Fall migration shy on volumes of birds 

Christmas bird count to be held Dec.20

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - GIVE A HOOT Owl sightings in the Whistler area have been among the highlights for local bird-watchers in 2013.
  • Shutterstock photo
  • GIVE A HOOT Owl sightings in the Whistler area have been among the highlights for local bird-watchers in 2013.

Days of low counts were the norm throughout the autumn migration season of 2013.

But Whistler was not the only area experiencing the doldrums. Diversity, however, was average with 108 species identified this season, netting a 53.5 per cent return of the 202 on the autumn checklist.

That list now includes three species not seen or heard before in this period, namely: northern hawk owl and a Boreal owl at Shadow Lake, and several grasshopper sparrows on Fairway No. 15 at Nicklaus North. Another surprise was the western tanagers on the September monthly transect count.

Among the waterfowl there were flocks of 20 to 50 mallards and American wigeon loafing on our lakes, but overall the counts on other duck species were sparse. One exception to this trend were Surf scoters in several small flocks of five to 10 birds on the large lakes and to our surprise, two or three on shallow Shadow Lake — hardly a stop-over habitat for winter sea ducks.

Flocks of Canada geese of 30 to 60 birds also moved through, mainly in September, but thereafter were often absent in the Whistler area. Snow and Cackling geese were not seen and Trumpeter swans were sparse, though arriving on time in late October.

Again this year, all five species of grebes were seen on our lakes in the autumn period in about this descending order of abundance: Pied-billed, Horned, Western, Red-necked and two days of Eared grebes.

Finally, Coots were the only species of rails seen sporadically on the lakes, although we did manage to call out one Virginia rail in our November transect count.

Surprisingly, raptors were hard to come by this autumn. Sporadic Bald eagle and Merlin were the usual incidental sightings, followed by Red-tailed hawks on rare occasions.

For shorebirds, Western sandpipers flew through in small flocks, while other related species failed to use Whistler as a rest stop.

Likewise, gulls have been few; Mew and California gulls were seen on a few occasions; Bonaparte's twice, and Ring-billed in single sightings. The compactor site in the Callaghan usually brings in big flocks of Glaucous-winged gulls, after our garbage, but as of Nov. 30 they are still staying at the Squamish landfill.

In the songbird sector, after the Red-winged blackbird and robins flocks moved on their way south in non-spectacular numbers, the replacements have been juncos and Varied thrush, hopefully to remain for the winter. We are still struggling to find missing Red-breasted nuthatches, not only here, but elsewhere in the corridor. Likewise, all members of the finch/grosbeak clans are darn hard to find, despite the abundant cone crops, and thus it appears to be a cyclic low year for those species.

The wrap-up of the autumn season has some no-shows that should have been seen. They are: Gadwall duck, Northern harrier hawk, American kestrel, Common tern, swifts, Hammond's flycatcher, Red-eyed vireo, Barn swallow, Hermit and Swainson's thrushes, Brown-headed cowbird and several finch species.

Nov. 30 marks the fiscal year-end for birds. Anything seen after that date is usually a winter resident species, kicking off a new year of birding. So, our 2013-year closed with 169 species seen of the 261 on the all-season checklist.

This is light by about 10 species compared to previous year tallies, but more important were the reduced numbers of any given species in most cases, which translates to a sparse or withering year in the cycle of local bird populations.

No new species were seen over the year; the report of California quail last February on Blackcomb lacks a confirmation sighting to be inserted on the checklist.

Highlights over the year are the aforementioned owls, including a Snowy owl, a Snow bunting last spring and a Lapland longspur on the Fitzsimmons delta in the autumn. Farther afield, an injured Prairie falcon at Pemberton is a very noteworthy discovery, which was transported to a rehab facility by Heather Baines.

For the Christmas bird count on Dec. 20, recent polar outflow winds will present a challenge. The extreme weather has sent any lingering migratory birds on their way, and so it will likely be a low count, 30 species being a moral victory.

Meet at 8 a.m. at 3253 Archibald Way for the count. All volunteers will be teamed up with expert birders, no experience necessary! For more information contact Kristina at 604-935-7665.



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