Ten years of Sea to Sky Christmas bird counts 

The numbers, the species, the special sightings

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK - This Bird Counts The Snowy Owl is an arctic species seen in many coastal and prairie locales this year, including the Sea to Sky region, due to a low lemming cycle.
  • Photo by Shutterstock
  • This Bird Counts The Snowy Owl is an arctic species seen in many coastal and prairie locales this year, including the Sea to Sky region, due to a low lemming cycle.

As usual, it takes a while to post all of the Christmas Bird Count data for the Sea to Sky corridor. This area has a south-west anchor at Lower Howe Sound (Horseshoe Bay and offshore islands), and proceeds into the mountains at Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton-Mt. Currie, D'arcy-Devine to Lillooet and then over the Pavilion Ranges through Hat Creek to a north-east anchor at Ashcroft-Cache Creek on the leeward side of all mountainous terrain.

This year, Squamish led with 10,894 birds counted and 87 species identified, surpassing the usual leader, Lower Howe Sound, which had half that many birds and only 68 species. In fact, Pemberton-Mt. Currie spotted 73 species but with only 2,508 birds counted, and barely eking out Lillooet with 69 species and 2,650 birds.

It is a toss-up whether Whistler, with 58 species and only 859 birds, or Hat Creek, with 28 species, but 1,261 birds, is at the bottom of the pile.

D'arcy, despite a 40 centimetre snowfall on count day, was better than either with 49 species and 1,495 birds counted.

Other than Lower Howe Sound, all other counts reached average, to above-average species counts. All told, 30,416 birds were tallied, with 131 species identified. The decadal averages are 127 species identified and 30,130 birds tallied, signifying that the 2012 Christmas season for the corridor was average, the extra four species being attributed to birds never seen before; a Ruddy duck at D'arcy, a Sora rail at Lillooet, a flycatcher (Phoebe?) at Ashcroft, and Snowy owls at Squamish and Whistler. There are always surprises, and Lillooet usually has the best ones, repeatedly, every year!

For 2012, the following species were seen at all eight count localities: Mallard ducks, Merlin falcons, Common ravens (as expected), Black-capped chickadees, American dippers and Song Sparrows. Usually, Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are seen at all sites, but this year Ashcroft failed to deliver. There are 14 other species which were seen at seven of the eight sites, the most significant being a Townsend's solitaire (a thrush) and Common redpoll — a bird closely related to the Pine siskin, which was Whistler's most numerous species last year (4,655), but this year weighed in at only 186 seen. However, most of the redpolls were to the east with three- figure counts at D'arcy, Lillooet, Hat Creek and Ashcroft.

In descending order, the most abundant species were: Glaucous-winged gulls (especially at Squamish), Pine siskins (again, Squamish and Lower Howe Sound), Dark-eyed Oregon Junco (Pemberton, well-endowed), Bohemian waxwing (a Hat Creek specialty), Common raven (lots at Ashcroft), Starling (again, Ashcroft), Rock pigeon (and again, Ashcroft), Robin (record numbers at Lillooet) and Bald eagle (Squamish).

Alas, Whistler topped all other localities with: Trumpeter swan (20), Greater scaup duck (25), Pied-billed grebe (3), Steller's jay (75), and Gray jay or Whiskeyjack (26).

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