A difficult year for our avian friends, to say the least. It began with a poor result in the Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 14, 2007 and continued that way through the following winter and spring months, and the summer was only a little better.
For the autumn we had huge expectations. Surely, those spring migrants which bypassed us on their way north in the spring would come back our way. Well, a few did but it was down by at least 5 to 6 per cent from previous autumns in numbers of species and much lower in volumes of most migratory species, with the exception of a few waterfowl - namely Canada geese.
However, my view of the situation may be warped, being away from Whistler for six weeks during the September to November period, and possibly missing out on a few good south-bound surges.
My tally, along with Heather's and Chris's, indicates 102 species seen in the autumn, barely more than half (51.8 per cent) on our seasonal checklist. While waterfowl had a few days of floating flotillas on our lakes, notable absentees were the "unusuals," "rare" and "casuals" on our checklist: Eared grebe, Green heron, Snow goose, Godwall, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Canvasback, Harlequin and Long-tailed ducks, White-winged scoter and Red-breasted merganser. Raptors and owls were also few, although we did see a Peregrine falcon but other regulars failed to show: Coopers hawk, Goshawk, Kestrel and Golden eagle. Rails and shorebirds were also sparse, lacking a Sora, Virginia rail and Western sandpiper.
However, there was an "accidental" Dunlin on Nicklaus North links and Bonaparte gulls appeared one at a time on Green Lake in sporadic fashion. Yes, the new compactor site at the Callaghan turn-off did attract larger Glaucous-winged gulls in small flocks of 30-50 birds on a few days but it is a far different picture from the hoards in the years gone by at the old open landfill. While the crow-jay family is always a strong component in our wildlife, some birding days yielded more ravens than crows. Songbirds were also hit and miss: "dead" days with hardly a peep and a few days with high robin and junco traffic. As for the finch family, the numbers and diversity were low. The Pine siskins and grosbeaks have mysteriously disappeared!
Over the entire year the species count was down by a full 8-10 per cent from previous years, and certainly the volumes of most species had also dropped. It is not unique to Whistler, however, the malaise is a widespread complaint throughout most of western Canada.
Over the year we logged 167 species of the 242 that are on our checklist (year 2005), which has since grown to 253. This year was no exception; three species were added in the summer months: Black tern, Black scoter and the Magnolia warbler. All were seen by two or more individuals, and the latter two at two locales each.
These additions would normally be the highlight of the year. However, the extraordinary event of the year was the invasion of large flocks of Pacific and Common loons at the end of May on a wave-tossed Alta Lake during a storm. It was, without historical precedent, a spectacle probably not to be seen again over the next few decades, if ever.
Another highlight was the winter invasion of Evening grosbeaks, which had all but disappeared in previous years.
What lies ahead in the new year? The Dec. 15, 2008 Christmas Bird Count hints at a return to historical species counts, although volumes of most will likely be below normal. This is an off year for finches, and the pine beetle-ravaged forests to the north will continue to attract the insect and bug eating species. So, the smaller raptors will also be drawn to the north; the local servings to their food chain are not in vogue at the moment - which includes the ban on bird feeders while bears are about!
For 2009 look for a revised checklist of our birds, which should be ready in April or May. To facilitate printing and preparation costs the Whistler Naturalists Society would welcome two or three sponsors, whose logos would be shown on its front cover. If interested in a sponsorship, please give me a call (604-938-1107).