By Amy Fendley Galoshes on foot and binoculars in hand, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment set out on its annual Christmas Bird Count Jan. 2 and returned with positive results. It was a record year for the count as volunteers recorded 47 species, breaking Whistler’s old record by 10. The bird count is co-ordinated through the National Audubon Society and provides a benchmark regarding the health of the environment, as birds are often the first species affected by environmental changes. Max Gotz, current vice president of AWARE and compiler for the bird count, said the results indicate that the diversity of species is normal, but the number of individuals is down. "This can be considered positive and negative, the count just reflects what’s there," said Gotz. "On the negative side it reflects increasing urbanization. On the positive side it means more awareness as more people get involved with the count." Six field parties were sent out to cover territory, including the ski areas, the valley bottom and major side valleys. "This was the most species we’ve sighted on a count and that can be attributed to the exposure of observers as they do more coverage and become more familiar with various types of birds," said Gotz. "We scout the sites before the count and an area with very little birds we go to last." The sighting of the day was by Paul Burrows, considered a "star feeder watcher" by Gotz. Burrows witnessed two Bohemian waxwings feeding on berries from an ornamental shrub in front of the Delta Whistler Village Suites. "It’s a common bird, but rare here and has never actually been seen on the Christmas bird count," says Gotz. "It’s spectacular looking and highly sought after by bird watchers." Approximately half of the 3,065 birds counted were different varieties of gulls and terns. More than 1,100 gulls were counted at the landfill site, a number Gotz says is quite large. There were also high numbers of corvids, a group which includes crows, ravens and jays. Volunteer counters sighted numerous mountain chickadees, a variety of chickadee usually restricted to mountain hemlock zones at elevations of 1,400 metres above sea level. This year the chickadees were spotted on the mountain as well as in the valley. "Normally you just see the black-capped chickadee, which are just about everywhere," Gotz says. "But we had mountain chickadees in Emerald and at the feeders at Tapley’s Farm." A separate count of Brackendale’s eagles last weekend showed the numbers of bald and golden eagles down considerably. "I usually count the number (of eagles) at the confluence of the Cheakamus and Squamish rivers," says Gotz. "There were less than 150 there and a total of 900 counted for the whole area, where normally there are more than 2,000. This could be attributed to better salmon runs elsewhere." The data collected by volunteers will be used to monitor winter bird populations. The data gathered at 1,700 locations throughout North America is compiled and published annually by American Birds and the National Audubon Society.