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Highlights of the 2010 migration

Thanks to a warm winter the spring migration season was back to normal, or even better than normal, for Whistler's birds.

Thanks to a warm winter the spring migration season was back to normal, or even better than normal, for Whistler's birds. So much so that Western Meadowlarks and Bonaparte's Gulls arrived easily a month ahead of schedule, and even our collar-embossed loon was two weeks early.

Notwithstanding, the weather did sway the picture both ways. Did warm weather or a storm bring in an audacious desert species, our first - and likely last - small flock of Sage Sparrows, which normally might make it as far north as the dry southern Okanagan? The bird is absent on most regional checklists, even that of Kamloops to Merritt, but there are two records for Richmond on Sea Island.

Our vagrants showed up at Nicklaus North between fairways four, seven and 11, and behind the green on 10 on April 7, but disappeared in the overnight snowstorm when we returned to the scene the next day with cameras to verify their presence. So, without that picture, we are hooped as far as the official B.C. record books go.

Migrations, however, continued to arrive in waves, usually at the conclusion of a storm when obvious spikes in numbers for many species occurred. The best wave, however, was after the storm that took place over the first few days of May. On May 5 our lakes were filled with waterfowl. In the first few hours of counting on Green Lake, 19 species of ducks and grebes were tallied in substantial numbers of each - only to be dwarfed by an astonishing and unprecedented count of Mew Gulls (100-plus) and Bonaparte's Gulls (roughly 225). But alas, by 11:30 a.m. the 900 birds counted were on their way north, leaving counter Heather Baines frustrated when she showed up in the afternoon to find only choppy, open water. Not all was lost as she snagged a very rare to Lesser Yellowleg Sandpiper and a small flotilla of Horned Grebes. That day cemented the closing off of voids for missing ducks on our checklist. Only two are yet to be seen this year.

Aside from the waterfowl, most songbirds expected to be here have arrived. In the last week of May many showed up like Chipping Sparrows and their bright red crowns - now present after many years of no-shows.

On the shorebird front several other gull species have yet to turn up. A few sandpiper species have come and continued onward while among the plovers, Killdeer have been with us for a couple of months - last seen flying to breed on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta in late May. Likewise, Spotted Sandpipers are there for the same purpose, but canine interference as usual has discouraged their attempts.

Joan Plomske scored a sighing of a Semipalmated Plover, not seen in years, on the same real estate in April. Also on the delta were American Pipits and Horned Larks (a species of concern) awaiting the disappearance of snow before moving to their summer alpine habitat.

Notably, woodpeckers and raptor sightings have been sparse this spring. Yes, flickers are here in spades, but other woodpeckers are not. Mating Ospreys have arrived on schedule but eagles and hawks are elsewhere. Owls are hard to find and so far there has not been any appearance of the Peregrine falcon at Soo Bluffs.

On the other hand, Toad Hollow has a lock on noisy Evening Grosbeaks, roughly 60 - supposedly a species of continent-wide concern. Pine Siskins are everywhere, awaiting the signal to go up the mountain slopes and disappear, which the Juncos and Varied thrush have already done so.

The final highlight of our migration season was the two-day presence of a Wilson's Phalarope Shorebird on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta, our first record even though it's on everyone else's checklist, from Lillooet to D'Arcy, Pemberton to Squamish, and North Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast.

However it is rare at all locales, though it does breed on Sea Island. Obviously it was overdue to be seen here, and its presence now puts the Whistler checklist at 267 species in total - the fourth new species since the last list was published in 2009. Add Hermit and Morning warblers, Sage sparrow and the phalarope to your list if you have a copy.

You can pick one up at the Whistler Naturalists annual general meeting on June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Whistler Public Library, or at the front desk at Pique Newsmagazine .

The AGM will also feature a presentation on birding observations from the past 30 years, including migration data.

At the conclusion of the spring migration, which wrapped up May 31, some 141 species were seen of the 224 birds known to be here for the summer season, which is roughly 62 per cent. It could have been higher, but several no-shows are eluding birders or haven't arrived; notably the Harrier hawk, Cliff swallow, Olive-sided flycatcher, Willow flycatcher, Cedar waxwing, Red-eyed vireo, Purple finch, Green heron and several gull/tern species.