Whistler’s birds: count ’em Dec. 27 By Oona Woods The Whistler Christmas Bird Count is taking place Saturday, Dec. 27 for the eighth year running. The numbers and types of birds will be collated by the Audubon Society, based in New York, to provide what is essentially a massive database of local and national birds. Across the US. and Canada over 45,000 volunteers will be participating in the National Audubon Society's 98th Bird Count. The society had a noble beginning on Christmas Day, back in 1900, when 27 conservationists decided to go against the local tradition of a side hunt. This event's goal was to see who could shoot the most birds and animals in one day. The conservationist group decided to go and count birds instead of killing them. This in turn has led to an extensive database on the population trends of North American birds. "Today, volunteers from all over 50 states, every Canadian province, parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies and Pacific Islands will count and record every individual bird and bird species encountered during one calendar day," reports the society release. "For nearly a century, the Christmas Bird Count has provided invaluable insight into the past and present status and health of continental bird populations, as well as the general health of our environment. The Christmas Bird Count has proved to be a perfect example of how volunteer-generated data is important." Locally, Max Gotz is co-ordinating Whistler's contribution to the North American study. He says there are a wide variety of birds to be documented in this area. "Last year we counted 58 different species. There's everything from waterfowl and winter finches to raptors in this area." Gotz points out that collecting data over the years does become a useful conservation tool. One trend that he noted in the Whistler area is that the number of urban birds, like starlings, house sparrows and blackbirds, has increased in proportion to the development of Whistler. The count usually takes place across a 20 kilometre area around Village Gate Boulevard and Highway 99. "It is a huge area containing remote alpine terrain," says Gotz. "It would be physically impossible for us to cover all of it." The good news is that you can take part in the bird count and still go skiing. Some of the areas designated to the groups encompass the mountains, hence volunteers spend the day on the hill. "It's a good way to get out and meet people," says Gotz. "There is also a competitive aspect to it. We see which group can count the most birds. In places like Victoria the competition is stronger. It comes down to who can find the rare birds." Newcomers can hook up with experienced birders and cover one of the designated areas in Whistler so there's no need to let lack of birding knowledge hold you back. So, if you think you've got an eye for the birds and you fancy getting out and about over the Christmas period contact Max Gotz at 932-7247.