November's cold snap brings Whistler's birding year-end to a frigid conclusion

Autumn migration of our avian friends ended abruptly with the somewhat late arrival of Trumpeter swans on Nov. 11, quickly followed by brutal polar outflow winds that froze up Whistler Valley, and the inevitable fleeing of any birds that had any premonition of hanging around to winter.

As usual, the migration pattern was in sporadic waves of arrivals and departures. The highlight had to be the appearance, on several occasions, of all five species of grebes, the Eared grebe being the unusual among the lot.

For the first time in 15 or so years, a colourful russet-headed male Eurasian widgeon was at Nicklaus North for a few days, and on Nov. 2 a flock of Long-tailed ducks were on Alta Lake. Other noteworthy sightings were a three-toed woodpecker behind Nesters and a species of concern, Rusty blackbird, at Nicklaus North.

The autumn migration, however, suffered many no-shows, of which 28 species are usually seen. Was it bad luck on the observers' part with their timing, or did the birds deflect to another migration corridor?

For the alpine species it was probably the latter, but six species of missing waterfowl is a puzzler. So, the tally for autumn species sightings is an all-too-low 110 out of the 200 that are on our checklist for this period. Yes, there are about another 60 species that have only been seen once in the 90 years for this season at Whistler, and it's anybody's guess when they will show up again.

For the birding year, however, it is a much rosier result. 180 species were seen of the 257 that are on the all-seasons checklist - the typical 70 per cent sighting ratio over the years. The highlights are the re-appearance of the Rock ptarmigan after its disappearance decades ago, and two more new additions to our checklist: a way-out-of-range desert-loving flock of Sage sparrows and the long-overdue presence of a Wilson's phalarope on the Fitzsimmons fan-delta. The latter is on other checklists' areas which surround us, but it is an interior species seen on many ponds and small lakes during late spring and summer.

Other unusual sights were the Eurasian collared-dove - now expanding its range in North America from its origin in Florida - Annas and Calliope hummingbirds, Morning warbler and Bullock's oriole.

Significant no-shows, or failed-to-find, were Green heron, Golden eagle, Peregrine falcon, all tern species, American redstart, several sparrow species, Northern water thrush, Sandhill crane, Dunlin, Bushtits and a couple of finches. If we could only corral a few of these missing links, a year of 200 species sighted could be registered.

One may ask, how many species are there on neighbouring checklists? Squamish (275), Pemberton (a too-low 241), D'arcy (about 170), Lillooet (229), Sunshine Coast (271) and Kamloops (311) indicate that Whistler is well-endowed, given its tight valley location among the mountains. The number is high relative to some others, for example, Pemberton and its vast farmlands. But Whistler had a big head start when Kenneth Racey began his studies at Whistler in the early 1920s, which continued to the 1950s, before he passed away in 1959. He was ably assisted by a very astute son-in-law, Dr. Ian McTaggart-Cowan.




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