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The doldrums of summer birding

It was a relatively quiet summer spiked with surprise reports

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After many summers of birding at Whistler, it's to be expected that our feathered friends have either migrated through, on their way north, or are hunkered down at local nesting sites.

So, it was another relatively quiet summer, spiked here and there by the isolated surprise report or by the discovery of another brood of newly hatched waterfowl.

The monthly transect counts from Lorimer Road to Rainbow Park had not only good turnouts of interested birders, but also a respectable species list by the end of the morning. The Breeding Bird survey gang helped as well, with their early-morning stops at 20 different stations in the Whistler area, with common night hawks being the most important find.

Bioblitz, in late July, saw the experts help Heather Baines with the compilation of a final list of 60 species, the most impressive effort of the summer season. Bioblitz recorded seven species not tallied elsewhere over the entire summer.

Added to the summer list of birds was our first-ever duck-sized Cackling goose, a dwarf relative of the Canada goose, which is our most visible species with their broods of goslings over the summer months. There were no other additions to the list, but two reports of green heron sightings were very heartening — one at Alpha Lake in mid-July, and the other at the mouth of 19 Mile creek in Green Lake in mid-August. It may have been the same bird.

Other noteworthy "spots" were least and western sandpipers on the shorelines of Green Lake and, to our surprise, a red-necked phalarope on Shadow Lake in early June.

The biggest highlight of the summer had to be a record count of 10 belted kingfishers during Bioblitz. In my records over 15 years, the previous highest count was five. On the Fitzsimmons delta-front there was at least one resident spotted sandpiper for the entire summer and on some occasions there were as many as four. Killdeer, however, only made rare appearances there and elsewhere in the valley.

That's it for the good and noteworthy birding news.

Sadly, it looks like the osprey nesting at Edgewater was a failed result. After rebuilding their nest on a new tree with many more support branches, the mating routine was in good order to about mid-July; some disaster then happened. Both parents have used the site irregularly thereafter with no apparent indicators of live chicks within the nest. By late August, our hunches faced reality; there was no noise of baby chicks nor were ospreys carrying fish to the nest. Hopefully, there will be a positive result next year.

Over the course of the summer, there were very few other raptors to be seen, especially hawks in total absence, while bald eagles and turkey vultures provided a very few sightings. The only falcons were merlins, and no reports whatsoever of kestrels or peregrine falcons. Likewise, the only owl reports were the invasive barred owl. Hopefully, somebody reading this column will phone in to say they saw or heard a great horned owl.

Tallying up the species list for the season, there are records of 118 species and two others that needed confirmation with a second opinion, or photo. While the all-time summer checklist shows 231 species, many of these are non-resident casuals or accidentals not expected to be present.

However, there are 20 that should have been seen, including the "garbage" gull (Glaucous-winged), which used to proliferate on our landfill. Is this a case of birding at the wrong place at the wrong time, or has there been a shift in territory for some birds? Perhaps some will appear during the autumn to quell our fears.

The last 10 days of August saw some migrants arrive, those in the waterfowl category moving on after a day or two.

Returning migrants, heading south, is now the focus of birding in the valley over the next few months.

It should be a good show on our October transect count. It's 8:00 a.m., the first Saturday of the month at the cul-de-sac on Lorimer Road.

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