Naturespeak 

New surprises for the Breeding Bird Survey

The annual Breeding Bird Survey for Whistler-Pemberton was carried out June 10-11, one of 67 such surveys in British Columbia during the spring season. Squamish is another nearby site and yet another is at Lillooet. Six expert birders came from Vancouver, Gibsons and Vancouver Island to conduct the survey.

June 10 th was the demonstration day for those interested in how the experts do their work. About 20 of us, mainly Pemberton-area residents, met at One Mile Lake under the organization of Bob Brett and Hugh Naylor. Because the experts find this road-side park too noisy for effective birding by ear, Hugh asked John Tschopp to act as leader to his favourite hot spots in the valley. He led the entourage to two winners, netting a broad spectrum of species and some not seen before by the experts in their previous surveys, notably: Western meadowlarks at the auction barns, and Sora and Virginia rails at the immaculate Walden residence. Along the way a Mountain bluebird was seen clearly by Hugh.

After lunch the experts, and a few others, travelled to the Meager Hot Springs turn-off (closed), managing to add two new species to the third edition of the Pemberton Bird checklist that Hugh had only distributed at the start of the day! An astonishing Wilson’s phalarope luckily spotted in a road-side marsh, followed by a quick across-the-windshield dash of a Red-naped sapsucker, have now increased their listed total to 227 species. By day’s end the sightings totalled about 65 species, with a Barred owl seen clearly in broad daylight.

On Sunday, the actual survey got underway at 4:30 a.m., beginning at the Meadow Park Sports Complex. The six experts, plus myself as chauffeur, stopped at 800-metre intervals and counted all birds seen or heard (and imagined) to as far as Pemberton Meadows. Fifty stops in all, and three minutes allotted at each, were surveyed. The first 20 stops are within the Whistler checklist area; a rare Chipping sparrow had to be our local bird of the day, but Black-headed grosbeaks, Pacific-slope flycatcher, Western tanagers, Nashville Warbler and Evening grosbeaks at one or more stops are also the locally hard-to-find birds. However, we failed to nab a Nighthawk or Wilson’s snipe despite the early hour of the survey.

Beyond the Soo River crossing, the stops are in the Pemberton checklist area. Excitement reigned opposite the Nairn Falls campsite with the presence of belatedly identified Peregrine falcons. Passing through Pemberton Village to collect the sole Gray catbird sighting, the adrenalin surged with a Yellow-headed blackbird, followed by an equally rare Bullock’s oriole. Then the expected Lazuli buntings refocused our attention until reaching the Auction Barns. The pressure was on, and, yes, the survey captured its first records of the Western meadowlark, but it took a long-distant view from a spotting scope to find them. They were way overdue, but you cannot hear them from the road; it was the spadework of John Tschopp the day before which uncovered the previous years of oversight. This concluded the formal survey.

After lunch a quick trip to the airport area under threatening skies added a few more surprises. The electricity of approaching storm fronts from two directions brought out a few swifts, alarmed Wood ducks, several raptors and two confused Trumpeter swans which should have been far to the north! In all, about 73 species were logged during the day, or pooled together over both days 96 species were recorded – not bad, considering that most of the waterfowl were absent and the only shorebird of many potential species was the phalarope, captured on digital imagery by the leader of the group George Clulow – a man with amazing acoustic recognition of birds, regardless of the overlapping complexities when several are singing at the same time. Our thanks to his henchmen as well: Dave, Derrick, Rob, Barry and Kevin of Eagle Bluff fame. And special kudos to Bill and Marjorie Walden who allowed the hoards to trample their yard to view the Sora – a bird sometimes heard, but rarely seen.

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