Birdathon Weekend

This year my Dad, little brother Toren, and I teamed up as we have done in the past years to do our birdathon, and set ourselves a goal of 90+ bird species to see within our designated 24 hours. I also set myself a goal for funds raised: $900. That would be $100 per 10 species of birds which I thought would be fun.

The evening the birdathon started (5pm on May 25), I couldn’t bird Tagish Bridge because I had to avoid wind and dust for that day due to my cold. I instead walked around the house and down California Beach hoping to get a bit of a head start on the Birdathon. I heard my first Swainson’s Thrush of the year singing late at night, right after seeing a trio of early arriving Brant on California Beach. I finished the first night with only 16 species… Not what I had been hoping for. Things would have to go very well the next day if we wanted to meet our goal of 90+ bird species.

Our schedule was planned very carefully with an estimate of driving time and time spent at each birding location. On my schedule we were going to bird the ‘must-go-to’ sites and finish them with only an hour to spare before the end of the birdathon. I didn’t like that part of the plan. I wanted time to visit more areas!

Mallard Pair

The morning arrived, and we were up at 5am. By 6am we were at Tagish Bridge birding the mudflats; the Savanna and Fox Sparrows were providing the morning wake-up call with their songs. It was fairly quiet, not as busy as I was expecting. However we did get about 20 new species including Sora, a rail that I have never before heard or seen in Tagish. The still water allowed for good duck viewing through the scope. The Beaver Pond and the farm pond were quickly checked on our way to the Atlin turn-off where we would scope Little Atlin Lake and a couple of spots along the highway. We picked up a few more species including Solitary Sandpiper before moving on. Atlin Rd was much quicker than I expected, and we found ourselves well ahead of schedule.

We hit Judas Creek where we saw a lone male Cinnamon Teal, a rare migrant to the Yukon with only 1-2 individuals being seen each year. This Cinnamon Teal was just around the corner and down the lake a ways from Tagish bridge which I could see clearly from the Judas Creek Marina with my scope. I assume that it is the same one I observed at Tagish Bridge earlier in the past week. The cool thing about this teal was that it was swimming around with a bunch of Blue and Green-winged Teals. All three Yukon teal species right there in front of me! Not something you experience every day.

Male Blue-winged Teal Poorly Captured in a Photo. You Can See the White Face Cresent that Distinguishes this Duck from Others.

Tree Swallow lined the powerline and every bird house in the area was occupied by the swallow family. Each year this is where we find our birdathon Blackpoll Warblers and American Redstart, but this year they were absent. I scanned the singing warblers in the willows very carefully, but only the brightly-coloured Yellow and Wilson’s Warblers were present. Down on the Marsh Lake shore we heard a Tennessee Warbler singing. This was our first cold Birdathon… The past few years Judas Creek was the place we fried and peeled off the clothing; this year we pulled up our hoods and hunched against the wind. By the time we got back to the vehicle we were all three thoroughly chilled to the bone.

Dad (Fred) and Toren Refering to the Bird Guide at Judas Creek.

We moved on towards Whitehorse, stopping at a few other places such as Swan Haven where we met up with Ben Schonewille and checked off Greater-white Fronted Goose. We picked up a few more species along the highway on route to Whitehorse. In town, we started our search for House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon. We quickly found three sparrows, but the pigeon was not so easily found. I’m cursed that way; I only ever see those pigeons once or twice a year, even though I look for them each time we are in town. When we reached the end of our search and were discussing our next stop, Toren pointed out a lone pigeon perched on the roof of a two-story building on Alexander Street. Another species for the list, and one we would have missed but for Toren! The sewage lagoons were a location I looked forward too. At the Whitehorse lagoons, we searched in vain for the rare Tufted Duck that had been seen there for the past few days. The strong wind shaking my scope and the fact that more than half of the scaup were sleeping, made it nearly impossible to find that one duck identical to a scaup but for the tuft on the back of its head. The Crestview Sewage Lagoons held a rare bird too: an Eared Grebe that my mentor had tipped me off on. We had no luck with the second rare bird. We did pick up six species at the lagoons in all though: Long-tailed Duck, Ruddy Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, Red-throated Phalarope, and American Coot. The American Coot, which I had only seen once before in the Yukon through my scope at a large distance in the heat waves, were up close and crawling out of the woodwork at the Crestview Sewage Lagoons.

Rock Pigeon

Our next stop was McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory. I had a tip from my mentor of a Townsend’s Warbler, an uncommon Yukon warbler, singing in the area that morning. We had no luck with that, I would not have recognized the song even had it been singing, but we did add a stunning male Rusty Blackbird to our list, as well as Bank Swallow, Blackpoll Warbler (At last!), and Western Wood Pewee. Our stop at the Whitehorse landfill brought no new species, but did provide us with some stunning looks at Bald Eagles, both adult and immature. Oh, we did add an American Crow to our list there.

The last place we went to that added a new species to the list was the Rodeo Grounds. I had been told that it was a place that guaranteed Mountain Bluebird, and often had Upland Sandpiper in spring. We checked off Mountain Bluebird before we even came to a stop. Then another bluebird. Then another. Then another. This was bluebird paradise! We scanned for the sandpipers, and discovered another birdathon team also scanning the fields further down the road. We had no luck, but we later found out that the other team saw a single Upland Sandpiper in the distant part of the field from us.

Mountain Bluebird

With only an hour and a half left of the birdathon, we drove to Shallow Bay but couldn’t find a way in. The did hear several Tennessee Warblers singing in the willows though, and I managed to capture a photo of one. The fields were dead. We checked the Wildlife Preserve for Golden Eagles because Toren really wanted to see one, but we were unlucky. We drove straight back to town and with only 2 minutes left until the end of the birdathon and ran to Quartz Rd wetlands to scope. The birdathon ended at 5pm on May 26th with a Semipalmated Plover in the view of my scope. After counting our checklist, we discovered that not only had we reached our goal of 90 species, but we had passed it! Our total was 93 species. We were in a tie with this years Birdathon Feature Birder, Adam Perrier, for the 4th highest number of species found by a team. Not only that, but when I tallied up the pledges from my sponsors, I discovered  I had raised $200 more than my goal. Our team raised an approximate total of $1100 to go to the Yukon Bird Club this year! For that, I thank all of my sponsors for all of their support in me and the Yukon Bird Club. Your contributions are important. I look forward to next year’s Birdathon; I wonder what we will see next year?

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