Yellow-billed loon spotted in South Surrey. (John Gordon photo)

Yellow-billed loon spotted in South Surrey. (John Gordon photo)

Rare loon spotted during South Surrey bird count

Numbers from the count have yet to be finalized

While numbers from the Christmas bird count for South Surrey and White Rock are still trickling in, a count participant said a rare loon was spotted at Elgin Heritage Park.

The yellow-billed loon, which was also spotted near Blackie Spit Park, is the largest member of the loon family.

Bird identification and education organization eBird says the “very rare” bird migrates from the high Arctic. It’s usually spotted as a single bird on ocean waters and, at times, in harbours. A pale, creamy-tip beak on a yellow-billed loon is a key identifier compared to the common loon.

The loon was found by Mike and Sharon Touchin on Dec. 27. Bird watcher John Gordon said there has only been one or two confirmed sightings of the species in the last 10 years.

Gordon said about 40 people participated in the count this year, which was co-ordinated in a COVID-19 safe manner.

In terms of bird species, Gordon said Victoria is usually home to the most, about 150. The Ladner area is also recognized as a place with a high bird concentration.

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“Victoria always has more. It’s just the climate, I think, and there’s lots of different habitats. There’s oceans, mountains, lakes, subdivisions with bird feeders,” Gordon said.

Bird count co-ordinator Gareth Pugh said the number of birds counted is still being finalized, as some singles or small groups that participated have not yet submitted their numbers.

In Langley, however, bird watchers counted about 7,800 individual birds in the northwest Langley sector, which is about 100 fewer birds than last year.

Christmas bird counts in the Lower Mainland are each conducted on a single day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

Each one is organized by a birding club or naturalist organization.

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They all, including the White Rock-Surrey-Langley count, are part of a worldwide count that has been going on for about 121 years.

An early-winter bird census by the National Audubon Society, it is conducted with the help of more than 70,000 volunteers across Canada, the U.S. and many other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

It got started as a humane alternative to competitions held in the late 1900s between hunters to see who could kill the most birds.

There is still an element of competition, with participants looking to identify the most birds or to find unique species.

Data from the local count is used to identify significant bird population changes and help direct conservation planning.

–With files from Dan Ferguson