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NatureSpeak Articles

Spring migration 2009

All agree it was a cool spring, with great powder skiing days in late March and early April and ice cover on our lakes lasting a week or two later than average. But surprisingly the climate-induced slow migration season began with the arrival of a few Trumpeter swans and Canada geese in late February, with hardly any open water to accommodate them. By mid-March the swan numbers had increased to 60 birds, by Jim Wharin's counts, and then slowly diminished to a residual two by the first weekend in April when the Naturalists carried out their monthly census. The swans were well on their way north by this time when the "real" migration commenced.

The census recorded 26 species, revealing a big influx of robins, juncos, Song and White-crowned sparrows. It also turned up a pair of Wood ducks. Thereafter the valley had new species arrivals almost every day, with robust counts on a few songbirds, but only pedestrian to low counts on waterfowl species. We did not have a day where any lake was filled with flocks of ducks.

In late April, species counts slowly increased into the 30s, reaching 45 on the May 2 census. Two rare days of 50 species on May 14 and 47 on May 17 were tops for the season, with counts diminishing ever since; many species had moved north, and the residuals were hunkered down in nesting mode. A day of 20 to 30 species is now the usual; the late May arrival of Cedar waxwings, the usual last of the significants to appear, has signalled the final gasp of migration season.

For the summer season, which began June 1, a few isolated "casuals" will likely show up. For spring the tally was 127 species seen of the 217 on the checklist (for spring). Obviously, we have missed a few that normally would have been seen.

Nonetheless, there were some good "spots" by our local residents. The Mattson residence at Nicklaus North was the spotlight. They had a rare Eurasian collared-dove for two weeks in early May, Yellow-headed blackbirds soon after, the first report of the Black-headed grosbeak, a Yellow-shafted Flicker, and, to top it off, the second spring record ever of a Red-naped sapsucker! The "bottle ladies" at the depot were right behind with a rare American goldfinch, Pine grosbeak and three Turkey vultures circling Alta Lake.

As always, Sharon Frankelson reported the first Rufous hummingbirds of the season and has kept a sharp eye on a pair of Bald eagles that perch near her home on Alta Lake Road. The local interest is fabulous. For we seasoned birders, our contributions pale in comparison although the following are somewhat significant.

The following no-shows are noteworthy: Horned grebe (of national worry), Northern pintail duck, Lesser scaup duck (abundant elsewhere), Harlequin duck (at least not yet seen or reported locally), Ruddy duck, Sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, Golden eagle, Herring and Thayer's gulls, Common tern, Barred and Northern Pygmy owls, Gray catbird, Townsend's solitaire, Brown creeper, crossbills, Nashville warbler, American redstart, and Three-toed woodpecker. The latter is always tough to find, but for the others their absence is puzzling.  Certainly it isn't climate warming; I'll bet on the cold spring and perhaps point a finger at highway construction as an added deterrent to stopovers.

The pleasant surprises to counteract the above are: an amazing observation by Cougar Mtn. staff of a Northern goshawk grabbing a Snowshoe hare, Green heron at Nicklaus North, Surf and White-winged scoters on Green Lake for several days, a Cooper's hawk behind Nesters, Baird's sandpiper at Cheakamus Lake, Horned Lark on Fitzsimmons delta, several sightings of Northern shrike and Mountain bluebirds, and the return of Evening grosbeaks - a species of national concern.

Our concern, however, is the drop in sandpiper species. While the Spotteds have come back in robust numbers, and a few Wilson snipe, Killdeer and Greater yellow-legs have passed through, there are a dozen other species on our list, seen years previous, but with fewer and fewer sightings each year until we've drawn a blank so far this year.  heir habitat is fairly specific - parkland and shorelines that require special attention in meeting Whistler's sustainability goals 

Written by: Karl Ricker


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