By Andrew Mitchell
Christmas Bird Count stalwart Karl Ricker has no doubt that Whistler’s trees are probably full of birds, but once the snow got going in the afternoon on Thursday, Dec. 14 they became impossible to find.
Some birds already flew south during November’s cold snap, and high winds drove some birds out of the valley and some into areas where they weren’t expected.
Every year the Whistler Naturalists and local birders hold a Christmas Count of birds, sending that information on to the Audubon Society, which logs the results to determine the movement and health of species. Whistler has participated the past 17 years, making a list and count of the different species spotted by crews in the field and volunteers at their bird feeders.
According to Ricker, the Bird Count turned up just 41 species. It would have been 40 without a group spotting a Red Tailed Hawk out by Edgewater.
By way of comparison the birders spotted 44 species last year, in what was considered an average year.
In terms of volume. The birders counted just 1,069 total birds, falling well short of their target of 2,000 birds.
“We had a not bad morning, but when it started snowing like mad in the afternoon things tapered off considerably,” said Ricker.
The find of the day belonged to Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed who spotted a northern pigmy owl on the west side, as well as some pine grosbeaks.
Another rare find was five spruce grouse that were spotted on the gladed run Yard Sale by counters working the mountains. Usually the birds are hiding at this time of year, says Ricker, which is why the record for any one of over 2,000 count groups last year was six spruce grouse.
“That’s bound to warrant Whistler some sort of comment in the national summary,” said Ricker.
Another rare find were the 10 brown creepers, breaking the past record of four. The birds live close to tree trunks and have high-pitched calls that are difficult to hear.
The closure of the landfill has considerably lowered the volume of crows and seagulls counted each year, but according to Ricker flocks still come in to scavenge what they can at the transfer station. But while there were once thousands of gulls counted, the most recent count could only log a few groups of between 10 and 30 gulls arriving over the course of the morning — probably from Squamish.
Ricker also participated in the Squamish count on the weekend, which turned up 1,690 bald eagles and 69 species — including two new findings, a barred owl and a grey crowned rosy finch.
More than 2,000 groups across North America participate in the annual count, providing bird data from one day in December as well as monthly totals.