Naturespeak: What do summer bird studies tell us? 

Numbers were low this year, but plenty of unusual sightings occurred

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LIZ BARRETT - BIG BIRD A record count of 10 great blue herons were seen in July.
  • Photo by Liz Barrett
  • BIG BIRD A record count of 10 great blue herons were seen in July.

Birds are the most-studied organisms in Whistler thanks to a long-term, volunteer, bird monitoring program. Birds are an indicator species; tracking their behaviour and numbers can tell us a lot about what's happening in our environment.

Now that the numbers have been counted for the summer, we know 109 bird species were seen in Whistler. This result is tied for the fourth lowest in the last 15 years. The highest record was 139 species in 2007 and the lowest was 103 species in 2018. That means even though this summer's count was low, it is still a slight rebound from the year before.

New and exciting finds during the summer season were the American black duck (the second one ever for Whistler), dusky grouse and great gray owl.

Unusual sightings included Lewis's woodpecker (second time recorded, seen in Brandywine Valley), American black duck (Nicklaus North Golf Course pond), ruddy duck (the second time recorded), great blue heron (record count of 10 seen in July), sandhill crane, California gull (unusual number of gulls passing through in August), vesper sparrow and western kingbird (second summer recorded).

Since our overall count was low, we were obviously missing some birds that would normally be seen during the summer. So, what do these results mean? We didn't see the 29 species we normally do, but it's worthwhile to note that results of any monitoring program are intrinsically tied to the observers themselves. How many people were involved in monitoring? What is their level of expertise?

As the Whistler Naturalists' bird studies program relies on volunteers, it has seen ebb and flow throughout the years and right now, we're a little low on volunteers. We hold monthly bird walks on the first Saturday of every month not only to collect important data, but to educate and inspire novice and intermediate birders to be a part of our bird-studies program. The more birders we have, the better our data will be. Please join us!

Now back to the results. When there is a change locally in the species or numbers of birds, it means that changes are most likely occurring in a much bigger area as well. How does what we're seeing in Whistler compare to Squamish or Pemberton or even the Lower Mainland? Luckily, there's an app for that! Most of our bird-monitoring data is uploaded to eBird, one of the largest biodiversity-related citizen-science projects.

The goal of eBird is to gather information in the form of checklists of birds, archive it, and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education. There are also tools to use that help you manage your bird lists, photos and audio recordings and real-time maps of species distribution.

Whether you join our birding crew, upload to eBird, or a little of both, we hope you enjoy birdwatching and appreciate how important your contributions are to science.

The next bird walk is on Saturday, Dec. 7, meeting at 9 a.m. at the west end of Lorimer Rd. by the Catholic Church. Free—all are welcome.

Naturespeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To learn more about Whistler's natural world, go to whistlernaturalists.ca.

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