More birds than ever in annual count By Chris Woodall Whistler bird counters tallied more birds and species than ever during the annual Christmas bird count, held Saturday, Dec. 27. The Whistler Audubon/AWARE count involved 16 folks who marked down 3,237 individual birds belonging to 45 species, breaking the 1995 record by a slim 35 individual birds and one specie. "Many participants have become veteran Whistler bird counters over the years," says Whistler compiler Max Gotz. "The experience of the field teams and a relatively mild prelude to winter allowed counters to edge over the old record." The weather was overcast with light snow, turning to heavier snowfalls later in the day. The count goes 24 hours so birders can try their ears or super detection skills to jot down winged creatures active during the dark hours. "A bird discovered by its call counts as much as one that's seen," Gotz says. Almost half of all individual sightings were American crows, common ravens and glaucous-winged gulls, seen at the landfill. A birder loves the rare encounters. This year a very rare tundra swan was seen associating with four trumpeter swans along Alta Creek. A single northern saw-whet owl was noted at the Whistler Wildlife refuge. Three slate-coloured juncos dined at a feeder in Tapley's Farm, a rarity because most of their family are the Oregon junco. Flocks of pine grosbeak and white-winged crossbill, usually seen in mountain hemlock zones, were lower in the valley than they normally are. Six American dippers were spotted along the Cheakamus River. These birds "fly" under water of mountain streams to feed on invertebrates like dragonfly larvae. "The day also yielded four species of raptors: bald eagle, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk and a merlin," Gotz says. The bald eagle is a common enough sight at this time of year, but the golden eagle is unusual, Gotz says, because it is not often found in the coastal areas, but more in B.C.'s Interior. The hawk and merlin are residents. Whistler birders came across a bonanza of red-breasted nuthatch, counting 42 to nearly double the old record of 25, Gotz says. "This is significantly higher than our old count, but early results from Vancouver, Squamish and Gibson's show unusually low counts." A milder than normal winter may not have forced the nuthatch crowd to lower elevations, Gotz explains. The count by Whistler bird fanciers will be forwarded to the National Audubon Society for inclusion in an inch-thick publication sometime in mid-1998. The Whistler birders don't stop at Christmas. The more expert among them do breeding bird counts that require a finely-tuned hearing to pick out different birds. "Ninety per cent of those birds are detected by the ear," Gotz says. There are monthly bird walks for everyone to take part that also count as bird surveys. The next walk is tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 3, at 8 a.m. at the bottom of Lorimer Road. Dress for the occasion and bring your binoculars.