The Yukon Birdathon is an event most Yukon birders look forward to all year. It is an annual fundraiser for the Yukon Bird Club and Yukon Conservation Society, which involves trying to see as many bird species as possible in 24 hours. Most people go out for casual birding, but there are a few that take the event very seriously. For me, the birdathon is an opportunity to explore areas I rarely visit, challenge myself/test my skills, and participate in friendly competition with my mentors. It’s always a blast!
On May 30th at 5pm, my brother Toren, cousin Marilyn, and myself found ourselves exploring people’s yards on the Atlin Road. The friendly home-owners gave us leave to explore their properties for birds such as the rare Mourning Dove, Western Tanager, and some specialties such as American Redstart. We racked up nearly 40 species before leaving for Tagish, the highlights being American Redstart, Barn Swallow, and Wilson’s Snipe (none of which we saw anywhere else).
Greater Yellowlegs unexpectedly showed up in a pond along the Tagish Road during a road-side stop, but the pair of American Kestrels I had marked for California Beach evaded us, along with the Red-breasted Nuthatch that had always been singing down Logan’s Lane. In Carcross, the major highlight was a super late Snow Bunting that flew across the parking area and disappeared into the trees across the road. These are usually early spring birds that head further north though March and early April.
On our way back to Tagish at about 11:30pm, we checked for the Northern Saw-whet Owl I had staked out by Chootla Lake. The wind was strong in the valley all evening, which made hearing anything difficult; luckily for us, the saw-whet responded to my mimics with toots just loud enough to hear over the howls of the wind. After dropping Marilyn off at her house, Toren and I finally hit the hay just before 1:00am.
Saturday morning came fast – only 2.5 hours after falling asleep. After a very slow start, we went to pick up our rock-star neighbour Patrick, who would be joining us for the day for his very first birdathon. Our first new species for round 2 were Great Horned Owsl; a neighbour with a nest in the yard had thoughtfully tipped me off about it, and we managed to spot two extraordinarily camouflaged fledglings, plus an adult, near the nesting site.
Tagish Bridge produced a few very pleasant surprises – my very first Eurasion-collared Dove for the Yukon was perched on a power line, a group of three species of geese (Canada, Greater White-fronted, and Cackling) lounged in the grass around the tip of the mudflats, and a pair of Short-billed Dowitchers (rare but regular) foraged boldly nearby.
At the Tagish Beaver Pond (Stink Creek, as known by some) a Song Sparrow first seen early in May by Jukka was singing – a second called and appeared from the willow thickets. A nesting pair? These sparrows are rare everywhere in the Yukon except for the south-east around Watson Lake, where they are fairly regular.
Judas Creek was our next destination. Nesting Arctic Terns chased us down the beach, while at the Marina, Blackpoll, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers sang everywhere. More roadside stops produced a Dusky Grouse along the highway, which was unexpected and unusually low (they are typically mountain birds).
The Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons gave us our expected Ruddy Ducks, plus a White-winged Scoter and some Gadwall. McIntyre Marsh was a location much anticipated for the Townsend’s Warbler singing regularly, plus the Bank Swallows and the Dusky Flycatcher the Adam had tipped me off on (Thanks Adam!!). Everything but the Townsend’s Warbler showed up, and we soon had to move on. We managed to check off a few more birds for the list before 5pm finally arrived, finishing our birdathon with 89 species. Considering the ripping south winds we had through the entire 24 hours – the worst weather possible for a birdathon – everyone birding had a fair count. The grand Yukon Birdathon checklist tallied 150+ species recorded in all!
Thank you to my team members for joining me for an epic hard-core birdathon, and thank you very much to my sponsors for your donations! I’m glad Marilyn was able to join us for the Friday night; she is always lovely company and a great birdathoner. Toren, the team note-taker, followed me around noting sightings in our notebook, along with the times and locations of each stop. He is definitely the best birdathon note-taker anyone could have; I’m very glad he is on my team!
We quickly discovered Patrick’s sharp eye for detail. He found a Mew Gull’s nest, a Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree, picked out many ducks nesting around wetlands, and spotted several shorebirds I didn’t see. Another year, another great birdathon! 🙂
Our List of Species:
Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Trumpeter 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, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Ruffed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Sora, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Bonaparte’s Gull, Mew Gull, Herring Gull, Arctic Tern, Eurasian-collared Dove, Great Horned Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Warbling Vireo, 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, Mountain Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Bluebird, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Snow Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Purple Finch, White-winged Crossbill, House Sparrow.
= 89 species