A robin searches for berries on the ground of a front yard in Whitehorse on May 7. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Annual Helmut Grünberg Birdathon set for May 29

Participants encouraged to birdwatch within their own communities

Birders in the territory are set to continue their annual tradition of viewing and identifying as many birds as possible in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon Bird Club will host its annual Helmut Grünberg Birdathon from 5 p.m. on May 29 to 5 p.m. on May 30 with a number of provisions in place to comply with guidelines aimed at addressing COVID-19.

An online gathering the evening of May 30 will officially wrap up the event rather than the annual barbecue that’s normally held at the Robert Service Campground.

Participants are also asked to take part individually or as part of their household only, distancing from others, and to remain in their own communities.

“This year we are really emphasizing participation and enviro-birding fairly close to home,” Scott Williams, a director with the bird club, stated in a May 13 email correspondence. “There are plenty of exciting places to bird watch within reach of any Yukon home, including places you may have never thought to explore. And everyone should feel good about supporting the Whitehorse Food Bank, which is more important than ever in these difficult times for low-income people.”

While fundraising isn’t mandatory to take part in the birdathon, the bird club chooses an organization to give to for participants who want to collect donations. This year, the Whitehorse Food Bank was selected.

Part of the birdathon is also the selection of a feature birder — someone recognized for their birding enthusiasm — for the event.

This year the bird club selected Taylor Belansky.

“I was very excited to be chosen as this year’s feature birder, especially as a new birder,” she stated in a May 13 email.

As it’s highlighted in the club’s most recent newsletter, it was a class that sparked Belansky’s interest in birds.

“I got into birding after taking Katie Aitken’s ornithology class at Yukon College,” Belansky said. “I always loved birds and other wildlife, but once I learned about how incredibly diverse they are I was hooked. Birding is so fun because it’s an activity you can take anywhere — from your back yard to big cities and everywhere in between. It’s a wonderful way to engage in the natural world and get to know our wild neighbours.”

As a relative newcomer to birding, she said she’ll be excited if she can identify 20 species during the birdathon, calling it an opportunity to challenge herself.

Belansky is encouraging new birders to take part in the event, pointing out it’s a great time for anyone interested in birds to get out and try it out.

Asked how many participants the bird club is expecting this year, Williams said it’s difficult to say.

“On the one hand we are suggesting that people stick a bit closer to home and to ‘enviro-bird’ by sticking to human-powered transportation or public transit. That might not appeal to some folks,” he said. “On the other hand, it seems more people than ever are seeking outdoor family activities like hiking, biking, and paddling because travelling further afield by road or air is so restricted. There is definitely more interest and action in the online birdwatching community this year. We are hoping that lots of people will see this year’s birdathon as a way to get the family out close to home in a way that is fun, adventurous, and educational.”

The birdathon typically draws between 15 to 30 participants, though in 2015 there were more than 80 participants when the bird club honoured its founder Grünberg who died earlier in the year. The annual biradathon was then renamed in honour of the long-time birder.

Over the course of the 24 hours at past birdathons, typically between 130 and 150 bird species are recorded. Williams continued to point out the event is aimed at birders of all levels.

He noted beginner birders might see 30 to 50 bird species with more advanced birders seeing 60 to 90, “and the real hotshots who don’t sleep and go to the really diverse birding locations might get around 100.”

The record stands at 122.

Among the more unusual sightings in recent years are the eared grebe, Franklin’s gull, barred owl, blue-headed vireo, and the pileated woodpecker, Williams said.

As for what birders get out of viewing the winged creatures and looking for a variety of species, long-time bird club member Jim Hawkings highlighted it as an active, outdoor activity that’s “extremely interesting and challenging.

“You need almost no equipment… just a pair of binoculars and a field guide (or an app for your smart phone). You can explore so many diverse places and there is always a chance of seeing some unusual or strange new bird even close to home.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Birdwatching

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