Few highlights in Whistler’s summer season for birds
Summer birding season at Whistler was certainly not a barn burner, nor did we expect it to be. A dodgy spring migration season had set us up to not expect a plethora of birds for the summer - especially for waterfowl. The usual summer residents moved in with no unusual patterns in distribution, except in the alpine where we missed the ptarmigan, pipits, Pine grosbeaks and Fox sparrows. For that matter, not even a Mountain chickadee was recorded; but on the other hand Hermit thrush sang out their musical stanzas on our upper mountain slopes to signify that not all was lost.
The species tally for the season was 109 out of the 224 on our summer checklist, a not-so-comforting 49 per cent recovery. In fact, for the first time in many years it fell to less than half. While this may appear to be alarming, we should caution that 88 of the missing species are accidentals (one observation only on record) and casuals (not seen every year), meaning that there are 27 other species that should have been seen.
Some of the absenteeism may be due to a lack of qualified observers over the summer season. Heather Baines spent most of her birding hours in the Pemberton region collecting data for the provincial Breeding Bird Atlas, as she was the coordinator in charge of this area. Chris Dale, who had similar duties for the Whistler region, had to make weekly trips to Vancouver Island on other pressing matters. This writer was on high mountain trails elsewhere for half of the summer, while Jim Wharin and family vacated the smoke for better salt air at Nelson Island for the entire summer. However, some of the province's best birders were on hand during Bioblitz and they recorded an unusually low species count for that special event.
Of the waterfowl, Mallards, Hooded and Common mergansers, and Barrow's goldeneyes produced a few broods of ducklings on our local lakes and ponds, whereas broods of Canada geese were much more prolific. Single families of Harlequin and Ring-necked ducks were also reported but we appeared to have struck out on any reproductive teal, Wood duck, Common goldeneye, and Pied-billed grebe. In fact, several of these waterfowl species were not seen at all.
Among the raptors, our Osprey at Edgewater had another successful nesting season and successful nesting of Merlins at Nita and Green Lakes were highlights. Soo River bluffs harboured a Peregrine falcon and Northern goshawk for much of the summer, which obviously dampened the breeding success of waterfowl on nearby Shadow Lake. For the second year, however, we failed to collect a Golden eagle observation.
Shorebirds (gulls, plovers, sandpipers, terns) were again scarce throughout the season. Spotted sandpipers, however, may have had some local breeding success, and we managed to snag our second summer record of a Greater yellowleg. A few Bonapartes, Ring-billed and California gulls were seen on Green Lake. There was a windy day with Common terns soaring over Alta Lake and Al Mattson saw the only and much larger Caspian terns. Surprisingly, Glaucous-winged gulls were not seen on our lakes, or at the compactor station, the usual gull species in the Georgia Basin and adjoining inlets.
Our local species of swifts, swallows, jays, vireos, thrushes, warblers and flycatchers were about at usual levels; Rufous hummers were abundant and still around at the close of the summer season. Common nighthawks eluded us for the first two months of the summer, but in mid-August, Mike Suggette saw 30 or more working the surface of Green Lake for insects.
Surprising no-shows were Gray catbird, Western meadowlark, Purple finch, Brown creeper, American coot, Townsend's solitaire and Golden-crowned kinglet, and our owling efforts were pathetic. The Whistler checklist remained unchanged with one minor exception: a first summer recording of an Eurasian widgeon was tallied on our monthly bird walk in July.
The colossal epidemic of interior forest fires will, no doubt, have some impact on the autumn migration scene. Inland fly-way routes, including the Sea to Sky corridor, will likely experience some unusual changes in numbers and route patterns. Perhaps the birding scene will revert to normal levels once the smoke clears and the Olympics leave this corner of the province.
Written by: Karl Ricker