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NatureSpeak Articles

Whistler’s Birds, Spring 2003

The cold spring weather of 2003 did not faze our feathered friends. Migration of waterfowl began before the start of spring with the arrival of Canada geese and Mallards in early March. Snow geese and Trumpeter swans in flocks of about 30 each passed through before the month-end; and several Killdeer were seen each day on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta.

A surge of Robins arrived on the final days of the month, and April saw arrivals of new species of ducks, shorebirds and songbirds during each successive day of birding. A rarely seen Says Phoebe hung around the new ice rink at Alpha Lake for a few days early in the month; and its brethren excited the "Bird Alert" monitors at Vancouver during the same period. However, two massive overnight waterfowl invasions onto Green Lake in the last week of April were the obvious highlight of the month.

On April 23 the lake surface was a sea of bobbling white heads; Buffleheads were dominant of the 13 species on the water, which numbered close to 1,000 birds. Alas, 95 per cent of them were gone on the next day!

On April 27 the second invasion probably exceeded 1,000 birds, and this time American Widgeon out-numbered the Buffleheads. Heather Baines and this writer each counted 20 species, then saw 70 percent of the armada disappearing on the next day. They don’t give you time to even think about giving the binocs a rest; here today and gone tomorrow!

In May, the ducks began to disappear, leaving only a few to remain and breed. Surprises were in store. Several species of grebes and teals arrived in the early days of the month, but the songbirds and swallows dominated the arrivals, and Yellow warblers replaced the Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s warblers on the waterfront. By month-end the Cedar waxwings and flycatchers finally showed up, leaving June for the overdue Nighthawks. Not many waterfowl were left on our lakes by this time.

All told, a healthy 149 species were sighted during the spring period, but at least 34 were residents which saw their numbers bolstered by their brethren who did go south for the winter. On the waterfowl checklist, only a few failed to show or slip through unnoticed: Western grebe, Green heron, Canvasback, Long-tailed (Old Squaw) duck and White-winged scoter.

Despite the overpowering presence of our annual nesting Ospreys at Edgewater, and a pair of Bald Eagles in the same area, other raptor observations were sparse, and a few expected arrivals never were seen. Aside from our usual poor record on owl observations, the tally of other expected species was very good.

On the "Whistler Checklist" three "very rare" sightings were reported: Yellow-headed blackbird, Western meadowlark and American redstart. Also seen – but checklist noted "rare" for other seasons, and shown as absent for spring – were the following: Boreal owl, Morning dove, Snow bunting at Horstman Hut, Least sandpiper at Fitzsimmons delta, Slate-coloured junco at Nicklaus North, and several Ruddy duck arrivals on Green Lake.

For the lattermost, the checklist has to be revised; this is the second successive year of spring migratory arrival of the species, who carry on their way to the north. Also seen were 11 species known to be "accidentals" from the very few sightings in years past, and as of yet they are not on the checklist: Rough-legged hawk, Eared grebe, Baird’s and Semi-palmated sandpipers, the above-noted Phoebe, Mew and California gulls, Gray catbird, American tree sparrow, Dusky flycatcher, and Tennessee warbler.

The big surprise of the season was not the frustrating attempt to add a new ground dove to the B.C. bird list (see Pique: April 18/03). On June 17, this writer spotted a mother Wood duck with 10 youngsters skulking through the rushes at the bird viewing platform on Alta Lake. Wood ducks are very difficult to find at any time and this year a pair was seen only twice beforehand at the lake and Wildlife Reserve behind it. The Whistler Checklist does not indicate the species to be a local breeding bird; happily, we have a revision which hopefully will not disappear.

Upcoming Events:

Monthly Bird Walk- 7:00am, Meet at the end of Lorimer Road at the Catholic Church. Everyone welcome. Led by local expert Heather Baines.

Written by: Karl Ricker


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