Autumn: As Johanna Wagstaffe says on her CBC weather report, meteorological autumn ends on November 30th and we see most of our migratory birds by this date. Worth mentioning is that our mid-November snowstorm caused birds to stop over in Whistler two-weeks early. The number of birds seen this autumn was low, so it was surprising to see that a record number of species was recorded. Between September 1st to November 30th, 125 species were observed, which was 11 more than the previous record (in 2006).
Why the increase in species despite the low number of birds seen? Certainly, Covid has kept us home with our time taken up with more daily bird walks—that is, far more hours on the job! Another factor is the observers: Liz Barrett with her kayak and long lens camera has seen at least a dozen species that are hard to find; and a newcomer in our fold, Dea Lloyd, has added a few as well.
Species highlights this fall include the flocks of Pine Siskins which have returned after a one-year absence. Hopefully, they will hang around over the winter—look for sawdust under alder trees generated by siskins that chew catkins. Of note, five of the seven North American species of Grebes have passed through: Pied-billed (most prevalent), Red-necked (several days on both big lakes), Horned (a few), Eared (a few) and Western (very few). We also snagged a few Canvasback ducks on Alta Lake and a single Long-tailed Duck on Green Lake on another day.
Over the year, what were the rest of the highlights?
Winter 2019-2020: The birding year began at the 2019 Christmas Bird Count with the rare sighting of a marine Surf Scoter at the Fitzsimmons Creek outflow into Green Lake. The Christmas count recorded 44 species but the winter season was slow thereafter and finished the season at 53 species, eight below average.
Spring: In March, the beginning of spring season saw the welcomed return of Trumpeter Swans in several good-sized flocks. Their stay here ended in early April after about 350 of those elegant creatures had passed through. Another highlight was the arrival of several flocks of Golden-crowned Sparrows, a secretive species not usually seen in robust numbers. The surprise for the season, however, was a marine rock reef inhabitant: a way-out-of-place Black Turnstone on the float plane wharf. The spring season ended on May 31st with 134 species, which was average.
Summer: The June to August count was none too shabby with a second highest seasonal count of 133 species. Summer highlights were the well camouflaged American Bittern (a heron), a very seldom seen House Wren, and get this—a Barn Owl seen by the Schwartz family near the bird viewing stand on Alta Lake. That was the second-ever seen Barn Owl in Whistler over 98 years of observations!
Summary: Thus, at avian year-end, 182 species were seen over 12 months which is third highest over the 16 years of tallying. We now look forward to a successful but Covid-restricted Christmas Bird Count to kick off the winter season of 2021.
Written by: Karl Ricker and Kristina Swerhun