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Whistler’s winter birds

Residents, lagging migrants and opportunistic or accidental vagrants!

By Karl Ricker,

Whistler Naturalists

Now that winter has finished, the writer has reviewed his notes of bird observations. With the exception of early February, the following "transects" were checked for birds three to four times per week: Valley trail from Lorimer Road to Rainbow Park (usually in a.m. hours); Green Lake walkway from Highway 99 to Joël’s (usually in the early afternoons); Nita-Alpha Lake walkways (always early a.m.); outlet of Green Lake (late afternoons); my own feeder in Alta Vista (whenever); upper mountain slopes (during lift operating hours); town centre (1 to 2 times per week); and the community landfill and sewage plant (once per week). While the lakes were frozen throughout this period, the River of Golden Dreams, Jordan Creek and Green River were not, although slow reaches of the former at the Fisherman’s Loop froze occasionally. The observations covered most of the habitats indicated on the "Checklist of Whistler Birds" (published, 1996 by the industrious Max Götz).

The checklist indicates the winter presence of 75 species at Whistler, based on long-term records collected up to 1995 or 1996. Since then, however, Christmas bird counts (at the start of winter) and other random observations have turned up at least another 17 species, bringing the total to 92. How many of these 92 species actually hang around throughout the entire winter, as opposed to those that are migrating south at a leisurely pace, or for that matter have jumped the gun on a northward return from their southern habitat? There are also the vagrants, the opportunistic visitors that fly in from Pemberton or Squamish when the mood hits them.

My own records for this past winter indicated 35 all-winter resident species, but admittedly another half dozen or so should have been around but escaped my eye. Those found regularly were: Trumpeter Swan (2), Hooded Merganser (the females!), Bald Eagle (adult and immature), Glaucous-winged Gull (and the hybrid to the Western Gull), Great Horned Owl (at the B.C. Hydro powerlines above Nita Lake), Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Three-toed and Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-shafted Flicker, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker, Northwest Crow, Common Raven, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper (very tough to find!), Winter Wren, American Dipper, Golden-crowned Kinglet (few), Varied Thrush (few), European Starling, Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Oregon Junco, Red-winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Pine Grosbeak, House Finch, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll (and Hoary variety), Pine Siskin, and the ubiquitous House Sparrow in the town centre.

What was missed and are sure to be full-fledged winter residents? The prime suspect is the White-tailed Ptarmigan at timberline or higher (which is cleverly camouflaged in its white plumage). Blue Grouse, Mountain Chickadee, Grey-crowned Rosy and Purple Finches, and Red Crossbills should have also been around, as well as the Northern Pygmy Owl, but I missed contact with any throughout the winter. Did any reader see them, or for that matter any others not listed above on a regular basis? If so, give Karl (604-938-1107) or Mike Thompson a call (604-932-5010); we need the records.

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