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Spring Migration, 2006 - surprises and no-shows

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Whistler Naturalists

An unusual migration season to say the least. Waterfowl passed through at a low level pace, lacking any sustained movement in high numbers for any species. Rafts of ducks did not build up on our lakes, the best being flocks of 20 or so Buffleheads, Mallards and Scaups on several days. Other waterfowl arrived and departed in irregular blips with only a few electing to hang around for the nesting season. But in the last week of an otherwise empty May, large V-shaped squadrons of 50-100 geese, flying high, were heading north, while a few of the earlier arrivals were hatching goslings on our lakes and ponds.

Why was there a migratory delay on Canada geese?

However, by season-end there were only a few no-shows on the waterfowl scene, though numbers on most species are down. The most glaring of the absentees are the five species of grebes, which featured such good southbound movement in the autumn of 2005. Where are they now?

For raptors the picture is equally light. Ospreys arrived on time, having to re-build their nest at Edgewater, however. For the first week indecision on where to re-build reigned, but they or the Mrs. settled on re-using the old tree to erect a magnificent, well-supported structure. Other species of raptors have been scant. A sole Harrier hawk and Kestrel scared off two flocks of Mountain bluebirds inspecting new birdhouses erected expressly for them at Nicklaus North. Tree swallows took over their residences.

Closure of the landfill reduced the Bald eagle and Red-tailed hawk sightings. Merlins seen more often are in nesting mode at Tapleys, and a Cooper’s hawk met a fatal demise in a fight with crows at Edgewater. A rare Rough-legged hawk was the highlight raptor for the season, seen over the town centre on several days in early spring.

Waders have been slow to return as well, with only one sighting to date of a heron, but we did snag our third ever record of an American bittern at the outlet of Alta Lake. Among the species of rails this year all American coots moved on through, but a pair of whining Soras can be heard at Shadow Lake. Of shorebirds, several Killdeer, Wilson’s snipe and Spotted sandpipers are here, hopefully to breed, while a very few other sandpiper species made brief stopovers. The closure of the landfill has decimated the gull population, with scarcely any present during our weekly checks. Glaucous-winged gulls have also been scant at some nearby coastal locales and will likely remain this way until the conclusion of nesting season. So, a few may come back to Whistler before winter. Missing on the fly-through to date are Mew, Ring-billed and Thayer’s gulls, as well as the closely-related terns.

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