2011 YOW Big Day

In August 2010, I was one of six teenagers from across Canada to be chosen to attend the Doug Tarry’s Young Ornithologist Workshop for ten days at Long Point, Ontario. Four teens from Ontario were chosen: Emma Cushnie, Reuven Martin, Mark Dorriesfield, and Muhammad Zwink, as well as Katie Donohue from Alberta. I was from the Yukon. One of the days we spent at Long Point was a Birding Big Day, the objective being to see/hear as many bird species as possible during 12 hours. We spent the day being driven to many different places, and were shown new bird species by our leaders. The day ended with 112 species after nightfall, with our very last species being a pair of Eastern Screech Owls. After that day, we YOWs decided that each year we would choose a day during spring migration and bird in our areas at the same time with absolutely no help from experienced birders. The objective was to find out how many species we could identify by ourselves within 24 hours across Canada without any help.


(Left to right) Emma Cushnie, Muhammad Zwink, Mark Dorriesfield, Katie Donohue, Reuven Martin, and Shyloh (me).


Our very first YOW Big Day ended up being on May 28th to the 29th, from 6pm to 6pm. A full 24 hours of birding. The YOWs in Ontario (YOWs are the teenagers who were chosen for the birding workshop) represented eastern/southern Canada, while I represented western/northern Canada, and Katie from Alberta represented central Canada. Katie did her big day on June 29th because school made her too busy in May. It was really cool knowing that while I was birding, the YOWs in Ontario were out birding at the same time, even with the 3-hour time difference between the Yukon, and Ontario. Though we were across Canada from each other, we were birding together. For my YOW Big Day, my Dad, little brother Toren, and myself went out Saturday evening and hiked up Nare’s Moutain in Carcross in hopes of spotting a Dusky Grouse. We were successful, and managed to pinpoint one against the horizon sitting on top of a rock further up the mountain. It was super buggy up there, the mosquitos were eating us alive! We could see Carcross, Nare’s Lake and Lake Bennet spreading across the valley down below. The sun had set so there was faint gold where it had dissapeared, and the rest of the sky was gray, the valley filled with shadow. Nare’s Mountain is one of my favourite places in the intire Yukon.

Toren and Dad at the firepit on Nare's Mountain


I spent Sunday birding southern Yukon with my Mom, Moya van Delft, and we left the house at 8am. I had our route planned out for the day, and since the Yukon Birdathon had been the day before (Saturday) I knew where to find certain bird species. We had over 30 species by the time we left Tagish in only 3 stops. We checked out a small pond off-route and angered a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs who gave us a serious telling off for coming too close to a nearby hidden nest. Judas Creek checked off Greater White Fronted Goose, Greater Scaup, Arctic Tern, and Horned Grebe, just as I had planned. Schwatka Lake was missing the birds that I had seen on the Yukon Birdathon: Surf Scoter, Red-necked Grebe and Pacific Loon. We didn’t check out both sides of the lake however, and the day before the birds had been hanging out at the opposite side of the lake from where Mom and I stood.


Mom at Bob's Lake in Judas Creek Subdivision


We drove to the Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons, a wonderful birding place that I had discovered on the Yukon Birdathon. Many birders in the Yukon have told me that it’s one of the best birding areas in southern Yukon in the spring; Cameron Eckert said that at certain times of the year it’s possible to see all of the Yukons common ducks at the lagoons. When Mom and I went there, there was quite a bit more bird activity than there had been the day before on the Yukon Birdathon. I spotted Ruddy Ducks, which had been lifers the day before, as well as Long-tailed Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoters, and my lifer White-winged Scoters. Our next birding destination was McIntyre Mountain, where a team of Yukon Birdathon birders  had spotted Rock Ptarmigan. unfortunately we couldn’t find a way up. When we thought we had found a way, a motercycler told us that it is impossible to get up that road because it was flooded further up. By then about 3 hours had passed, and there was 2 more hours until the end of the YOW Big Day. Storm clouds were spreading across the sky, and the wind was picking up. It began to rain, and I decided to quit the YOW Big Day early. Mom and I ended my YOW Big Day with 70 species, 3 of them being lifers for me.


Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons


The other YOWs were a lot more eco-friendly on their Big Day than Mom and I were. They biked or hiked, with only a little bit of driving done by one person. The weather in Ontario was overcast in the morning, with some fog on the lakes. The clouds cleared off by noon and they had great weather for birding: sunny and hot. Some of their highlights were a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a high count of 5 Mourning Warblers seen by Reuven Martin, a Common Nighthawk seen by Muhammad Zwink, a Pied-billed Grebe and Baltimore Oriole seen by Emma Cushnie, and a White-rumped Sandpiper and male 1st generation Brewster’s Warbler by Mark Dorriesfield. Mark Dorriesfield finished his YOW Big Day with 119 species, Reuven Martin with 81 species, Muhammad Zwink with 64 species, Emma Cushnie with 52 species, and Katie Donohue with 79 species. All together, our list from across Canada created by only 6 people came to a grand total of 213 species. Not bad at all for our very first annual YOW Big Day! We are now discussing a Sitathon in the fall, which I was told about by Jukka Jantunen. In a Sitathon you are given 24 hours to bird like on a Big Day or Birdathon, except you have to sit in one place and not move from that place at all. If you move your chair or get up you cannot count birds that you see or hear. It would be a very interesting way to bird, and discover how many species can pass through that particular spot on a given day during migration. Hopefully I will be able to write about a Sitathon this fall!


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