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NatureSpeak Articles

A Year in Review — Whistler’s Birds, 2002

Now that the seasonal observations and Christmas Bird Count summaries are out of the way, it is time to have an overall look at the past year’s activities of our birds. Not to bore you with statistics, we will remind the reader that the Checklist of Whistler Birds (published 1996, 175 species) is available free of charge at any of the following outlets: Whistler Museum and Archives, Tourist Bureau, Escape Route, and on the first Saturday of every month at the cul-de-sac on Lorimer Road (8 a.m.) from either Michael Thompson or the morning walk leader for that day. How many of those 175 species were seen over the past year? 155 or a healthy 87 per cent of the total. Not bad at all, although several were seen once only!

What species on the list escaped our detection: Tundra Swan (yellow under its bill), Redhead Duck (last seen Dec. 2001), Turkey Vulture (common at Squamish and Pemberton, hence should have flown by in migration seasons), Rock (or Willow) Ptarmigan (not seen in years, extirpated?), Semipalmated Plover (rare stop-over at Whistler in previous years), Solitary (Peet-weet) Sandpiper (solitary is bang-on!), Western and Least Sandpipers (few sightings, previous years), Red-necked Phalarope (arctic summer resident, not seen in recent years), Bonaparte’s and Thayer’s Gulls (should have been spotted), Rock Dove (i.e. "pigeon", not riding the freight trains out of Squamish in the last 1-2 years?), Northern Sawhet and Boreal owls (not enough owling time), Spotted Owl (the 55 or so pairs remaining in B.C. are being squeezed out by logging and aggressive Barred owls, there is one at least in the Lillooet Lake area, which could visit Whistler, each owl has 50-60 square km of exclusive territory), Calliope Hummingbird (rare, in this part of B.C., but could show up at a feeder, as they do at Squamish and Pemberton), Red-naped Sapsucker (it’s an Interior species, easily seen in the Kane-Voght Valley area, south of Merritt), Eastern Kingbird (we should have seen it), Cliff Swallow (local nesting area at the abandoned Rainbow ski area, "Paintball" and other offices, have not been re-occupied in the last two years), Western Bluebird (a very rare local species, but one might have been sighted on the Valley Trail near the south crossing of the River of Golden Dreams), Northern Shrike (small aggressive "loner" predator, which is always hard to find), and American Redstart (a warbler that seasonally inhabits the Interior).

Note, the report on autumn presence of Western Bluebirds in the Jan. 3, 2002 edition of Pique, should have read Mountain Bluebirds (my error).

Moving on to the recent amended additions to the Whistler checklist (1996-2001), there are another 36 species; nearly all are considered to be rare visitors, but 16 were seen, a very healthy 44 per cent. Those sighted in year 2002: Yellow-billed Loon (asymmetrical bill, seen several times in the autumn), Red-breasted Merganser (on Green Lake, during spring), Peregrine Falcon (several sightings), Rough-legged Hawk (on Whistler Mtn., in early autumn, black band across the tail), Semi-palmated Sandpiper (on Alpha Lake at islet), Western Gull (most are Glaucous Winged — Western hybrids, but one non-hybrid dark-backed individual was at the dump, several times), Mew Gull (the small gull, easily confused with Ring-billed Gull in juvenile form), California Gull (large gull with yellow-green legs), Caspian Tern (migrating north), Hutton’s Vireo (easily confused with Ruby-crowned Kinglet), Bullock’s Oriole (Alpha Lake, spring), Nashville Warbler (appears to be a widespread but sparse local summer resident), Northern Waterthrush (Green Lake Walkway, autumn), Vesper Sparrow (Green Lake walkway, spring), and Hoary Redpoll (many sightings during last writer’s Common Redpoll "irruptive" event). We can’t dwell on the 20 additions that were not seen.

However, 2002 was a banner year for further additions to the amended species checklist; in all there were 11 good confirmed additional species sightings, a fleeting glance at a probable 12 th . The following were seen by a combination of misfortune (east to west storm track in late spring), pure blind luck, and the persistence of sharp seasoned birders: American Blackduck (one pair in wetlands, October), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (very rare in B.C. but also seen at Victoria — blind luck on our part), Gray Catbird (a victim of the storm?, also seen at D’Arcy-Devine several times), Veery (common resident at Pemberton), Tennessee and Blackpoll Warblers (in autumn migration, off course?), Swamp Sparrow (overdue, the experts nabbed it along the Green Lake Walkway in late April), Grasshopper and Brewers sparrows (storm victims), Caissins Finch ("red hat" finches, also storm victims), the fleeting glance at a Say’s Phoebe on Aug. 18 th (Interior species, migrating off course), and a dead Western Screech Owl, a now-confirmed find on a Lost Lake Trail.

So in a nutshell there were 181 species sighted over the year, which in a mountain valley environment is very good; thanks to those who participated in the Saturday monthly bird walks and those who phoned in their hot tips. The updated Whistler checklist now stands at 223 species. What new ones year 2003 brings will be most interesting… see Pique in January, 2004!

Written by: Karl Ricker


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