Skiers and snowboarders weren't the only Whistler residents to benefit from a two-week inversion that saw temperatures on the mountains climb as high as 14 degrees Celsius — birds of every feather also took advantage of the warm spell to catch a little sun and build on their winter reserves.
The timing couldn't have been better for the local bird watchers who were out conducting their annual Audubon Society Christmas bird census on Dec. 21. Not only did they smash last year's record total of 3,130 bird sightings by 2,113 birds, they also counted a record number of species: 57, compared to last year's total of 52.
"I'd have to say it went very well," says Mike Thompson, the birding co-ordinator for the Whistler Naturalist Society and a long-time bird count participant. "We had a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and you could walk on any of the village trails quite easily. The weather permitted more viewing, so people could stay out longer — it wasn't 30 below like in other years. And the birds seem to fly around more when it's nice out."
This year 41 people participated in the count, says Thompson, which isn't a record but an "excellent turnout" when compared to other counts in recent history. He hopes the same number of bird watchers and enthusiasts will continue to come out for bird counts on the first Saturday of each month that run from the foot of Lorimer to Rainbow Park.
Seven species of birds were new to the Christmas count, including the Canada Goose, Green Winged Teal, Red-moped Sapsucker, Lesser Scamp, Western Meadow Lark, American Goldfinch and Western & Glaucous-Winged Gull hybrids. One notable absentee from the valley was the Blue Heron, and Steller's Jay numbers were way down.
Final results of the North American Audubon Christmas bird count, which is expected to attract up to 50,000 bird watchers, won't be available until next December. Official results from the Whistler count will be completed by the end of January.