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Surf scoters feed in large flocks close along the shore, right in the dangerous drag of the breakers. As the steep waves curl over, scoters scoot neatly beneath the roaring white lines of foam in search of mussels.
Bowen photographer Mary Le Patourel has spent hours observing surf scoters’ feeding technique: Surf scoters have discovered that the secret to breaking into densely packed carpets of mussel, their staple food, is to work as a team, employing a system of diving in long chains. The head of the lineup goes down and loosens the mussels, then the next ones go down and break up the shells and start to dine … then the third group comes in to clean up the high-grade. The ducks from the front of the line then go back to the end of the line and carry on the process, so everyone gets food.
After a winter of feasting off Bowen shores, our surf scoters fly inland in spring to nest on the borders of subarctic marshes. In the fall, parents lead their young to spend the winter on the coast.
How well are surf scoters doing in our waters? Twenty years of citizen science data, collected by the British Columbia Coastal Waterbird Survey, shows a decline in Salish Sea surf scoters of almost 2.25%/year between 1999 and 2019. This sharp loss is balanced by a 3.75% increase in the surf scoter population along BC’s outer Pacific Ocean coast.
Bird population numbers have become important indicators of both environmental success and environmental stress. The Lower Howe Sound Christmas Bird Count covers almost all islands at the mouth of the Sound, including Bowen.
The Christmas count is an opportunity for local birds. To find out more go to the Bowen Nature Club Website: https://bowennatureclub.blogspot.com