Twenty-four hours, 28 dedicated birders and 146 bird species sighted. The numbers tell only part of the story of the Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon hosted by the Yukon Bird Club. The 2022 birdathon was held over 24 hours from 5 p.m. on Friday, May 27 to 5 p.m. the following day.
The annual birdwatching event, which doubles as a fundraiser for the bird club, has been going on for 37 years. In 2015 it was renamed in Grünberg’s honour following his passing early that year. Organizers describe Grünberg as a friend, a mentor and a pillar of the Yukon birding community.
Either solo or in groups birders got right to it, scoping out lakes and rivers, patches of forest or just their own backyards. Organizers said that some people go out to try and see how many birds they can spot in 24 hours while others just spend a few hours on a walk or simply make note of the species living around their homes.
“While the dust is still settling on this year’s birdathon,” said bird club president Jim Hawkings, “it was a huge success from where I sit.”
The fundraiser aspect of the birdathon invited participants to raise funds through sponsor pledges either at a flat rate or per species of bird identified. The donations go toward supporting the bird club’s education and research work.
People were also able to sponsor Lena Ware, the birdathon’s feature birder, who was out to spot as many bird species as possible. Other birders could follow along with Ware’s birding throughout the weekend through her account on a website called ebird. She set the goal of identifying 90 species at the start of the weekend and planned to start off at the migrating waterfowl hotspot at Judas Creek on Marsh Lake.
With some help from Cameron Eckert and Kirsten Wilcox, Ware would add 116 species to her tally, making stops in downtown Whitehorse, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and Lake Laberge among other spots. Other impressive species tallies were recorded by Adam Perrier with 114 and Tracy Allard with 106. Dominique Blanc spotted the most species of any new birdathon participant, with 96.
The total species observed across all birdathon participants was 146. As the Yukon hosts a large variety of mostly migratory birds this time of year — ranging in size from towering sandhill cranes to rufous hummingbirds — the birders had no shortage of variety to train their scopes and cameras on.
Along with optics for identifying birds visually, the Merlin Bird ID cell phone app, which is capable of identifying bird calls, was a favourite tool at this year’s birdathon.
Some of the species spotted by birders came as a surprise. These included a willet, a relatively large member of the sandpiper family that birdathon organizers say was far from its prairie home. Another prairie resident, the black tern, was seen at Jackfish Bay. A glaucous-winged gull, usually only seen on the Pacific coast, was spotted at the Quartz Road Marsh in Whitehorse. Other uncommon birds were a western tanager and a steller’s jay.
Organizer Jenny Trapnell added that a birder snapped a picture of a mystery bird downtown that the club is still working to identify.
Trapnell said that along with those who did their birding in the Whitehorse area there were birdathoners in Carcross, Tagish and Lake Laberge.
Along with recognizing those who spotted the most different species, the bird club’s report on the birdathon made special mention of the oldest and youngest participants as well as those who did their birdwatching using environmentally-friendly means of transportation. Mary Whitley, the oldest birdathoner, was able to spot 50 species. The youngest participants were Hannah and Lauren Ryder.
Jim Hawkings was recognized for his “envirobirding” spotting 56 species on a 70 kilometre bike ride around Pineridge, Wolf Creek, Mary Lake and Lewes Marsh.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org