More species, less birds 

Annual Christmas Bird Count turns up some surprising finds

A big thank-you to the 26 field members and 6 feeder watchers who showed for the 13 th annual count is in order — a nice day, little snow at valley level, open lakes and enthusiasm ensured a successful count for those few birds who did manage to hang around Whistler for the start of the winter.

More than half of the participants drove in from the Fraser Valley — Greater Vancouver, Squamish, Pemberton and even Brooklyn, New York, to help out with the count. Without them the exercise would have been very difficult. The move to a weekend date for the count to encourage a larger local volunteer presence did not work out.

The evening tally-up of the day’s work at Karl’s cramped cabin yielded a surprising 48 species (two more than last year), but 1867 fewer birds – 2763 in total. The volume reduction appears to be the universal trend throughout southwestern B.C. this year and it may well be the case for the interior, once reports began to leak through to us. So what are the high- and low-lights this year?

w The "volume" bird was the Glaucous-winged Gull (half at the dump, and the others on the lakes). Surprisingly there were very few hybrids among them which is contrary to the findings at Squamish a week earlier. No other gull species were seen despite diligent checking on everyone’s part.

w Heather’s party found our first ever winter Ruby-crowned Kinglet (one only!) and long overdue Horned Grebes – netting two additions to our Christmas list. Horned Grebes were also seen at the D’arcy Count a few days earlier.

w Common loons were also recorded for the first time on Green and Alta Lakes by three or four parties, but two individuals only.

w A record number (three) of Northern Pygmy Owls were seen in the alpine on both mountains, with Jack Souther spotting the first at daybreak (7 a.m.) on Blackcomb, and Ken Melamed registering the second soon after on Whistler. Pygmy owls also turned up at the new Nanoose Bay count on the same day and also at the Banff count.

w This year was the first in many where we scored zero on Pine Grosbeaks, White-winged Crossbills, Purple Finch and other allies, and the counts of Pine Siskins and Red Crossbills were low. However, House Finches showed up like gangbusters at several feeders.

w Alas, the White-tailed Ptarmigan were up to their old tricks with several sightings in count week, but disappearing completely on count day! Grr!

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