Naturespeak 

Winter season of birding at Whistler, 2003

Whistler Naturalists

One wonders: was there really a winter season at Whistler this year? Up to Christmas it looked like a bust, but after the annual festive season bird count the numbers of our avian friends diminished considerably thanks to the heavy snowfall on Dec. 25 th and 26 th which encouraged out-migration.

From early January through to the end of February numbers of any species were decidedly few, except for the gulls that circulated daily between the dump and the open leads on Alta and Alpha Lakes. A few late migrant ducks showed up, especially Lesser scaup, but strangely a few other species of waterfowl hung around for the entire winter. Our usual winter residents are Hooded mergansers and Trumpeter swans, but this year there were also a few Bufflehead and Common goldeneyes at the Fitzsimmons Creek delta and one pair each of American coots and Ring-necked ducks worked the outlet of Alta Lake. Normally, they are at Squamish or points south. Back to the gulls, only the Glaucous-winged and a few of its hybrids (to Westerns) were seen; other gull species were absent whenever the dump was visited.

Aside from the above, a typical birder’s day saw House sparrows, Steller’s jays (or Gray jay if up on the ski slopes), Black capped chickadees, and European starlings. Red-winged blackbirds, and House finches were usual sightings at Nicklaus North, but all other species were far and few between – a bonus when you spotted them. Nonetheless, 47 species were tallied by March 21 st , excluding the hybrid gull, and a rarer eastern slate-coloured form of the Dark-eyed junco. Notable resident absentees were any thick-billed song birds – the crossbills, grosbeaks, finches and siskins. Numbers of the lattermost were very low compared to other years and Pine grosbeaks were seen on the Valley Trail on only two or three bird walks – indeed slim pickings. Were it not for several home feeders there would have been even less to look at.

Owls and other birds of prey were wasting their time around here after the mega snowfall but a Northern sawhet owl was sighted by Mrs. Szoc while strolling the Greenlake walkway, and Mike Thompson caught the tail pattern of two Red-tailed hawks while skiing on Whistler.

Feeder reports turned up erratic occurrences of Varied thrush (now singing lustily every morning throughout the valley), Red-breasted nuthatch, juncos and woodpeckers. Of the latter, Flickers, Downys and Hairys visited Mike Sparks’ suet feeders at Creekside regularly but were casual shows elsewhere. Red-breasted sapsuckers and Pileated woodpeckers were rare sightings on the Valley Trail and no one reported the loner Three-toed woodpecker. My own feeder had a daily presence of juncos and Chestnut-backed chickadees, but the Mountain chickadee appears to have remained secluded from view on the higher slopes. Did anyone see a White-tailed ptarmigan while skiing near treeline after Christmas?

Another oddity was the lack of a winter flock of Trumpeter swans; they kept on moving south. In late January, a "loner" finally showed up at Green Lake along with Canada goose as a "queer" companion, but both departed when their brethren re-appeared during the cold snap of early March, on their early return to northern breeding grounds. The curious highlight of the winter was actually at Pemberton. Two Double-crested cormorants, sighted by Hugh Naylor and Liz Jones, plied the waters of Lillooet Lake – a first for that lake for the species in any season according to the four volume Birds of British Columbia, which shows location records of all species of B.C.’s native birds. This showpiece set of books is now housed at the Pemberton Public Library. Their host and enthusiastic proprietress, Jan Naylor, is eager to lead any inquisitive birder to their spot on the shelves.

Upcoming events

Wednesday, April 16, 6:30-7:30: Lee hosts the first nature walk of the year! Meet at the bottom of Lorimer. Kids are free and everyone else by donation.

Wednesday, April 23, 6:30-7:30: Botanist Kristina host this week’s nature walk. Meet at the bottom of Lorimer Road.

Thursday, April 24: Dr. Lori Daniels has travelled the world studying the science of tree rings. Join this fascinating talk with live demonstrations. MY Place, 7:30 p.m.

April 26, Pitch-in Day! Join us in keeping our community beautiful. Volunteers needed.

May 10, International Astronomy Day! 7:30 p.m. Spruce Groove Park. Email stars@nemy.com

For more information on the Whistler Naturalist Society, contact Veronica Sommerville at veronicarobin@yahoo.ca .

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