Most birders will claim that any weekend spent birding is by definition a success. For the five of us who converged on Whistler last weekend for the annual June Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), successes were many. The weather co-operated, just! The company was good, and most important of all, good birds were seen.
Over recent years our annual visit has developed a pattern. Saturday morning we meet with members of the Whistler Naturalists and lead a birding tour around One Mile Lake. The hardier members of the group stick with us for the afternoon when we travel further afield from Pemberton looking for more birdy areas. Saturday evening is spent fuelling the local economy by reliving the day’s successes over good beer and good food at various Whistler pubs. Sunday morning we do the BBS proper.
The Breeding Bird Survey is one of the two most important bird surveys in the Americas. Not as well known at the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), it is a spring census of birds on their breeding grounds. The CBC by contrast is a winter census of birds on their wintering grounds. Both surveys produce important, continent-wide information about changing bird populations.
Capable birders are required for the BBS because much of the identification we do is by listening to songs and calls. Birds are hard to see when the leaves are on the trees. Fortunately, this is the time of year when birds sing. Unfortunately, they sing most in the earliest hours of the day, so we start the survey at 4:30 a.m.
For 30 years now teams of birders have been counting birds on the official survey route that runs 40 km from Whistler to Pemberton along Highway 99. This year’s team of five birders has been surveying the route for more than 10 years, and two of the group have been doing the survey for more than 20. We finish the survey around 9 a.m. and retire to the Pemberton Hotel for our traditional breakfast. After that, you guessed it, we take off for even more birding. Whistler/Pemberton is a great place to birdwatch.
Highlights of this year’s survey were many. The official route produced exactly 60 species – a good diversity of birds. Record numbers of Western Kingbirds were seen in the Pemberton Meadows area. We identified nine species of warblers on the route, and saw good numbers of Evening Grosbeaks, a bird that has declined significantly in recent years. The beautiful Lazuli Bunting continues to increase in the area, and many Black and Vaux’s Swifts still knife the skies in highlands and lowlands. Turkey Vultures are seen more commonly, and Common Nighthawks are still hanging on at Green Lake.
Our birding excursions beyond the survey route turned up some exciting rarities this year. A couple of Least Flycatchers were found near Pemberton airport, and a Gray Catbird was seen and heard singing just beyond.
A special thank you to Gordon McKeever at Rainbow Retreats for providing the accommodation for the five of us during our stay.
See you next year, and good birding.
Monthly Bird Walk – The next bird walk will take place this Saturday, July 3rd. Join Whistler experts in the monthly update of our feathered locals and migrants.
Written by: George Clulow