Naturespeak 

Numbers down for Whistler’s birds this summer

By Karl Ricker

Whistler Naturalists

Other than crows, jays, chickadees, robins and the town centre’s House sparrows there were few birds to be seen at Whistler this summer, especially July and August.

Admittedly it was hot and dry, which pushed the birds north as suspected during spring migration, but only few had begun their southward migration by the end of August. Not to worry though, there were substantial local broods of swallows, Blue grouse, robins and Yellow warblers, though waterfowl production was certainly skimpy — two or three broods each of Canada geese, Mallards and Common mergansers, and single families of Harlequins, Barrow’s goldeneyes and Wood ducks.

So where were the birds? Locally the juncos were in the upper forest near treeline; otherwise I saw bountiful populations of many species in the Cariboo and northern uplands.

Overall we tallied 125 species through the summer, of the 205 on the seasonal checklist, a below par 61 per cent sighting ratio. However, a lonely out-of-season Northern pintail duck was seen in mid-August, and we had a very rare sighting of a Boreal chickadee at Madely Lake in late August to push the total to 127. However, there were no new species additions to the list which stands at 245 for the Whistler region.

Going through the list, the significant absentees were grebes with only a few Pied-billed seen on our lakes in late August. There were no swans, and the return migration of most duck species has been stalled. So both scaup species, Bufflehead and Gadwall, have yet to appear, while the three teal species have only just shown up. Among the raptors only the Osprey (at Edgewater) and Merlins were seen throughout the summer. Mike and Shirley Thompson saw the only Peregrine falcon in early August while all hawk species have shunned this part of the corridor. Finally, in late August a Red-tailed hawk appeared at Black Tusk Village and the Soo Valley provided Kestrels and a rare Northern goshawk. Neither species of eagle was seen over the summer; closure of the landfill, which eliminated many potential prey, may be the cause.

Gulls, of course, have moved on to another active landfill and so it remains to be seen if they will visit our lakes in the migration period. The best sighting among the gulls was a lone Common tern, again by the Thompsons. Among the shorebirds — overall very scarce — Killdeer and Spotted sandpipers were the usual sightings; Wilson’s snipe were common during early summer, and a couple of Western sandpipers were on the Fitzsimmons delta in late August. Great blue heron were slow to arrive, possibly waiting for our fish populations to grow to an edible size, but by late summer three or more are now working our waterway shoals.

The many species of warblers and sparrows had no surprises this year. The expected species showed up, except for the Lincoln sparrow, while the casual and accidentals on our checklist escaped scrutiny if they were around. Finches and grosbeaks, however, were hardly seen throughout the summer, high or low, while blackbirds had a substantial early summer breeding presence, but disappearing to only a few by the end of the season.

Yes, it was a slow summer for the birding gang, but once the autumn bite of cold mornings set in we should reap the reward of the southward movements of the abundant summer populations that thrived in the northlands. Bird heil!

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