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NatureSpeak Articles

Christmas Bird Counts (2004) in the Sea to Sky Corridor

It took a while, but finally nearly all data for the Christmas Bird Counts of 2004 are now tabulated in the computer files of Bird Studies Canada ( The long delay was generated by an ornery input program which frustrated some of the local compilers and it proved to be downright incompatible to those who had firewalls in their personal computers. After the frustrations were vented, the data for the six Christmas Bird Counts in the Sea to Sky Corridor is online. The local slow-down is the complexity of the Lower Howe Sound count; each island therein (Bowen, Keats, Gambier, etc.) as well as Horseshoe and Lions Bay carries out their own local count, providing a logistical data retrieval challenge to the overall computer. Islanders can’t be hurried!

Overall, the cumulative result for the six counts in the corridor was poor to fair, logging a total of 122 species with ups and downs for numbers of each. Lower Howe Sound and its outer coastal marine climate was again the leader with 86 species, followed by: Squamish (72), Pemberton (48), Lillooet (47), D’arcy (45) and Whistler at the rear with 43! All counts were below their usual species totals by 5 to 10 per cent. In numbers of birds counted, however, Squamish (11,276) easily out-distanced the others, thanks to a high Glaucous-winged gull count (4,869) and local record counts of Canada geese (344), Mallards (956), Ring-necked duck (72), Bufflehead (267) and an unusual seven Western Meadowlarks. Whistler’s 2,201 gulls were only a local record, and without them (next year?) only 1,285 other birds were seen. However, the narrow valleys about D’arcy coughed up only 599 birds but the few yielded biodiversity. All field parties throughout the corridor found the woods and backyards to be very quiet; song birds were darn few, and the autumn migrants for all but a few tardy waterfowl had departed. It was ducks and offshore marine birds that provided most of the easy counts, other than gulls, crows and ravens at the landfills!

Nonetheless, there were some notable local highlight records: 5 Brown creepers at Whistler; 80 Brandt’s cormorants, 11 Red-breasted mergansers and an outstanding 35 Anna’s hummingbirds in the Lower Sound; 10 Ruffed grouse at Lillooet; 65 Pine grosbeaks at Pemberton edged out Lillooet’s 60; and 8 Band-tailed pigeons at D’arcy. Unusual finds (in low numbers) were at the following areas; Squamish (their first and B.C.’s third ever Western scrub jay, Canvasback duck, out of range American crow); Pemberton (Lapland longspur and Black-headed grosbeak); and Lillooet (Barred owl, "eastern" Bluejay, Blue grouse, and Mountain bluebird). Four owl species were sighted or heard; the tiny Northern pygmy owl was spotted at all six count areas.

Other species common to all counts are the following: Great blue heron, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common goldeneye, Common merganser, Bald eagle, Belted kingfisher, Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, Northern flicker, Steller’s jay, Raven, Black-capped chickadee, American dipper, Spotted towhee, Song sparrow, Dark-eyed junco and Pine siskins. But Squamish had "only" 947 eagles, 240 below the 23-year average, while Pemberton pulled in a local record of 73.

Furthermore, after near record highs last year, the population of dippers crashed this year, with Squamish finally beating out Lillooet with a paltry total of 36. Pine siskins of cyclical high and lows were very low on this year’s counts —— Squamish again taking top spot with 616, as opposed to thousands in some previous years. To close on a positive note, a close northern relative of the Siskin, Common redpoll, was present at many B.C. counts, including Whistler (14) and Lillooet (a notable 475).

The marine waterfowl was the exclusive domain of 46 species not seen inland. Most were alcids, sea ducks and shorebirds but there were also raptors (usually present inland but not this year – Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, Golden eagle, Kestrel) and songbirds (Bushtit, Bewicke’s wren, Ruby-crowned kinglet, Hutton’s vireo, Hermit thrush, White and Golden crowned sparrows and Red-winged blackbirds). And the only White-winged crossbills were at Squamish; usually they are on Whistler’s alpine domain but this year’s cone crop is sparse, forcing many finch family birds to go elsewhere. Of particular concern, continent wide, is the ever-diminishing numbers of Evening grosbeaks. Happily, only Whistler missed them in the corridor, but their numbers were down except at Lillooet, which tallied a new local record of 67.

Some inland counts had their own exclusive species "rights". At Whistler it was our alpine Clark’s nutcracker and White-tailed ptarmigan; Pemberton unveiled the wily and well-hidden Spruce grouse, an out of season Black-headed grosbeak and out of range Lapland longspur; D’arcy had the only goshawk, and Lillooet had its usual eastern array of Morning dove, Black-billed magpie, White-breasted and Pygmy nuthatches, the loner Townsend’s solitaire, Bohemian waxwing, American goldfinch and Sawhet owl. However, the latter failed to find their usual Chukar, a typical gamebird enumerated at several Interior B.C. counts, and Lillooet’s usually significant raptor count was reduced to two birds only!

Yes, it was an unusual season of Christmas bird counts throughout; hopefully the weather on next year’s count day will help pull Whistler’s results out of the bottom of the barrel.


Whistler Naturalists Speaker Series Presents: Seasons of the Grizzly. Presented by Fred Seiler at Millennium Place, Wednesday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. Fred has spent the last 25 years observing grizzly bears in their natural habitat. In his presentation, he will talk about the grizzly’s life cycle and the overall health of their biodiversity.

Written by: Karl Ricker


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