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Raptors and grouse highlight breeding bird survey

By George Clulow

It’s June and so it must be time for the annual Breeding Bird Survey. Three hardy birders from Burnaby, the Sunshine Coast, and Vancouver Island made their annual pilgrimage to Whistler to collect information on local breeding birds as part of a unique program that monitors songbird populations across the continent.

Starting at the highway bridge over the River of Golden Dreams, continuing through Pemberton, and then west along the Lillooet River valley, the 40 km roadside survey was notable for cold temperatures, rain, and some interesting birds this year.

A 4:30 a.m. start time survey may seem early, but this is the time of day when the birds are singing loudest and longest, and gives the best chance for the birders to identify them accurately. At this time of year with all the leaves on the trees, it is easier to hear birds than to see them, and each species has a unique voice. The survey works on the assumption that by early June a singing bird is on its breeding territory, and its nest and mate are likely close by.

The Whistler/Pemberton area is a great one for birding because it offers an interesting mix of coastal and interior, and mountain and lowland birds. Swainson’s Thrush for example, is as common a bird in the Whistler area as it is on the Coast. The Veery on the other hand, another small thrush with a beautiful spiralling song, is very rare on the coast but abundant in the cottonwood forests along the Lillooet River.

Five species of raptors (birds of prey) were seen on this year’s survey – an unusually high number. Three species is typical most years. Among those seen were Osprey, Bald Eagle, and two species of small falcon, Merlin and Kestrel. This last species proved to be quite abundant in the Pemberton Valley this year, where a total of nine birds was recorded. It’s great to see Kestrel numbers up in the valley; let’s hope it continues. A big part of their diet is large insects like grasshoppers, so they are a species sensitive to pesticides.

Another good sighting was a Western Kingbird seen hawking insects from the power lines in the valley. This large yellow, olive, and grey flycatcher was not seen last year, but it was great to see them again this year.

The cold wind and rain on the survey morning produced some grousing from the birders. It seems however, that the birds were not to be outdone and the deep bass notes of Blue Grouse were heard at many of the stops along the route. Most notably, the final four stops in the Pemberton Valley produced five booming Blue Grouse. A great finish to a great survey that produced a total of 60 species of breeding birds.

Upcoming Events :

June 26 — Sunset Nature Walk . Train Wreck site. Meet at 7 p.m. at the railway crossing, just south of the traffic lights in Function Junction. This will be a great walk – big trees, beautiful natural rock gardens, and boxcars nestled in the forest. Free for members; $2 for non-members. Call Mitch Sulkers (932-3707) for more information.

July 7— Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 7 a.m. Contact Michael Thompson (932-5010) for more information.

Sightings and Memberships : NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com).

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