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NatureSpeak Articles

Whistler’s wild birding year

A short-eared owl was a rare sighting this year in Whistler. Photo by: Liz Barrett

For Whistler birders it was a year of seasonal contrasts. The winter count was average at 62 species; spring saw a second-highest recorded species diversity of 158 species with the emerging hotspot being Cheakamus Crossing. The summer heat dome didn’t impact a higher species diversity than usual at 132, and thanks to an unusually wet weather cycle, autumn saw a gigantic lull where it became an all-out struggle to near the average count of 105.5 species (it reached 106).

But wait! Some typical autumn migrants actually came through in August—especially mallard ducks and Canada geese, adding to summer totals but robbing the autumn of a few typical migrant sightings.

Yes, many migrants bailed ahead of time, but let’s shift the discussion to the bigger annual picture. The average species count over a 17-year period in Whistler is 174 (range 148 to 188). This past year tallied 183, fourth highest. Thus, despite anomalous climate events spread over two seasons, annual biodiversity was well above average. We can thank an ever-increasing cadre of keeners in the Whistler Naturalists Society for that puffed up number.

These folks nabbed many of the tough species to find, including a lazuli bunting at Cheakamus Crossing and the second-ever short-eared owl, at Nicklaus North. Ellen, Liz, Nicole, Dea and Heather also nabbed the hard-to-find Eurasian wigeon, spruce grouse, northern saw-whet owl, pacific-sloped flycatcher, gray catbird, Nashville warbler, snow bunting, brewer’s blackbird and Bullocks oriole.

It’s hard to believe that there’s now 13 species of owl on the Whistler checklist, but the only ones regularly heard are the great horned, barred and northern pygmy-owl. The checklist officially “lost” one species to taxonomy when the northwestern crow was downgraded to a variant of the American crow courtesy of DNA analysis. On the other hand, we also gained a couple of species in stilt and white-rumped sandpiper, the latter seen at the outlet dam of Alpha Lake of all places. So, Whistler’s all-time checklist now stands at 270 species.

Swans were also in irregular motion. About 400 were counted going north in the spring, but the reverse southbound migration has so far yet to see 50 on our lakes. And what exactly did the summer heat dome do to our migratory counts? The data is yet to be summarized but one effect is that it appears to have disturbed our nesting osprey at Green Lake. The chick(s) did not survive though it remains to be seen if this is an isolated case.

The Christmas Bird Count for Whistler is on Dec. 14 this year. If you’re willing to help out, please email Realistically we’re looking for 40 or so of the regular winter residents, but maybe you’ll be the lucky one to spot Species No. 271 for our list?

Written by: Karl Ricker


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