ISLAND 22 REGIONAL PARK SITE GUIDE - By Chris McDonald
Island 22 Regional Park in north Chilliwack is being increasingly recognized as a birding hotspot in the region. This site is 40 hectares in size and includes 2 km's of equestrian and walking trails, a picnic area, and a boat launch. The site is also a popular for dog walking which can conflict with birding to a degree, but a designated off-leash area, reduces the amount of loose dogs encountered in the rest of the park. During the summer, typically mid-June through most of August, the mosquitoes can range anywhere between almost unbearable to bad. The population of mosquitoes is dependant on freshet levels. High river levels during freshet results in worse mosquito numbers than found during lower freshets.
Island 22 offers almost the total package in its habitat. Located along the Fraser River on its entire north boundary, the river itself attracts many species of birds and possibly helps concentrate numbers of migrating songbirds. The dominant tree species are cottonwoods that grow in cooperation with a wide array of shrub species. Although conifers are not numerous, enough are present to provide roosting for owls. A large field with hedgerows and ‘old field’ grass borders the park and is visible from the dyke. A large pond is also found at the east end of the site. To date, 159 different species have been recorded in the park.
As the park offers a lot of trails, it is possible to explore a different route every day in a week’s time. Click on the map above to see a larger version.
Spring (March – May)
The winter populations of birds are joined by the northward journey of migrant species. Warblers brighten up a spring walk with their song and plumage. All the expected warblers are seen migrating through the park beginning in early April. Nashville Warbler are uncommon in the area but are an annual spring migrant. Flycatchers, vireos and other songbirds join the warblers in their migration. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are seen in good numbers during the month of April. The west end of the dyke near the small gate, and the southwest end of the equestrian area, are the best locations to see migrating songbirds. The fence near the small pond may provide a rare chance to see a Mountain Bluebird or a Say's Phoebe in late March/Early April.
Island 22 is also one of the most reliable places in the checklist area to see Bank Swallows. Watch for them, starting in May, among the large flocks of migrating swallows that congregate over the river feeding. Generally on a cloudy day swifts are observed in moderate numbers. While gulls begin to thin out over the spring, large flocks of Mew Gulls with the odd Bonaparte’s Gull can be seen in late April feeding on a large insect hatch over the river. Quite often, Greater Yellowlegs can be spotted on the gravel bars in the river or even in the boat launch. Additional shorebirds such as Black-bellied Plovers and Spotted Sandpipers have also been documented. Ruffed Grouse can be seen throughout the whole year, however towards late March and throughout April, their presence is more well known due to the male’s distinct drumming sound.
The wintering ducks start to decline in numbers around mid April. There is always the chance to see a 'rare' migrating species of waterfowl either on the river or the small pond. At least one Common Loon has been seen consistently in the small pond for a few years now.
Summer (June – July)
After the main push of migrants pass through, species remaining to breed are usually left. The beautiful Lazuli Bunting breed at the site in numbers sometimes as high as seven or eight pairs. Watch for them at either end of the park at the main gate area to the east or in the field from the dyke to the west. A bit of migratory movement is still seen such as the odd American Redstart, often a male and seen almost every summer, that often remain a few days in the park before moving on. Bullock’s Oriole are annual breeders in the park. Red-eyed Vireos will have arrived by now and a couple pairs typically nest every year. Flycatchers, both Willow Flycatcher and Western Wood Pewee breed in the park every year. In 2011, the first breeding record of Eastern Kingbird was documented. At least a few pairs of Bushtits breed in the park as well.
Even though they do not breed in the park, Caspian Terns have been observed flying up the river during the summer months. By now, mosquito numbers have begun to build which may lower motivation to bird the site depending on the onslaught levels. Towards the end of July some species of birds start their migration. The odd species of shorebird can be observed typically near the river. As well, California Gulls are seen flying along the river as they make their journey south.
Fall (August – Oct)
Fall migration is certainly a very busy time for birds in the park and, happily, by mid-August, the mosquitoes are usually much more tolerable. Island 22 has built a solid reputation as a fall migrant hotspot in the Fraser Valley. On a good day during fall migration, it is not uncommon to tally 40 or more species of bird on a morning walk. Typically, the best areas to locate songbird flocks during fall migration is on the west end of the dyke near the small gate or southwest end of the equestrian area. Warbling and Red-eyed Vireo are common. This site is an excellent place to see Red-eyed Vireo as they travel south. On the topic of vireos, one of the two rare Philadelphia Vireos spotted at Island 22 was seen in August. All of our warbler species are seen passing though on their southward journey. Some notable warbler species include Tennessee Warbler (four records) Blackpoll Warbler (two records) and Chestnut-sided Warbler (one record) seen in the park. Nashville Warbler and American Redstart have been annual fall migrants as well. Western Tanagers are especially common during this period. Still, it was a huge surprise when two lucky birders spotted a Scarlet Tanager among the Western Tanagers one August in 2005. A pair of Rusty Blackbirds, rare in the Lower Mainland, spent a few weeks in the park during September.
Large numbers of Lincoln’s Sparrows pass through during fall migration. Uncommon sparrow species seen during this time are annual Chipping Sparrows and the odd Vesper Sparrow and White-throated Sparrow every other year. If Bank Swallows were missed over the spring, never fear as they are back beginning in late August and into the first week or two of September. During overcast or wet periods, swallow flocks that usually consist of all six species, build sometimes into a couple thousand birds as they feed low over the river. Turkey Vultures are common in the month of August and early September, either migrating through, or feasting on the salmon along the river banks. Still out over the river, gull numbers begin to increase. Other gull species will soon follow in September to feed on the salmon. Bonaparte’s Gull are another annual visitor as they migrate to the coast. Grebe species are well represented. Western Grebe is most common, but Horned, Eared (two records), Pied-billed and a Clark’s Grebe (one record) have also been tallied.
Winter (Nov – Feb)
While almost all of the migratory birds have left, there remains plenty to make a walk on a nice late fall or winter day worthwhile. If the weather conditions are good it is possible to see upwards of thirty species in an outing. Black-capped Chickadees always make a birding walk enjoyable with their antics. There is also a chance of a rarity hanging out among them and the kinglets and Brown Creepers that typically keep each other company. This was true for the second Philadelphia Vireo which was seen in mid-November 2010. In the same month a Northern Mockingbird spent close to two weeks feeding in and around the boat launch.
Sparrow flocks are seen regularly which consist of Fox, Song, White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows. A Harris’s Sparrow once spent the winter in the park. Most of the sparrow flocks are generally seen along the western half of the dyke foraging among the blackberry bushes. In the equestrian area, Bewick’s Wren, Varied Thrush are just some of the species that are common in the thick vegetation. Hermit Thrush are uncommon during the winter and can be difficult to detect. Although, they are in the park throughout the year, woodpeckers, Downy, Hairy and the occasional Pileated Woodpeckers are easy to spot because the trees lack leaves.
Great Horned Owls are found year-round in the park, and seem to be detected more in the winter, especially in the eastern section of the park. Other species of owls that can be seen during the winter include Barn and Northern Saw-whet. Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are seen throughout the park in the winter. Other birds of prey, although not as common, include Peregrine Falcon, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks. There has been one record of each a Prairie Falcon and Gyrfalcon.
The pond at the park entrance often has ducks and geese on it including the odd Snow Goose and, at times, over a thousand Cackling Geese. The Fraser River provides a food source for many species of ducks. Buffleheads, Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes are always present on the river. Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Mallard can also be observed on the Fraser River but normally present near the banks of the rivers. At the west end of the park Double-creasted Cormorants are common, and in January and February, Canvasback occasionally can be seen. Large gull flocks are frequent on the gravel bars. Dunlin and American Pipits are seen on occasion on the gravel bars.
Birds are not the only wildlife that can make a visit to the park enjoyable. The river provides great views of the occasional White Sturgeon surfacing. During the salmon runs it is very common to see Harbor Seals. Coyotes are frequent in the park but rarely seen. Likewise, due to their nocturnal habits, Raccoons and Opossums are present in the park but seldom encountered. The occasional bear makes a visit to the park. Cold blooded animals such as frogs and garter snakes are seen in the suitable months.
The next time you are wondering where to go for a walk, consider taking in what Island 22 has to offer.