Whistler’s summer birds: A few surprises in 2004
The wet and cool last few days of August mark summer’s end for the birds of British Columbia. In June, Whistler was alive with song birds in the process of hunkering down for nesting. As the summer progressed there were fewer and fewer to be seen until the fledged newborn took flight in July. But by August the sightings were fewer. Flocking up for south-bound migration was obvious for some sparrows, flycatchers, warblers and robins but others, such as the thrushes and swallows just disappeared without fanfare.
For the waterfowl, there were fewer local summer residents and their broods of ducklings and goslings were much less than in past years.
We saw a few families of Mallards, Canada geese, and Common mergansers, but only one or two broods each of Barrow’s golden eye, Hooded mergansers and Ring-necked ducks. The unusual spring migration pattern of this year definitely reduced our local contribution to the overall populations of waterfowl.
Over the course of the summer our birders netted a confirmed 125 species for the Whistler area, out of the 161 on the summer list, compiled from sightings in years gone by. Four are noted as very rare on the checklist (Golden eagle, Least sandpiper, Black and White warbler and American gold-finch) and another 11 species had not been previously recorded in summer. So, the summer list now tallies 172 species.
Most of the additions were ducks, possibly beginning their south-bound migration ahead of schedule. However, a sole Red-necked grebe hung around the Rainbow Park area for six-seven weeks before moving on in the past week.
A flock of 10 Surf scoters loafed off the Fitzsimmons Creek delta on Aug. 3rd, which was indeed a surprise. Other out-of-season migrants, presumably heading south, were Blue-winged teal, Northern shovelor, Wood duck, Redhead, Bufflehead, White-winged scoter and Ruddy duck. One or two Bonaparte gulls, with their distinctive black-hooded heads, were seen on Green Lake in late July, and a single Herring gull appeared in late August to complete the list of out-of-season visitors.
All species of raptors were hard to find, again, throughout the summer with the exception of our breeding Ospreys at Edgewater and Merlins at Emerald Estates. The osprey nests at Daisy Lake were not occupied this year, but a new(?) nest with lots of activity was found at the Bungy Jump well above the east side of the jump bridge. A hooting owl upslope from Emerald was not identified, and there were no reports of Cooper’s hawk, Northern goshawk or Peregrine falcon. Bald eagles disappeared during late summer and Golden eagle and Kestrel were seen only once, in Brandywine valley.
An unexpected surprise is the addition of one breeding species to Whistler’s list. Gray catbird was added to the checklist in 2002; it reappeared in 2003, and this year a successful nesting site was uncovered near Alpha Lake Park. This bird, the size of a robin, is a mimic which can emit the cry of several bird species. Certainly, this new arrival adds some colourful and noisy zest to the local wildlife scene.
There were no new species additions to the Whistler bird list over the summer although one not on the list was seen at the end of Lorimer Road, perched high in the trees above the Valley Trail. This was an Eurasian Collared-dove, or a domesticated variant of a similar species. While this dove has established a wild presence near Hedley, B.C., it is unlikely that this is the source of the bird seen here. So we ask: has any householder at Tapley’s, Whistler Cay, or Blueberry lost a pet dove on about Aug. 19th? If so, please give Mike Thompson a phone call as soon as possible. The dove attracted a curious throng of jays and crows before it flew off towards Rainbow Park, never to be seen again!
All in all, it was a slow summer for birding at Whistler, although spiked with pleasant surprises; however, autumn migration season is about to begin and the level of avian activity should increase, especially with the waterfowl who are now sitting on many ponds and lakes in the Cariboo region, awaiting the final temperature signal to move on.
Monthly Bird Walk — The next bird walk will take place Saturday, Oct. 2nd. Join Whistler experts in the monthly update of our feathered locals and migrants.
Written by: Karl Ricker