By Karl Ricker
A misty and showery weekend did not dampen this annual bird survey. A great turn-out of prospective birders from Squamish to Pemberton came to watch the five experts from Vancouver, Gibsons and Vancouver Island put on a dazzling show of their listening, sighting and identification skills. Led by one of the Directors of Bird Studies Canada, George Clulow, they arrived at Whistler on June 8 th to acclimatize to our local birds’ dialects, and to their delight, also discovered our American bittern at the Alta Lake viewing stand.
On Saturday (June 9th), these pros met the gathering throng at One Mile Lake, where Hugh Naylor passed out the latest bird checklist for the Pemberton area, and then led the cavalcade to the first stop at Pemberton Meadows. A second stop further up-valley provided the bird-of-the-day, another vagabond Eurasian collared-dove, not yet on Pemberton’s list. Heather Baines also had one in her back yard at Black Tusk Village the day before!
In the afternoon a lesser-sized entourage checked out the forest species between Lillooet and Duffey Lakes, with a very surprising yield of good birds at 1 st Joffre Lake. Returning to Whistler for the night, the experts bagged our first Common nighthawk for the year at Green Lake, before turning in for a too short night’s rest. Over the course of the day 92 species were identified, or about double our local efforts on any given day!
The actual survey, which is one of many transects carried out continent-wide to assess breeding populations, began at the early hour of 4:27 a.m. on June 10 th under gloomy, low overcast skies at the bridge crossing of the River of Golden Dreams. The routine is a gritty, cut and dried procedure. For exactly three minutes all birds seen and heard are enumerated. Then they move 800 metres to the next stop north and repeat the survey. After 50 such stops in the increasing din of traffic noise the survey is completed at Pemberton Meadows.
The experts showed their stuff. As soon as car doors opened, those with very acute hearing had already registered three to five different species of bird calls, as other vehicles swished by!
The first 20 stops are within the area covered by the Whistler bird checklist, where only a paltry 32 species were tallied. There were a few good ones, but no nighthawks, swallows or swifts were noted. Diversity improved to the north, however, and the much quieter Pemberton Meadows road helped immensely to swell the day’s tally to 68 species. A couple of them could not be tallied because they were seen outside the time limits. The best birds were a pair of Peregrine falcons and the colourful Lazuli buntings at Pemberton Meadows. And the gang was pleased to see a big rebound in the number of Evening grosbeaks.
I was disappointed by the “take” in the Whistler sector after having such a good day of birding with Chris Dale on the Shadow Lake circuit last week (46 species). Stops 17 and 18 are alongside the Shadow Lake circuit; on the way home I decided to see if the day’s survey gave this area a fair shake, and conducted my own one-hour walk around the circuit. Twenty-six species and 88 birds were counted. Yes, it was less than last week’s numbers, but the walk was at noon when many birds are quiet. However, the morning’s stops at #17 and #18 did not come close to the new tally and several species were missed: the snipe, blackbirds, flycatchers, kinglets and waterfowl!
So, I ask, is this survey along this busy portion of Highway 99 really meaningful any longer? Or, has it always been a “downer”, ill-construed from the outset? It’s in the hands of the experts, but realistically, the transect has not provided the authorities with balanced data. It should be moved to a start at Pemberton and finished 40 km to the north-west near North or South Creeks on either side of the Lillooet River valley, or redirected to the north-east and terminated at D’Arcy. Whatever, the survey team has done a wonderful job, helping us out nonetheless.