Migratory seabird resurgence at Esquimalt Lagoon due to COVID-19 shutdown

WatchThere's been a resurgence in coastal seabirds at Esquimalt Lagoon, with some species up 200 per cent or more, including the at-risk blue heron. Tess van Straaten reports.

Esquimalt Lagoon is a migratory seabird lover’s paradise.

“It’s a fabulous day to be out. It’s one of the premier spots for birding in Victoria,” says birder James Casey.

One of only a few migratory bird sanctuaries along the B.C. coast, Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood is an important breeding and feeding ground.

“It’s critically important for these birds,” Casey explains. “There’s very few places along the coast as productive as the lagoon.”

Birds Canada has been doing monthly surveys here for the last decade to keep tabs on how coastal waterbirds are doing.

When the COVID pandemic kept people at home, they decided to study the impact with five different surveys in March and April — and the preliminary results are quite encouraging.

“We’re seeing all these different species increasing and seeming to benefit from reduced traffic and recreation in the area,” says Birds Canada B.C. projects co-ordinator Graham Sorenson. “So over more surveys, it might be amazing how much birds rebound and use this area more,”

Sorenson says several species have seen a 200 per cent increase.

And for the great blue heron, which is an at-risk species on the B.C. coast, the numbers are even greater.

The herons are being spotted in big flocks of 10 to 40, instead of what used to be a maximum of three at a time.

Killdeer spotted on beach side of Esquimalt Lagoon for the first time

Killdeer have been spotted at Esquimalt Lagoon for the first time. PHOTO CREDIT: Graham Sorenson

Killdeer have been spotted at Esquimalt Lagoon beach for the first time. PHOTO CREDIT: Graham Sorenson

The surveys also recorded species like the killdeer, that have never been spotted on the beach side of Esquimalt Lagoon before.

They’ve been spotted with their young and they’re now nesting along the rocky shoreline.

“It probably means, partially, disturbance is high enough on a regular basis they’re choosing not to use this area to forage,” Sorenson says.

But as more people return to the beach, that could change. So bird lovers are keeping close tabs on the impact.

“For conservation and management of the lagoon, there’s an important message embedded in those results in terms of the potential impacts from human disturbance,” Casey says.

Birds Canada is urging people to respect the wildlife, pick up plastic and other trash on the beach, and leave dogs at home so the resurgence will hopefully last.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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