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NatureSpeak Articles

The 2004 year in birds

The checklist of Whistler’s avian fauna now sits at 233 species, two being added over this past year. One is an oversight from years gone by; a Snowy owl was often seen on Alta Lake’s shores in that cold, snowless winter of 1977. That was the year the mountain shut down for five or six weeks and the only winter sports were ice skating and a European form of curling. There were also those who tempted fate by driving their autos onto the lake, all to the amusement of the wise old owl.

The other addition to the list is more controversial. A Eurasian-collared dove appeared last August; was it an adventuresome one from other parts of the continent or an escapee from some local resident’s cage? Over the course of the year, which began on Dec. 1, 2003, the start of B.C. birders "fiscal" year, 169 species were positively identified. That is, 73 per cent of the known 233 species were sighted, which is not bad at all.

The early onset of all four seasons was a notable twist to the year’s appearance and disappearance of our feathered friends. Migration of spring arrivals began in early February and so it went with each season thereafter, a month a head of time, which wound up with a termination of the autumn migration period for most species by mid-October. No wonder our Christmas Bird Count of 2004 had such a dour day in mid-December. Nonetheless, there were unusual or rare sightings in each season as follows.

In the winter of 2002/03 both Greater and Lesser scaup ducks were on the lakes; robin and kingfisher hung around for the Christmas bird count of 2003, while there were once-only sightings of Cooper’s hawk, Fox sparrow, Lincoln sparrow and a Western gull, the latter at the soon-to-be-closed dump. During spring, the following noteworthies were seen: Nashville warbler, Western meadowlark, California gull (at the dump!), Western kingbird, Gray catbird, Ruddy duck, Eared grebe, Pectoral, Western and Least sandpipers, and perhaps an American goldfinch.

Summer brought on an early south-bound migration of waterfowl and shorebirds, the notables being: Blue-winged teal, Northern shoveler, Wood duck, Redhead, Surf and White-winged scoters, Ruddy duck, the second-ever record of an American bittern, and California and Herring gulls. Black and White warblers, Nashville warbler and American goldfinch were very rare songbird finds but the crème de la crème was the discovery of nesting Gray catbirds at Alpha Lake Park. A couple of really productive birding days in the autumn season brought out the final block of rare appearances: Yellow-billed and Pacific loons, Eared grebe, Red-breasted merganser, Rough-legged hawk, Marsh wren, Golden eagle, Eastern kingbird, Myrtle form of the Yellow-rumped warbler, Tennessee warbler, Chipping sparrow, Western meadowlark and a long-overdue pair of Lapland longspurs at Nicklaus North to close out a noteworthy year of rare sightings.

There were a few big gaps in the records, however. Six each of owl and sandpiper species and eight sparrow species on our list were no-shows or not seen. The notable absentees, however, are the following: Green heron (formerly a local nester), Spruce grouse, Rock pigeon, Three-toed woodpecker, Horned lark and Common redpoll (but seen on this year’s Christmas bird count of 2004). Several other absentees are known to be very rare or "accidental" sightings in years gone by. However, the following have not been seen in over a decade: Tundra swan, Rock and/or Willow ptarmigan, Red-necked Phalarope, Calliope and Annas hummingbirds, Western bluebird, Spotted owl, Eurasian widgeon, Short-billed dowitcher, Franklin’s gull, Lewis’ woodpecker, (Eastern) bluejay, Bank swallow, White-throated sparrow, and the late addition to our checklist – the Snowy owl.

Any sightings of these should be promptly reported to Mike Thompson, Whistler’s recorder of unusual bird data.

Upcoming events:

The Whistler Naturalists is presenting a Whistler Nature Photo Exhibit (Feb. 1-28) and Slideshow Exhibit (Feb. 24). The exhibits will feature images of the Whistler Valley and beyond from both amateur and professional photographers.

Monthly Bird Walk — The next bird walk will take place on Saturday, Feb. 5. Join Whistler experts in the monthly update of our feathered locals and migrants.

Written by: Karl Ricker


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