Bird walks take flight By Chris Woodall The heart can soar with the eagles when locals take part in monthly bird watching walks sponsored by the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), beginning Feb. 1. Walks will be held the first Saturday of every month. Tours of the Whistler Cay wetlands or along the shores of Green Lake may take up to three hours. Guiding the walks will be respected ornithologists, including Wayne Campbell, a world expert and curator of ornithology at the Royal British Columbia Museum, in Victoria, says Max Gotz of AWARE. "Campbell is literally writing the book on B.C. bird watching," Gotz says. "His apparently extrasensory birding skills and enthusiasm have become legendary." Savvy local birders — including Nancy Baron, George Brad, Tom DeMarco, Gotz, Dan Greene, Rob Neaga, Nancy Ricker and Vicky Troup — will also guide the tours. The walks are the first Saturday of the month, starting at 8 a.m. Beginning in April, the walks start at 7 a.m. To join in the walk, simply go to the bottom of Lorimer Road in Whistler Cay. There is no charge for the experience except the charge of adrenaline walkers get when spotting their first rare species. Gotz says there have been 175 bird species identified in the Whistler Valley by reliable birders, so there's lots to catch up on. Gotz himself has checked off 156 types of winged beasts. "As the season progresses we'll see new birds every month," from the majestic trumpeter swam — the heaviest flying bird in North America — to the zippy and definitely delightful hummingbird, says Gotz. Beginner birders should feel welcome, Gotz says. A pair of field binoculars, notebook, field guide about birds and appropriate clothing for the day's weather are all that's required. Noting the numbers and species of birds travelling through our valley gives Whistler a perspective on our environment's health, Gotz says. "Many songbird species have declined by more than 40 per cent in the past 20-25 years," he says, by way of example of man's intrusion on natural habitat. Regular participants will pick up tips on spotting birds by the sound of their call as well as by sighting them, and learn about bird habitat, Gotz says. "With 11 counts through the year, participants should easily see over 100 species from 38 families of birds in the Whistler Valley, Gotz says. Planned side trips include popping up to Pemberton to witness the spring migration of the magnolia warbler and lazuli bunting; up to Whistler's summer alpine to spy on the Hepburn's grey-crowned rosy finch or Townsend's solitaire; to the Woodfibre ferry in Howe Sound in the autumn to see the parasitic jaeger and red-breasted merganser; and back to Whistler's alpine in the winter to recognize a Clark's nutcracker or white-tailed ptarmigan.