Naturespeak 

Whistler’s winter birds 2004-05

Whistler Naturalists

A "winter" never to be forgotten – one and half months of the real season, and suddenly in mid-January it ended. How did our local and migratory birds react to it? By Christmas Bird Count day (Dec. 14), the first two weeks of the B.C. birder’s winter revealed about 55 species, but 12 were lingering migrants that had already disappeared by count day. Most of these were waterfowl and their associated predators, and by month-end all lingerers had disappeared, including the Trumpeter swans, leaving only Hooded mergansers and Bufflehead to eek out a harsh survival existence on the waterways through the first two cold weeks of January. Birds of the forest were also few at this time, leaving only the jays, chickadees and crow family members to be visible on any day. Exceptions were the ever-present Glaucous-winged gulls, starlings, Brewer’s blackbirds and House sparrows at the landfill and town centres. The first blast of the Pineapple Express in mid-January brought some changes.

Noisy Red-winged blackbirds and robins optimistically appeared but the latter continued onward to the Pemberton for most of February before their migratory wave began in earnest. Waterfowl (12 species) began their swing northward throughout the six weeks of early spring, with scaup and pintail normally not seen until March or later. The only late winter no-show was the American wigeon which has been seen rarely in previous winters. The highlights in February were the almost daily presence of three species of chickadee (Black-capped, Chestnut-backed, and Mountain) at Mrs. Szoc’s feeder, adjacent to the Green Lake walkway, and Bald Eagles at our soon-to-be closed landfill – over 100 on some days. Their overpowering presence has discouraged the presence of other raptors, although a lone Golden eagle does appear on some days.

The statistics on our winter species is as follows. Of the 87 on the winter revised checklist we garnered 54. Notable absentees are the finches, crossbills, two species of woodpecker, several raptors and the Ruffed grouse. On the other hand, during the winter there were 11 out-of-season (late autumn) lingerers and early (spring) arrivals; of the former Common loon, Red-necked and Western grebes are noteworthy, and of the latter there were Greater and Lesser scaup and the prized Northern pintail duck. To top it off, on a warm Jan. 25 th there was a Double-crested cormorant happily fishing and basking in the warm sun at Alpha Lake, bringing the winter total to 66 species.

As the marine cormorant has not been seen beforehand at Whistler, the revised local checklist now stands at 234 species – some of which however will likely not be seen for years to come.

Suggested Photo: Northern Pintail Duck

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