Naturespeak 

Scarcity of summer birds at Whistler in 2005

Whistler Naturalists

While waiting out the lull between spring nesting season and the appearance of fledging chicks in mid-summer, Whistler’s birders sat down to revise our aging checklist. New bird sightings, and forgotten species to be dredged out of old reports were to be added; the seasonal abundance of all species also had to be reviewed, thus bringing about many changes to the list. It will be published in the late autumn, we hope.

Mike Thompson spearheaded the revision by not only relying on his own computerized notes, but also combing a loose-leaf binder full of sightings by the writer which cover the period of 1998 to June 2005, or roughly 750 periods of observations in that time span.

The third member of the review group, Heather Baines, had her own valuable lists which provided much detail on the Black Tusk Village-Pinecrest area and nearby Daisy Lake reservoir.

The number of species recorded in the Whistler district now stands at 241, the last addition being a pale Glaucous gull of the outer coast domain, found at the landfill during early summer, while the prevalent and darker Glaucous-winged gull of the inner coast was vacating the premises in sync with the drawn-out process of shutdown. In the last week of August, the end of a bird’s summer season, there were no gulls at the dump and it will be interesting to see if a year-round presence will be maintained by any species of this group.

Sightings were slow throughout the summer, usually requiring an entire morning to log 20 species, with low counts for most that were tallied. Northwest crows and Steller jays were the exception, being abundant throughout, while ravens, starlings and Brewer’s blackbirds were at the landfill in big numbers.

Waterfowl traffic on our lakes and ponds was exceptionally light, though first-ever records of breeding Blue-winged and Cinnamon teals were witnessed at the Nicklaus North golf links. Breeding Wood ducks also re-appeared and there were at least four nests of ospreys with chicks. All of the latter are now flying and they have now vacated two nest sites, with the families moving south.

As for other raptors, very few were seen, other than Bald eagles at the landfill, though most of the usual species were sighted at least once. The absence of the Harrier hawk and Peregrine falcon were unexpected. With owls, not one was heard or seen.

For the sandpipers and other shorebirds, the Vancouver Bird Alert listed many impressive sightings throughout late July and August, many of which were also seen at Squamish. Locally, shorebirds began to appear on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta in the first week of August. Not nearly as many or as diverse in species compared to the tidewater sites but there were some exciting finds nonetheless, nine species in all before the blitz faded out.

By July local breeding song birds were migrating out; all swallows had disappeared; flycatchers were away before mid-August, and even among the waterfowl the local Canada goose broods were on their way. It’s a strange day when you can’t find a goose at Whistler, but it happened several times in August. This won’t last; waterfowl migrants from up north are now landing each day on our waterways. We should be seeing the arrival of coots, Buffleheads, scaup, grebes, loons and more geese any day.

Hot finds for the summer season were the following: Green heron near Whistler Air, Gadwall and Redhead ducks ahead of time, a large flock of Sandhill cranes in early June, Turkey vultures at the Callaghan crossing, Kestrel at Alta Lake, Bonaparte’s and Mew gulls on Green Lake, California gulls at the landfill, very rare Semi-palmated plover and Short-billed dowitcher on Fitzsimmons delta (first records in several years), Lesser yellowlegs (sandpiper), Gray catbirds at both ends of Alpha Lake, and always hard to find, American redstart and goldfinch.

Thus the summer was not a complete loss, and of the 194 species on the summer checklist, 124 were sighted, though not often for most. Adding the out-of-season plover to the list, the recovery on 195 species is 64 pr cent, or about 10 per cent less than what we would normally expect.

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