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NatureSpeak Articles

A Whimbrel makes its first appearance in our spring migration

A Whimbrel, you have to be kidding!

What is that? This is a large shorebird that belongs to the sandpiper clan, but normally is only rarely seen along the Pacific coastal shores of B.C., and more frequently passing through the prairies en route to its breeding grounds in Alaska, Yukon and the western shoreline of the Beaufort Sea.

The bird has a long, slender and curved bill, making for easy identification, to be confused with only a Long-billed Curlew. The latter is much larger, with yet a longer bill, as long as the bird itself.

Whistler also had one of those several years ago on the Niklaus North Golf Course.

The sighting of the Whimbrel was in early April by John Mikes and spouse on the edge of the ice at Green Lake. A few days later the same bird was likely seen at Pemberton, its first ever, and later in the season a pair showed up at Squamish, though not a first record for that location.

The highest counts were with Bufflehead ducks; mallards, American wigeons, ring-necked ducks and Canada geese were unspectacular in numbers and we had only one pair each of blue-winged teal and redheads.

Not seen in the waterfowl category, surprisingly, were a few other species of geese (though all seen at Squamish) and the canvasback and red-breasted merganser ducks and the recently listed "species of concern," western grebe.

The presence of several raptor species has been minimal to date, which includes hardly any reports of their nocturnal brethren, hooting owls.

The osprey arrived at their nest sites on time; the most prominent site being the Edgewater property opposite the Meadowpark arena.

Eight other shorebird species have been seen, primarily at Green Lake: killdeer, least sandpiper and Wilson's snipe on a regular basis. The large "garbage" gulls have not drifted north from Squamish, for a change, but low numbers of smaller migratory gulls have made a few stops at the Fitzsimmons Creek delta.

Yes, the evasive Eurasian collared-dove is back and Mike Sparks is being tormented again by hungry band-tailed pigeons in his back yard. The non-migratory woodpecker scene is normal, with the hard-to-find three-toed seen almost daily on the ptarmigan racecourse run during the Canadian championships in March. There were also white-tailed ptarmigan on the course during race week! A well-named ski run!

Small songbird arrivals have been low key, sporadic in numbers, but most expected species eventually seen. The only western meadowlark was found by Kira Sufalko at the Jersey Cream chairlift instead of on a grassland at valley floor.

Mountain bluebirds have again bypassed their breeding boxes at Nicklaus North with only one seen nearby. The only snow bunting wasn't on snow, but at MacBeth Glacier during a Spearhead traverse.

Horned Lark, not seen last year at all, made brief stopovers on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta and at long last the gray catbird is here once again after an eight-year absence.

So, how did the migration timing fare after such an unusual winter, late arriving spring and temperamental weather periods in May?

Surprisingly, 60 species arrived one to four weeks ahead of their usual time (based on 15 years of records), 22 arrived within three days of their usual time, and 26 have been one-to-several weeks late. There are another 25 species that didn't show up, or at least not yet, and five other species do not normally appear until June.

The dive-bombing buzz of the common nighthawk can be expected as well.

The Naturalists Society has just released a new checklist of our birds. Unfortunately, the Whimbrel was found after it went to press. Copies of the list are available at the Whistler Museum, behind the library

Written by: Karl Ricker


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