This year my birdathon was different from my past birdathons. This year was my first year doing the birdathon without my Dad and my brother, and my first year doing it with my cousin Marilyn. It was also my first rainy birdathon, and the first time it was cold enough I wore my thermal underclothing while birdathoning. It was windy and it rained from the beginning to the end of the birdathon for me!
When 5pm struck on Friday, May 31st, signaling the start of the birdathon, I was standing alone on the shore of Nisutlin Bay in Teslin with my scope. It was raining, and I was hearing no birds and seeing no movement. My first bird for the event turned out to be a brave Yellow-rumped Warbler that came out to sing despite the pouring rain, setting an example to other birds in the area who started to sing as well. Out in the bay I saw Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and a pair of Greater Scaup, which got my birdathon adrenaline going. I decided to truck through the willows and buck brush that edge the shore in order to track down any silent birds. New species revealed themselves, and I soaked my sneakers from accidentally stepping in an exceptionally soggy bit of peat. My steps squished for the rest of the evening. I stayed in the area for about 45 minutes before eagerly driving back north to the Teslin Sewage Lagoons. There I ticked off Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Boreal Chickadee, Mallard, and Green-winged Teal, along with Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. Surprisingly, the rain and coolness masked the smell of the lagoons enough that I actually enjoyed breathing while scoping there.
The Teslin Lake Campground and Teslin Lake Bird Observatory were the next stop, but the only thing that I heard there was a single Swainson’s Thrush calling. Walking the trails of the observatory area below the campground was a bit depressing; I had never seen it in spring before. The trails were flooded, and our mini marsh had become a large pond. Nothing was singing, there were no birds flying. There were no mist nets up; the trails only led to dead ends, and there was no Jukka (the bander-in-charge) or volunteers extracting birds from nets along the trail. All I could hear was the rain. It made me feel a bit nostalgic, and in hearing nothing else I moved on.
Johnson’s Crossing was next and turned out to be unproductive but beautiful. Fog lay like a blanket on the water and the roads, and through it came the shriek of a gull… it was almost haunting.
Squanga Lake produced Red-winged Blackbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Wilson’s Snipe. There was a wide variety of bird song there, and in between the roar of passing vehicles I trained my ears on the pond to pick out each species. I probably was there longer than I should have been, but hearing so many birds singing was interesting enough to put me a bit behind my strict schedule. Eventually I reached Jake’s Corner and went in the direction of Tagish before turning down the Atlin Road. By the time I arrived at Haunka Creek it was around 8:30pm. I had been there with my mentor Cameron, and his wife Pam, about a week earlier when we went searching for a Yellow-headed Blackbird that had been seen down the Atlin Road. We had stopped at this creek and found a Hairy Woodpecker female busy drilling holes into the nearby trees. This was my target species when I returned for the birdathon, but she must have been tucked away in a dry and hidden cavity as I did not see her. I next went to a property that I had visited with Cameron and Pam during that same trip a week earlier. Cameron had tipped me off on the fact that this was a great place to find American Redstarts. After knocking on the door of the house there and receiving permission to walk around the property, I went and found more new species. American Redstarts were singing (I managed to spot one bright orange and black male), as were Purple Finches, Yellow Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Hermit Thrush, and Pine Siskens. Before I left a brown weasel with bright white feet and a white-tipped tail ran across the driveway , disappearing into the sheltered undergrowth of the forest. By the time I finished walking around the property, I was soaked to the skin and cold. I had forgotten that my rain coat was only water-resistant, not water proof.
I was hoping to find Eurasian Collared Doves in Carcross (a pair had been seen there not too long ago) along with the Double-crested Cormorants that had been lingering on the shores of Nares Lake waiting for Lake Bennet to thaw. I was unsuccessful with both species, but I did add several new ducks to my list along with Red-necked Grebes. I finished birding in Carcross at about midnight with 48ish species, and fell into bed at 1am.
Part 2 of the birdathon began 3 hours later, at 4am Saturday morning. My cousin Marilyn had agreed to join me for the day as a co-birdathoner and as the designated driver, so we met up at 4:45am and took a walk through Tagish Estates. The Brown-headed Cowbirds were not yet out with the horses, so we missed them but we did thankfully find a male Blue-winged Teal in a creek that runs behind the estates. This was one of my main target species for the estates, as my friend Katie and I had seen a pair a few days earlier in that spot. We actually saw a couple more in different locations later on in the birdathon, but our first one was still exciting.
We also ticked off Tennessee Warbler which I was not expecting, Warbling Vireo, Least Flycatcher, and Black-capped Chickadee before we moved on to Sydney Street, near Tagish Bridge. I had been informed of a Great Horned Owl nest in one of the driveways along this street, and had been shown its location a couple of days before. We went there and ticked off our only owl species for the birdathon. We saw both of the fledglings, but no parents. Tagish Bridge was much quieter than I had been hoping, but we checked off some new species – Violet-green and Bank Swallows being the highlights. We were also treated to spectacular views of two beavers munching on some sticks. One let me get within a few meters of him before he reluctantly slid into the water.
Judas Creek was the next stop, producing several new species for us, some of which we had been tipped off on by Cameron, such as Brant and Greater White Fronted Geese. Overall though, both Tagish and Judas Creek were much quieter than we normally witness during the birdathon. This could have been due to the rain, or to the strange movements of the late migrants this spring. We left Judas Creek at 9:40am, ticked off a singing Dusky Flycatcher (my first time hearing a real one sing!) and Golden-crowned Kinglet during a highway birdsong check, stopped at a small roadside marsh at the end of Marsh Lake where we got really nice views of a Barrow’s Goldeneye, and then went to Schwatka Lake. There Marilyn attempted a short catnap while I went out and ticked off Surf Scoter and American Coot. After that it was off to the S.S. Klondike, where we met up with the newest member of our team and this year’s Feature Birdathoner, Nick Guenette. The three of us went to the Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons, sneaking underneath a chained gate to scope the old ponds. We found Ruddy Duck ( a clownish-looking bird), Long-tailed Duck, Red-necked Phalarope (a shorebird/rail type thing), Semipalmated Plover, and Killdeer.
Whitehorse was the next birding location. We stopped at a downtown bird feeder and watched it for about 20 minutes with the permission of the owner, hoping to see the rare Lesser Goldfinch that had been visiting fairly regularly. This goldfinch is about 2000km north of its range, and is shockingly the 2nd record for the Yukon. We left after only seeing Pine Siskens, and were later informed that if we had lingered about 5 minutes longer we would have seen the goldfinch along with Common Redpolls and Red Crossbills (all new birdathon species). A thorough search of the back roads near the Whitehorse clay cliffs produced House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon. A walk along Quartz Road Wetland produced a Glaucous Gull, Ring-billed Gull, a pair of American Crows, followed by high fives and victorious shouts. It was the first time we had ever gotten Ring-billed Gull and Glaucous Gull on the Birdathon.
McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory was the next stop in our schedule, and Nick being a regular volunteer there took us for a walk down the net lanes. He ticked off many new species for his list, but Marilyn and I saw nothing new. We took a short walk down the road and I happened to heard a Townsend’s Warbler singing back in the forest. I think that it was one of the most exciting birds for everyone as it is not one of the most common warblers, and it was one that we had all been hoping for. It was also only the second Townsend’s Warbler I had ever ‘gotten’ – my lifer Townsend’s was seen in the Dyea Campground on Mother’s Day this year.
With only a couple of hours left to go until the end of the birdathon, we made our way to Crestview Sewage Lagoons where Nick spotted an Eared Grebe for us. It was a lifer for all three of us, and we were lucky to have pretty good views of it. Last year there was one seen in these lagoons during the birdathon, and though we had went searching for it we never found it. The Rodeo Grounds were our last official stop on my schedule, and we saw our targeted Mountain Bluebirds. We also found a Say’s Pheobe, and Nick identified the song of a Grey-cheeked Thrush which I had never heard before. He had to play a recording of it for me before I could recognize it amongst the other singing birds we were hearing.
With about 40 minutes left to go, we took a drive up the highway in a search for raptors which we were sorely lacking in our birdathon list. Having no success, we went down the Shallow Bay road to successfully tick off a Hairy Woodpecker that Nick informed us he had seen the night before. He also spotted an Alder Flycatcher (unfortunately I missed it). With only minutes to go before the end of the birdathon, Nick and I literally jumped out of the van, Marilyn driving after us, to run down the road hoping to catch at least one more new bird. I thought I heard the call note of a cowbird, but it didn’t call again so I couldn’t confirm it. 5pm struck, ending another birdathon for us until next year. Marilyn and I successfully ended our birdathon with 97 species, a new personal record, while Nick ended his first official birdathon with an amazing 98 species! A big thank you to Marilyn for partaking of the birdathon experience with me, and for acting as the driver for two euphoric passengers experiencing a birdathon high! Without her, we would not have gotten 97 and 98 species.
Thanks to your contributions, I ended up raising $1318 for the Yukon Bird Club through the Yukon Birdathon; another new personal record. Thank you very much for your support!!!
My Birdathon Checklist
Greater White Fronted Goose, Brant, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan
Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck
Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Eared Grebe
Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier
American Coot, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope
Bonaparte’s Gull, Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, Arctic Tern
Great Horned Owl
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Say’s Pheobe
Gray Jay, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven
Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet
Mountain Bluebird, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush,. Hermit Thrush, American Robin
Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s Warbler
Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird
Purple Finch, Pine Sisken
= 97 Species