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Whistler bird count figures tallied: Autumn migration was slow to arrive in 2012

BUFFLEHEADS BY THE HUNDREDS Green Lake in Whistler played host in October.

A blazing hot late summer carried on into October; would autumn ever arrive? It had repercussions on the migratory movements of our waterfowl. Loafing in the heat on the waterways in the interior, most of the ducks wouldn't move towards the coast until the weather broke in mid-October. Meanwhile, smaller birds passed unnoticed through our leaky surveillance net leaving very thin bird lists each day we were on patrol.

The only exceptions to the absentees were a large flock of Canada geese in late September, and a flocking up of robins soon after for a few days. Our ospreys, however, left town in their usual late September departure to be replaced by a Northern Harrier hawk cruising the Nicklaus North wetlands.

Finally, on October 20 after a decidedly wet and blustery few days, the waterfowl began to arrive; American wigeon, mallards and Ring-necked ducks for the first few days, and on Oct. 26 at least six hundred ducks on Green Lake alone with Buffleheads counting for more than half.

And so it continued in lesser waves into early November with rare surprise species on several days. An unprecedented flock of 17 Ruddy ducks graced Alta Lake in that period and other hard-to-find species appeared: Surf and White-winged scoters, Canvasbacks, Redheads and Long-tailed ducks. This year the swans arrived on time, Oct. 25, in mixed flocks of Trumpeters and Tundras; the latter are not seen every year in the Sea to Sky corridor. Tundras have a yellow spot on the bill near their cheeks; otherwise they are hard to distinguish from the noisier Trumpeters.

The autumn migration has now ended with the usual few remaining lingerers, bolstered by a few late arrivals. Swans are remaining on the lakes until freeze-up is complete. This could be well in to the month of January.

The surprise species of note for the autumn season was the Snowy owl arriving in late November.

In the autumn period, 107 species were noted out of the 203 in our current seasonal checklist. This is a low return (53 per cent), which normally is about 70 per cent. A new species for the period is the Baird's sandpiper, that nests in the high arctic and is not often seen in summer in its southbound movements through the Sea to Sky corridor.

For the year as a whole, which concluded on Nov. 30, 176 species were tallied on the all- season checklist of 261 species. Compared to previous years it is down a few per cent, but no cause for alarm. The one and only new addition this year is a Sabine's gull.

The big surprise, however, was the long-overdue, second-ever sighting of the Franklin's gull by Dr. Heather Baines. All of our raptors were seen except for the American kestrel. Somehow we failed to find a Herring gull, Spruce grouse, Northern Saw-whet owl, Three-toed woodpecker, Snow goose, Red-naped sapsucker and several species of usually seen small songbirds, but the elusive Golden eagle was seen after two years of no records.

And the final question for the curious: did the installed fence on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta make a difference?

Our monitoring doesn't have an answer yet. In five to 10 years all species, including humans and dogs, may have adjusted to its presence. This past summer's high water interfered with the process.

The presence of dogs generally sees an evacuation of all birds from all quarters. The municipality is now evaluating the data collected over the last few months and may well await a few more years of data before making any adjustments.

Written by: Karl Ricker


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