By: Karl Ricker
Whistler Naturalist Society
Date: May 30, 2003
In late spring, expert birders carry out breeding surveys throughout many areas of the province as part of a continent-wide project to check the renewal of avian fauna on a year by year basis. Surveys are on set routes (transects) with stops at 800 metre intervals to count all species within eye sight and ear shot during a three minute interval.
There are two transect surveys in the Sea to Sky corridor: Whistler to Pemberton Meadows (39.2 km) and Shalath to D’Arcy along the Anderson Lake Powerline Road. That’s 50 stops on each transect, the first being the Highway 99 crossing of the River of Golden Dreams for the local transect.
As a warm-up to retune their ears to the local species, the experts from Duncan (2), Sunshine Coast, Burnaby and North Vancouver conducted a public hike around One-Mile Lake on June 14 in which approximately 25 people participated.
The hike proceeded counter-clockwise around the lake; not a single duck or coot was on the water! The experts were picking off most of the 49 total species recorded by ear! An obvious robin provided comic relief, and surprisingly a rarely seen American restart (a warbler) flashed its red wings. An osprey picked a good-sized fish from the lake and a turkey vulture buzzed the throng at head level to close the very constructive three-hour tour. Other “birds-of-the-day” were skydiving, Vaux’s and black swifts. As usual, veery’s and warbling vireos dominated the noise, next to the freight train passing through. Seven species of warblers and four species of flycatcher, including alder, were heard, but rarely seen, to round out the highlights of the morning. In the afternoon on the Duffey Lake Road, even the experts had trouble separating the songs of the Swainson’s thrush alpine dialect from its brethren, the hermit thrush, but alas a spotting scope view of the latter in full throaty song mode settled the issue! The amateurs won out on the debate!
On Sunday I joined the breeding survey for more earshot birding. The first 21 stops are within the Whistler birding area; nighthawks provided the excitement at four stops along Green Lake at the early morning twilight hour. Otherwise, the birding was by ear with robins heard at 15 stops. Unfortunately the Wilson snipes at Stop 1 were heard at 4:25 a.m. and not at 4:32 a.m. which was the official start time for the survey! So 32 species were logged in the first 21 stops, which included welcomed MacGillivray’s warblers and the rarely seen morning dove south of Rutherford Creek. On suicide hill the traffic drowned out the approach, providing scant data on what was recorded. Two stops in Pemberton picked up sitting house sparrows after mixed ID suggestions on the flying stock – even experts have their days with problems! Out towards Pemberton Meadows, the three “icing-on-the-cake” stops coughed up eight beautifully coloured lazuli buntings and kestrels in fresh-cut hay fields. The nesting survey yielded a somewhat low 53 species because of cool temperatures and low overcast throughout the Highway 99 portion of the route. It will be interesting to see how the 24th survey stacks up against those of earlier years when road traffic was much lighter.
Much thanks to Barry Janyk, Kevin Bell, Dave Aldcroft, Derrick Marven, and Geoge Clulow for their excellent and persistent volunteer work on our local birding scene.