Resurgence of Evening grosbeaks highlight spring migration of 2008 

Boisterous and gregarious, Evening grosbeaks were very hard to come by anywhere in North America over the last decade. A species-of-concern designation was continually touted by the various ornithological groups that are monitoring bird populations. They disappeared altogether from the radar of our Christmas Bird Counts until the past one, when a flock of about 40 were seen in mid-December. By mid-February their piercing whistle-type of calls were a daily occurrence. Numbers of the species vastly multiplied during March and April, everywhere, at valley level in the Sea to Sky corridor. Our banner day was a flock of at least 200 within earshot of Pique’s offices at Function Junction. Even a group of 10-20 is a noisy intrusion in any backyard, which was often the case up to mid-May, when they suddenly departed for points east and north.

What brought on the "irruption” after years of very few sightings? This finch has an enormous deep and rugged bill, suggesting that good conifer cone crops may have triggered the explosion. But, our provincial ornithologist extraordinaire, Dick Cannings, says it’s the resurgence of the soft-and juicy spruce budworm cycle, which also attacks Douglas fir trees, that is responsible for the irruption, noted also in Manning Park as well as along the Mt. Baker access highway in the U.S. Cascades. At May month-end I noted large groups of the bird east of the Cascades, across the southern part of the province to as far as the Oliver-Osoyoos area in the Okanagan, in concert with the disappearance of those that were around us locally.

The Evening grosbeak is a colourful character, especially the adult males with their bright yellow “goggles” on the forehead and a body colour of rich yellow, black tail, dark brown neck, head and chest, and black wings with a white patch of secondary feathers. In a tree they puff up to robin-size, but once airborne are slimmer. Certainly they are hard to ignore by anyone out for a stroll at any time during the day when they are around.

As for the migration season on other species, certainly the late arrival of spring held up the returns or passing through of many. Other than Canada geese and Mallards, the counts on waterfowl are down, although 25 species have been seen. Exceptions are the few Wood duck in usual low numbers and a flock of 40-50 Surf scoters seen for a few days on Green Lake. For the latter the tally is usually 10 or less, but with several thousand scoters on Howe Sound this year its not surprising that the odd, modest-sized flock is on its way north through our corridor.

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