Although a slow summer for our local birding gang there were the unexpected surprises along with the disappointments. But it was not for a lack of effort. Monthly bird transects carried out from Lorimer Road to Rainbow Park had good species counts of 40 or more, especially when Chris Dale was present with his highly-tuned ears and incredible eyesight. Then there was Bioblitz netting only 37 species in 24 hours of dogged search, compared to 57 species last year. And the annual breeding bird survey along Highway 99 in June also dived to all-time lows in numbers seen.
The summer, however, began with a bang at the conclusion of a weather-changing storm on June 1 st . Joan Plomske was patrolling the Green Lake Walkway beat and saw a sharp-winged, blackish bird skimming the water surface for insects. It was the first Black tern seen in the entire Sea to Sky corridor, although it has been sparingly reported at Vancouver and Nanaimo. It is an interior bird, seen regularly on elevated lakes of plateau country during early summer. Presently, it was joined by four, much larger, Caspian terns, seen only a few times previously at Whistler.
Soon after, in the high overcast skies, a huge flock of long-necked and grayish birds would briefly emerge through the murky mists — much too far away to identify, but it had to be good. Late in the day a phone call from residents on the west side of Alta Lake reported two large flocks of what appeared to be loons on the choppy lake surface. Hurrying to lakeshore, I saw an eye-popping flock of 100 plus Pacific loons in one flock, and at least 25 Common loons in another.
The size of each is unprecedented for Whistler; in fact 10 years of records has added up to only 28 Pacific loons, in 1’s, 2’s, or 3’s, and the previous daily record for Common loons was five birds in October 2007. While the latter are present in all seasons this was our first summer record for the Pacifics, which normally cruise through during the autumn season.
Bird nesting surveys conducted by Heather Baines and Chris Dale in June and July confirmed the suspected overall low volumes of seasonal visitors. Waterfowl production was skimpy on all of our lakes with the possible exception of Canada geese. However, there were surprising nesting observations of Red-breasted and Red-naped sapsuckers, the first such record for the latter and thought previously to be only a rare off-course visitor to Whistler.
An out-of-town birder found a surprising Magnolia warbler at the old PGE whistlestop, McGuire, hitherto unknown to our neck of the woods, but seen again at Nicklaus North a month later in late July.
And the final new surprise was a yet more astounding sighting of six Black scoters on Green Lake a day or two later. This species of scoters is strictly marine, found usually along both coasts of the continent. The number of isolated in-land records for this scoter can be counted on one hand in this province, but it didn’t stop here. A few days later Heather Baines found another Black scoter at Mosquito Lake, above Pemberton, and yet another in her exclusive back yard lake at Black Tusk Village!
So there are three additions to our Whistler checklist, running the total to 253 species, and two others were seen for the first time in summer season. In all, 134 species were sighted of the 200 now known to make some sort of presence in summer, equating to a 67 per cent sighting ratio index. Other than the loons, robins, Song sparrows, Canada geese, Yellow Warblers and members of the Corvid (crow) family, the volumes of individuals for most species were low.
Unexpected absentees were three grebe species, Gadwall and Lesser scaup ducks, Green-winged teal and (the lack of breeding by the other teal species), Golden eagle, American kestrel, American coot, Glaucous-winged and Bonaparte gulls, Barred owl, Bushtit, Townsend’s solitaire, Purple finch, Pine grosbeak, Savannah and Fox sparrows, and American redstart. All would have been seen or heard in a normal summer, but our unusual spring did upset the migration patterns.
There were, however, some other good spots. Larry Murray saw Horned larks at the Little Whistler Teahouse on several occasions — a bird of concern nation-wide, and not seen very often here in recent years. Heather Baines nabbed a Harrier hawk in out-of-usual habitat in the Callaghan Valley, and Chris Dale stared at a Saw-whet owl in broad daylight on his way to the Nordic Centre. The writer lucked out with an Eastern kingbird on the Cut’Yer Bars trail, and a flock of Gray-crowned rosy finches was feeding at the edge of an isolated snow bank on Blackcomb’s Cruiser run.
As summer winds down, the daily species counts are dropping with the out-migration of our summer breeders. Juncos are now descending to the valley floor and the rush of northern migrants will soon be upon us. Have a good look at our lakes to witness the parade of waterfowl. It is the highlight of the year for birders; join us at 8 a.m. on the first Saturday in October at the Lorimer Road cul-de-sac to see a snapshot of the spectacle.
Finally Pique is one of two sponsors of a new bird checklist for the Upper Howe Sound and Squamish River Basin . If you would like a copy see their receptionist at the Function Junction office, or pick up one at the Squamish Adventure Centre or Brackendale Art Gallery — the other enthusiastic sponsor of the list. This list fills out a big gap in the checklist coverage for the Sea to Sky corridor, which now runs continuously from outer Howe Sound through to Lillooet via Anderson and Seton Lakes. The next birding challenge is to complete the nesting atlas surveys for the same area, projected to be finished in four or five years.