bird count 

It's for the birds Whistler bird enthusiasts carried on a Christmas tradition almost a century old, participating in the annual Christmas bird count Jan. 2. About 20 excited birders combed the valley with binoculars, spotting scopes and the naked eye last week in search of rare and not-so-rare feathered visitors to the Whistler Valley. According to Max Gotz, local bird enthusiast and organizer of the Christmas bird count, they had some surprising sightings. While counting gulls, ravens and crows, at the Whistler Landfill Gotz caught a good view of a Golden Eagle. "I was merrily counting gulls when they all spooked and in came this Golden Eagle," Gotz says. "He got a hold of some of the garbage the gulls were feeding on and flew up into a tree to eat it. It was quite a treat to watch." Gotz says the adult male Golden Eagle, which may be the same one spotted two years ago, probably passes through the valley every winter or may winter here. Also among the rare sightings were three Thayer's Gulls, three Clark's Nutcrackers, two Mountain Chickadees and three Brown Creepers. Although the name may sound a little on the dull side, Gotz was surprised by the number of Brown Creeper sightings. "The Brown Creeper is very difficult to distinguish," he says. "They spiral up the trunks of trees getting insects from the bark. They are hard to find, but when it rains it pours." While spotters managed to log sightings of a number of species rare to Whistler, Gotz says the more common species were lacking. "We missed a few of the more common species from the past years," Gotz says. "It's funny, but there were no House Sparrows in the village." The early snowpack and cold post-Christmas temperatures made sure it was going to be difficult to find any ducks as most of the open water in the valley was frozen over. Whistler's elevation and cool winter temperatures don't make it a prime spot for bird viewing in the winter. Gotz says the prime viewing time is in the spring, when a number of sub-tropical species pass through the valley during their annual spring migrations. Dubbed the fastest growing wildlife recreational activity in North America, bird watching takes place all over the world. The Christmas bird count is held in over 1,600 count areas in North, Central and South America for the Audubon Society. The holiday tradition began in 1900 as a reaction to the holiday side hunt. Instead of shooting birds, a group of naturalists started counting them.


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