Male Hooded Merganser – one of many duck species that can be found in the Fraser Delta
It has been said that children today can recognize hundreds of corporate brand logos but very few common birds, flowers, or trees. Author Richard Louv describes separation from the natural world as “nature deficit disorder”. Yet even people who love nature may experience difficulty identifying local species. Fishing enthusiasts have a rich vocabulary for salmon – words like tyee, smolt and jack – but many of us struggle to recognize a coho from a chum. Local plants are a mix of native and introduced Eurasian ones, daunting in their complexity. Fungi are even worse. Every year people get sick from eating mushrooms they mistakenly assumed were edible. Even garden birds, such as chickadees and nuthatches, cause confusion.
Compared with the UK, a physically smaller country, where generations of children were raised in a literary tradition of local nature, Canada lacks relevant resources. The cardinal, blue jay and Baltimore oriole are familiar to sports fans but these are not western species. B.C. iconography focuses on charismatic large animals, such as killer whales and bears, and scarcely mentions the many smaller mammals. Anyone wanting to learn more about local nature is forced to turn to dense field guides or the confusion of the internet. Luckily, the Delta Naturalists’ Society has recognized this dilemma and produced a handy pamphlet, Birds in Delta, featuring members’ photographs of 56 of Delta’s common and not-so-common bird species, with a short description for each one. Delta is a remarkably rich location for birds: over 330 species have been recorded here and the Ladner Christmas bird count is often the highest in Canada with over 140 species.
Birds in Delta illustrates that a juvenile bald eagle lacks the white head and tail of the adult, and that male ducks are more brightly-coloured than females. It explains when shorebirds occur on the coast, and how to distinguish between hummingbirds. Both the native band-tailed pigeon, the largest in North America, and the recently invading Eurasian collared-dove are pictured, showing their subtle plumage differences. The local Steller’s jay, named for the explorer and naturalist, Georg Steller, is a dark blue bird, clearly different from eastern blue jays. Steller’s jay is B.C.’s provincial bird.
The Delta Naturalists are distributing their pamphlet through community events and information racks. The club runs regular field trips and the public are welcome; check for times in the events page of the Delta Optimist or at www.dncb.wordpress.com.