Let's start with the individual person. How can an individual person walk quietly here and help this place?

James: Well, walking quietly I think is the first step in that journey of protecting this place as an individual. Being aware and learning about the site is a key step in that journey. Take a moment to reflect on the enjoyment and the peace and the calm that come from this site and share that with others as well.