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NatureSpeak Articles

Early fall for migrating birds

(Continued from last week)

Among the rails and shorebirds the record is very spotty. No shortage of American Coots, although they were a little slow in arrival, but Sora and Virginia Rails left early. Killdeer were constantly harassed at Fitzsimmons Creek delta on Green Lake by inconsiderate dog owners and this menace may account for the paucity of sightings of Sandpipers and Dowitchers for this year. Several species failed to stop over.

Our gull population again performed the daily autumn bathing rituals, with hundreds on some days flying from the landfill to, usually, Alta Lake (where the water is warmer). It seems that all the summer dust has to come off before winter sets in. What happens to our gull population after the landfill closes is a big question. Most of these are marine Glaucous-winged Gulls and hence will likely move back to Squamish. However, gulls and terns, which live farther north during summer, were seen in few numbers at Green Lake this autumn – Common Tern, Bonaparte’s and Herring Gulls. The Ring-billed Gull escaped detection this year.

Whistler has its problems with doves – escapees of exotic species, refusal of Rock Doves to again be part of the town centre attraction, and now a lack of sightings of the indigenous species: Band-tailed Pigeon and Mourning Dove. Owls have been equally scarce with a few indecisive reports of Great Horned Owls and a lone few toots of a smaller species at Emerald Estates. Other than the precocious presence of the Northern Flicker, woodpeckers are scarce and likely will remain so while the pine beetles continued to raze the forests to the north of the Soo River. Has anybody seen a Hairy or Three-toed Woodpecker in the last few months?

Among the jays and crows we're in great shape, all are accounted for in good numbers with ravens on some days outnumbering the crows. Mountain Chickadees have made a conspicuous appearance in the lowlands of the Greater Vancouver area this autumn, and one(!) was seen on the Squamish delta. Alas, there are no reports for them at Whistler, and for that matter other alpine counterparts. The Horned Lark and Hermit Thrush have also escaped detection; whereas American Pipits moved from the uplands to lakeshore level in decent numbers on several days. Other thrush birds have now appeared in their expected numbers, led by the colourful Varied Thrush and reluctantly followed by very few Townsend’s Solitaires. While a few American Robins are still hanging around, Swainson’s Thrushes quietly left town in September.

Three of the four species of Vireo were around in September, but the Hutton’s Vireo, a very rare listing, never was spotted. This year there were several observations of the eastern race (Myrtle form) of the Yellow-rumped Warbler to offset our disappointment in the no-shows of Northern Water Thrush and few other very rare warbler visitors.

In the Sparrow family, the chest-streaked species failed to produce a Lincoln’s, Harris or Vesper while the clear-breasted ones were dominated by the White-crowned. Others of the latter type were darn few, including the Golden-crowned; the abundant Snow Bunting reports in the Vancouver area cannot be recounted here — yet.

In the Blackbird or Icterid family of birds, surprisingly all moved out quickly; lingerers over the winter are usual but so far there are no hints of this happening this year. Brown-headed Cowbirds actually left in August but one showed up in Mike Suggate’s back yard at Emerald in mid-October. The mystery of the autumn season, however, is the Finch type of birds which failed to maintain their usual autumn presence. House and Purple Finch observations are wanting altogether. Crossbill reports lack confirmation, and Grosbeaks are sparingly seen, with the exception of the Black-headed that left us in mid-summer. Pine Siskin flocks are few and in the tens of birds, rather than the hundreds. Christmas Bird Counts in the next few weeks will clear up the confusion on the lack of the finches. However, our House Sparrow population at the town centre is thriving, the European Starlings are still at the landfill, and the Dark-eyed Juncos are now looking for some yard feeder hand-outs.

For Whistler’s Christmas Bird Count, our 15 th , to be held on December 14 th , please give us an assist with a few attractants, providing Michael Allen’s bears have gone to bed. Otherwise, help us count; phone Mike Thompson if you can do so.

Upcoming Events:

Whistler Christmas Bird Count 2004 — to be held on Tuesday, Dec. 14. More eyeballs are needed, so please call Karl Ricker at 604-938-1107 to offer yourself up for the day's birding and the "Apres birding" results party!

Written by: Karl Ricker


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