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Naturespeak

Autumn migration ends with a crescendo

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By Karl Ricker

Whistler Naturalists

Everyone will agree that this autumn was unusual — an exceptionally dry and warm September, and the good weather lingering well into October. Bird migration was stalled by the unusual spell of warm weather, with waterfowl in particular loafing on our interior waterways.

The first autumn storm finally persuaded the birds to move south, though some were reluctant to use the Sea to Sky corridor, or if they did, their movements were at night, failing to stop over at Whistler for a break. Of the 192 species on the autumn checklist for Whistler, only 108 were seen this year. During this period, however, two new species were added to the list, and three other out-of-season local species turned up, but still giving us a lowly recovery of 58 per cent. The species new to Whistler are: a Pacific golden plover seen at close range on the Fitzsimmons Creek delta, and also recorded on the Fraser delta in the same week; the other is a Long-eared owl, seen in daylight at Nicklaus North. There are now 11 Owl species known in the Whistler area, although the Spotted owl has not been seen or heard in years and is now classified as extirpated.

Volumes of migrating species varied. Among the waterfowl, flocks of Mallards and Common mergansers were down slightly, while Green-winged teal and Hooded mergansers were definitely more abundant than in past years. Both species of Scaup and Goldeneyes were decidedly way down in numbers, while Wigeon, Ring-necked duck, Bufflehead, Canada geese, Coots and Loons were on target in numbers expected. All five species of grebes did finally show up after a lack of sightings earlier this year, though their numbers were low. It took a while, but eventually a few Canvasbacks and both species of scoters did appear, but Long-tailed ducks and Snow geese escaped all scrutiny. As usual, Sandpipers were scarce, though a pair of Long-billed dowitchers probed the shoreline muds of Green Lake for nearly two weeks. Gulls were conspicuous by their absence on our lakes. Normally large flocks bathe in Alta Lake during autumn, but with closure of the landfill only one or two small flocks were seen, possibly flying in from Squamish or Pemberton.

Song bird migration was on par with past records — high volumes of robins and song sparrows for a couple of weeks, and juncos and kinglets reappeared from the coniferous forests of mountain slopes. Several species of warblers also passed through in good numbers.

Some good “spots” on rarer species were also garnered: Gadwall, Redhead, and Ruddy duck; Red-breasted merganser; Sandhill crane; Lesser yellowleg (sandpiper); Common tern; Northern waterthrush (warbler); Common redpoll among the flocks of Pine siskins; Northern shrike; and Western meadowlark. However, conspicuous by their absence were Band-tailed pigeon, Mountain blue bird; Horned lark; and all species of finch and crossbills, with the exception of one large flock of Gray-crowned rosy finches. The latter were seen by Rod McLeod at “Wildcard” on Whistler, while feasting on “his” newly-planted grass seed!

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