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A legend steps aside

For the 20th and final time, Karl Ricker organized Whistler's Christmas Bird Count
LEGACY Pictured here, Karl Ricker has organized the Christmas Bird Count for the past 20 years. Shawn Mason will take over next year. Photo by Joel Barde

The results of the 29th-annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) are in—and with it the passing of an era.

For the past 20 years, the event has been organized by Whistler legend Karl Ricker.

"It was a very worthwhile 20 years," said Ricker. "I don't regret doing it—I learned a lot about people."

Ricker said that he's enjoyed the challenge of gathering and working with the all-volunteer crews.

"You've got to round up the people who know their birds," he explained. "You just make mental notes as time goes on, (of) which ones have caught on and been useful."

A geologist with a life-long passion for nature, Ricker was an early volunteer with the CBC. "When the original instigator moved back to Germany, he tossed the files onto my lap, and that's how it happened," he said by way of explaining how he first got involved.

Conducted on Dec. 14, this year's volunteers counted 34 species and a total of 1,985 individual birds. That's up slightly from last year, when 34 species were counted and 773 birds were recorded. "It was slightly better than last year, but way below average," said Ricker.

The CBC is widely thought of as the best tool available for assessing long-term trends in early-winter bird populations, as teams of birders gather for organized counts across North America.

Ricker declined to comment on what's behind this year's results, saying he will wait until the results for the entire region are tallied. He did, however, say that Whistler's increasing urbanization and climate change could be factors.

The CBC has a bright future, though, as Shawn Mason will take the reins. Much as he was anointed 20 years ago, Ricker selected Mason to lead the count. "He didn't ask me, he told me," said Mason with a hearty laugh.

A passionate naturalist, Mason said she has been blown away with the education she's received from Whistler birders. Her first order of business will be to go through the masses of data that Ricker collected over the years, and recently handed off to her.

She also added that she would like to get more people involved in birding, noting that the Whistler Naturalists Society organizes a bird walk the first Saturday of every month in Rainbow Park (learn more at

"A lot of us our getting older, and we're losing our hearing and losing our sight—we're getting old and crusty!" said Mason, chuckling.

Age, it turns out, is also behind Ricker's decision to step aside: "I'm 83 years old, it's time to quit," he said, matter-of-factly.