A pine bunting was found at the south end of Uplands Park, along Beach Drive, on Oct. 15. This is believed to be the first sighting of the bird south of Alaska. (Maury Swoveland/BC Rare Bird Alert)

Climate change not a huge factor in Oak Bay’s rare bird sightings: UVic professor

Increased health of Uplands Park’s Garry Oak ecosystems likely contributing to sightings

Although rare bird sightings have become more frequent at Uplands Park over the past couple of years, climate change is not playing a huge factor, according to a University of Victoria professor.

“Climate change probably plays a slight role in just about every biological interaction at this point, but it’s probably not the dominant reason for that,” said Brian Starzomski, Ian McTaggart Cowan professor of biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration.

Recent rare bird sightings have been drawing many avid birders to Uplands Park. The most significant of these recent sightings – a female pine bunting – took place earlier this month. It’s thought to be the first sighting of this bird south of Alaska.

READ MORE: Rare bird sightings drawing avid birders to Uplands Park in Oak Bay

Birders have also been searching for the northern mockingbird, which is thought to have been in the park for about six weeks, and the pileated woodpecker, which was spotted just last week.

According to Starzomski, it’s not uncommon for migrating birds to deviate from their usual path.

“Most really unusual birds like the pine bunting are vagrant birds that have gone up when they were meant to slide down to southern Asia, and they turn right instead of left,” he said. “They get blown away by a storm, or they have something in their internal makeup that makes them make a wrong choice on which direction to go.”

“There’s always a small number of birds in every population of birds that makes a bad decision somehow.”

Starzomski said the increased health of the park’s Garry Oak ecosystems, given the recent restoration work, has likely contributed to the rare bird sightings.

READ MORE: Friends of Uplands park pull invasives, plant native species

“They’ve done wonderful work at Uplands Park to restore Garry Oak ecosystems, and I think that has had two big impacts. One is that it increased the quality of the habitat there for a lot of bird species – there’s probably more food and better conditions for them to be found there.”

“The other thing is that with all that Gary Oak restoration they’ve really made the park a really beautiful place to go, so people are going there to go bird watching,” he continued. “There’s more opportunity to find a really weird thing like the pine bunting.”

“It’s really those young eyes and young birders that are doing such a good job at having a look and finding these things that may get overlooked sometimes.”

RELATED: Barred owl comes out for daylight visit during Oak Bay birding


 

flavio.nienow@oakbaynews.com

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