Summer sightings push Whistler’s bird checklist to 250 

Whistler has made it! Our 250 th species was recognized in mid-August over the course of 1.5 hours of detailed study using binocs, spotting scope and seven different field guides. Heather Baines and I agree that an out-of-range Forster’s tern graced Alta Lake for at least three days, and its appearance warranted a message on Vancouver’s “Bird Alert” hotline.

Our published checklist (2005) enumerates 242 species. For those of you who have a copy, the following eight species have since been recognized and are to be added to the list: Long-eared, Short-eared and Barn owls, Palm warbler, Ross’ goose, Pacific and American golden plovers, and the Forster’s tern.

dding three species of owl in such a short time span is amazing, given that owls of any species are so rarely seen or heard in the Whistler area.

And, we can thank Mike Thompson’s diligence on the difficult identification of the immature American golden plover which parked itself so conveniently near the Green Lake boardwalk for close scrutiny in July of this year.

Over the three summer months, it was slow birding with so few about, especially on the unusually vacant waterways. But on Aug. 31 rare Northern waterthrushes and our first Green heron of the year pushed the total to 140 species, 14 of which had not been seen beforehand during summer. The summer list of 2005 (208 species) is now revised to 222, and so the species sighting ratio for this season is 63 per cent.

A typical birding day would net only 20 to 30 species, although there was a good day of 45 at Shadow Lake, and there were several bad days of 10 to 20. Abundances of most species for many days were usually light with the exception of: Yellow and Common yellow-throat warblers, robins, Song and White-crowned sparrows, crows, Stellar jays and Swainson’s thrush.

By mid-August many of the breeding summer residents migrated out, leaving only the late broods of warblers and our year-round residents. Waterfowl (except Mallards) were especially scarce, as most had migrated northward, beyond Whistler, to carry on with breeding on the waterways of the Interior of the province. Only some have begun the southward trek with sightings of a few Surf scoters, Northern pintail, Red-necked and Pied-billed grebes, and Green-winged teal, beginning in mid-August. By mid-September the main waterfowl migration began and hopefully along with them a few more sandpipers and other shorebirds. In the last few days robins, vireos and White-crowned sparrows were moving through the valley, and the alpine summer residents are starting to show up on the valley floor.

Over the course of the summer there were a few highlights: all three species of loons (Common, Pacific, Yellow-billed) were seen on Alta Lake on the same day; three or four Great blue herons were present throughout the valley for most of the summer and the American bittern remained at the outlet of Alta Lake for the first week of June; all six swallow species were accounted for on at least one day; another Black-billed magpie showed up at Black Tusk Village (our second record); another lost racing pigeon was found at Blaylock’s residence; a great reduction in gulls, crows, ravens and starlings ensued with the final closure of the old compactor sight, and hardly any have moved over to the new site (yet); second records of Palm warbler and Swamp sparrows were tallied; successful breeding of the reclusive Wood duck was recorded in the Wild Life Reserve; and we had a return of Gray catbird and Eurasian Collared-dove for another year.

Reduced numbers for raptors, game birds, shorebirds (including gulls), owls, flycatchers, tits, and finches is disappointing, although Evening grosbeaks have rebounded. And smaller woodpeckers must still be feasting on pine beetles to the north.

The “Bioblitz” day saw three birding parties register 55 species in low volumes for most of the 24-hour period; this event provided a big assist in reaching the 140 seen over the summer period. Happily our mountains still have their Clark’s nutcrackers to disperse the seed of the vulnerable White-barked pine, and at least one brood of White-tailed ptarmigan has so far dodged the coyote in Symphony Basin.

And to wrap things up, cougars were sighted at Nicklaus North and Function Junction, and a pair of Roosevelt elk competed with deer for cover and forage at Nicklaus North. Bioblitz tallied 11 Hoary marmots on the new trail from Whistler summit to Flute-Picolo saddle, and the otters are back at Whistler Air’s base on Green Lake.

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