Now that discussion and controversy over the importance of the Fitzsimmons deltaic fan to our local and migrating bird life has subsided - at least for the winter months - hopefully many residents will refocus on our annual Christmas Bird Count.

This is an important census on the status and stability of our local wintering birds, and the data is also used by the Audubon Society for their continent-wide assessment of all bird species.

Our own bird census was inaugurated by Max Götz and some of his friends in 1990 and found only 21 species and 1190 birds. By 1999, thanks to additional and experienced birders helping out, a record 58 species and 5,243 birds were counted. The volume figure expanded to 6,611 birds in 2003. Since those heady days, the numbers of species and birds has dropped, with the closure of the landfill for Olympic preparations being one significant factor. The other can be attributed to a reduction in participants, both experts and helper assistants.

So, the Whistler Naturalists Society is asking everyone with an interest in our local wildlife to circle Tuesday, Dec. 14 on their calendars.

If you are unable to put in a whole or half-day on foot, please keep an eye on your backyards and feeders during the day. Eyes and ears are what we need; experience is not a prerequisite.

If you choose to stay at home, load up your bird feeder in early December to allow time for the birds to find your pantry of goodies. Caution is required if our local bears have failed to hibernate by then;  the coterie of bruin watchers will keep us informed.

The long-term average of what to expect is around 41 species and roughly 2,500 birds. So far, 96 species have been seen over the past twenty counts, of which 19 are counted without fail every year since 1991. Our species of extreme scrutiny is the White-tailed Ptarmigan, and so we ask all skiers to contact us if you saw them any time between Dec. 11 and Dec. 17. That period is our count week and any other unusual birds (owls, hawks, pigeons, etc.) seen then should also be reported for this timeframe with a date and location.

On count day, nine field parties will scatter out to explore their designated district, with one each on Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. At 4:30 p.m. all field parties will return to my house for the countdown party, which winds up at 6:30 p.m. The benefit is that everyone will feel they have contributed to a vital task by the time they leave.

So, if you can give us a hand on foot, or with eyes on your back yard, phone Joan Plomske (604-938-0623) any time up to Dec. 13, or Karl Ricker (604-938-1107) before 8 a.m. on Dec. 14.

Other very important Christmas Bird Counts in the Sea to Sky corridor which need volunteers include:

Pemberton - Dec. 15 - Hugh Naylor (604-894-6402)

D'arcy-Devine - Dec. 16 - Dan Cumming (604-452-3453)

Squamish - Dec. 18 - Marcia Danielson (604-898-9420)

Hat Creek - Dec. 19 - Ken Wright (250-256-4822, or 250-571-5557)

Lillooet - Dec. 27 - Dr. Ian Routley or Vivian Birch-Jones (250-256-4062)

Squamish Eagle count - Jan. 2 - Thor at Brackendale Art Gallery (604-898-3333)

All are very interesting counts, but my personal favourite is D'arcy which has a very satisfying countdown party ambience. Perhaps a Pique employee will join us for that one! n




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