Whistler, Squamish bird counts in 

The final tallies from the annual Christmas bird count are in, and according to Whistler bird count organizer Karl Ricker things went as well as they could have under the circumstances.

"The stormy weekend before the count day did us in, leaving many birds in secluded refuge and others who took flight to points south," said Ricker of his final tally.

Twenty-six people in field parties and eight feeder watches all chipped into the count of 50 species (a second best for the group) and 3,078 birds – down from last year’s record count of 5,243 birds and 61 species.

"Birds continued to disappear as the week dragged on, leaving very little to look at in our Christmas and Boxing Day strolls through the usual valley hot spots," said Ricker. "Even the swans disappeared. So count week additions were a bust after count day, but we did add three species on the day before count day."

The highlight of the bird count was the sighting of a Northern Hawk Owl en route to the 7th Heaven lift on Blackcomb. It was only the second sighting of this species in Whistler or Garibaldi Park.

The Western Gull sighting was unusual, but not unexpected as it’s regularly sited in Squamish counts. The Barrow’s Goldeneye and Band-tailed Pigeon were also unusual.

The only indigenous species remaining to be sighted by the annual count are the Ruby Crown Kinglet, Blue Grouse, Spotted and Barrel Owls, American Pipit, Hoary Redpoll, Snowbunting and Gray-crowned Rosy Finches – one was spotted by Horstman Hut in December, but the count missed it.

The Whistler Bird Count usually compares its findings with those of other ski resorts. Banff beat Whistler in the count this year with 4,633 birds, but only spotted 45 species. Jackson Hole in Wyoming took the species title with 63 sighted.

Meanwhile, down in Squamish bird watchers were having a hard time accessing any of the trails they usually include in their Christmas bird count. Their count of 59 species on Dec. 17 was the lowest ever since the tradition took hold in 1980.

Squamish regularly boasts the highest Bald Eagle count in the Western Hemisphere, and this year’s count of 1,153 will likely be close, says count co-ordinator Jim Wisnia. "But I suspect the true numbers were nearly double those.

"We just couldn’t get to most of the usual river and side-channel areas. Skis and snowshoes just broke through the thin ice, then got hung up under it. Breaking a trail on foot was so slow and tiring and participant safety was a concern."

As it was, 24 participants counted 8,130 birds, which is a little below average.

The "bird of the day" was a Long-Tailed Duck, last reported in the area around 1984.

Christmas Bird Counts started with one in New York City in 1900, and this year’s 101st annual event included more than 1,800 counts all over the Western Hemisphere – the largest "citizen science" project in the world.

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