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Spring migration 2004

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By Karl Ricker,

Whistler Naturalists

Spring migration 2004 was certainly unlike last year and unusual, to say the least.

It began in early February, after the last major storm of the winter, when the air warmed up. The first Mallards arrived on Feb. 7 th , along with the Goldeneyes, Common and Barrow’s, and were followed by the Canada Geese on Feb. 15 th .

Other waterfowl soon followed and by early March there were record counts of Trumpeter Swans, peaking at 60 birds on some days at Green Lake.

And in March, the landfill became a haven to Bald eagles, over 40 on some days and peaking at 57 on a bumper day – another local record.

The eagles slowly pushed the gulls out, which are usually there in the hundreds, and on one day in April the facility was gull-free until late afternoon when two immatures dared to reappear under the scrutiny of numerous ravens and the 15 remaining eagles.

Spring, by all counts, was three to four weeks ahead of schedule, as born out by full green foliage on the bushes and trees for the monthly bird walk in early May. Traditionally the deciduous species are leaf-free for this count, making the arrival of song birds easy to see. But not this year.

The unusual spring changed the migration patterns of many species. On the waterfowl front the birds arrived in dribbles and continued on their way north after a warm few days of loafing on our lakes and wetlands. Few bothered to stop and raise new brooks locally.

In fact, by May, lakes and ponds were almost empty of visible waterfowl, as born out elsewhere nearby and on the ocean front. Our biggest counts: 60 each of Buffleheads, Coots and Widgeon on one or two days – a far cry less than the hundreds counted last year on two or three days.

By the end of the avian spring season a few of the rarer ducks did appear but in miniscule numbers. Not seen this year are several species of grebes, the Snowgoose, Wood duck, Long-tailed duck (Old Squaw), White-winged scoter, and Sora rail.

At season end a few broods of Mallards and Canada geese have emerged, while other normal nesters have yet to show their progeny. Moreover, male Mallards are already flocking up for their southward migration and leaving the females to look after their broods alone – the cads!

For the other groups of birds the migration is also slightly ahead of schedule. The shore birds, always few in number, began to arrive in mid-March and seven species had appeared by late May. The picture was the same with the gulls, other than the countless local large gulls, but terns have so far escaped detection if they did pass through.

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