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NatureSpeak Articles

Autumn migration season winds up fiscal year-end for Whistler birding

Autumn migration season is always of great interest to ornithologists. Not only is it an indicator of the success of the breeding season in our northlands, but also it is a time to look for unusual species that have drifted off their regular passage routes. Including both the regular passers-by and the unusual drifters, over the eight years of documented local observations we have a record of 199 species for the autumn period, many being migrants not to be seen in winter (Dec. 1 to Feb. 28).

For this autumn, 102 species were tallied, providing a mediocre 51 per cent "recovery" on our list, with no new species sightings during the Sept. 1-Nov. 30 migration period. Obviously lacking are 28 species of regulars that should have been seen; some, however, took a jumpstart on migration season, seen to be moving through in late summer.

For all migrant species observed, there were no unusual quirks in abundances, although the migration season was all but finished in the first week of November. This put a damper on any more waterfowl to be moving through. The expected arrival of Trumpeter swans occurred a few days later. They will be seen for at least part of the winter season, as long as there is some open water.

Among the waterfowl, the highlights were the sighting of a record number (10) of long-tailed ducks on Green Lake, one day only, and the arrivals of all five species of grebes, around for several weeks, four of which had not been seen in spring. Of those, the Eared grebe was the off-route drifter; that is not seen too often at Whistler.

A flock of Sandhill cranes were seen by Bob Dorion in a one day fly-by, without landing unfortunately. A Western tanager provided our first autumn record of the species, a lone Snow bunting was on a stormy beachside at Alta Lake for another day, and a few Western meadowlarks were with us for about a week.

Surprising no-shows, however, were: Pacific loons, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Horned lark, Marsh wrens, American pipits, Mountain bluebirds, Wilson's warbler and American redstarts. None of them were seen during summer either. Local resident absentees are more baffling to explain, however: grouse, ptarmigan, Golden eagle (once again), several owls, Mountain chickadee, Brown creeper, Pine grosbeak and of all things, a Downy woodpecker!

For the year-end, despite the autumn omissions, 178 species of the 255 on our all-season checklist were seen, providing a comforting 70 per cent recovery factor. Considering that there were only 175 species on our first checklist, prepared in 1994, that 178 is fully significant! During the year, two species were added to the recently revamped list - a Morning warbler on Blackcomb Mountain, a Hermit warbler, plus a hybrid Hermit x Townsend warbler, in the same clump of trees on the Valley Trail (at the outlet dam near Alta Lake) - after re-publication of the list of course!

Late November's weather extremes plus last-minute Olympic preparations will probably provide a lean start to the new year of birding. The annual Christmas Bird Count to be done in mid-December will indicate the trend to follow.

Written by: Karl Ricker


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