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Preparing for Birdathon 2 in my hood

May 24, 2020

Every year since 1981, I’ve participated in a “birdathon.” I learned about this in 1980, when I spend six weeks as a migration monitoring assistant with the Long Point Bird Observatory. The next year I joined in the Bird Observatory’s fund raiser, then called the Baillie Birdathon, in honour of Canadian ornithologist James L. Baillie in what has turned out to be a great day of fun as well as a fundraiser. Truth be told, I look forward to doing this birdathon as much as any single moment of the year. For the first few decades, I would get sponsors to pay me a per species rate, so there was a great incentive to see lots of birds. A few times I topped 150, which always was a bit of a magical target. I usually spent the day with other people – initially I recall doing birdathon with Phil Weller, a U of Waterloo friend and colleague. We did our birdathon in the Long Point area, which usually included walking from the Provincial Park to a Bird Observatory station called Breakwater, about half way out the peninsula, and back to the Park, about a 15 km round trip that involved wading through deep cuts of cold Lake Erie water in late April or early May. It was hardcore! We started at 4 am, and usually finished red-eyed and delirious around 11 pm. Once I started growing my family in the late 80’s and early 90’s, birdathons shifted to different areas, including Waterloo Region. Others, including family, joined in on the fun. Eventually, I connected with my buddy Rod Steinacher, and another friend Bruce Kellett. We started doing birdathon together on the upper Bruce Peninsula where Rod and his wife Noreen started living.

In 2001, Rod and I, along with a few others, co-founded the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO). One nice feature that Bird’s Canada (which evolved from the Long Point Bird Observatory) has for Birdathon, (which is now called Great Canadian Birdathon), is that you can donate most of the funds you raise to an organization/charity of choice. Of course we chose our new baby, BPBO, as the recipient of our efforts. That tradition, of doing a birdathon on the upper Bruce Peninsula with Rod, carried on for nearly two decades, despite my move from near Guelph to Gatineau Quebec in 2006.

2012 birdathon Upper Bruce Peninsula Rod Steinacher, Ted Cheskey and Salvadora Morales

Three years ago, my daughter graduated from University of Ottawa’s School of Medicine, and the convocation ceremony was about the same time as birdathon. As the Steinacher’s didn’t want to miss my daughter’s honour and celebration and we didn’t want to forego a birdathon either, we chose to do it in the Gatineau/Ottawa area for the first time. The last two years I returned to the upper Bruce, but this year, due to Covid-19, no one is travelling anywhere. I decided to continue doing my birdathon for BPBO, alone for the first time, but to stay near our place in Gatineau – within 3 km, and only travel by foot or bicycle. No cars, or motorized travel. I also decided to do it twice. Why? Because I love spending a day hunting for birds. My senses are sharp, my body is on high alert to every movement, every sound. I really love pushing myself to find everything. It is a great rush of excitement and I also enjoy the physicality and eco-friendly aspects of no motorized travel.

Last Sunday, I did birdathon-1 starting at 3H30 am on our balcony, where I heard the first bird – a Swainson’s Thrush flying over, giving its distinctive call note. I then rode my bike into the southern end of Gatineau Park, in the dark, nearly 3 km from my house, to hear a Great Horned Owl hooting away, followed by a concert of Hermit and Wood Thrushes. It doesn’t get much better. The day went on to have its typical highs and lows. I was at 50 species by 7 am. 75 by 10 am. But by 5 pm, I was stuck at 81, only 6 species added between 10 am and 5 pm. I did a final bike ride where I added the two last species of the day, an Eastern Kingbird and a Pileated Woodpecker. After that, I did a long walk from 7 pm to 9 pm but added nothing new.

Reporting in near the end of Birdathon-1 for BPBO Corvid-2020

That’s the way a birdathon can go. I calculated that I walked about 14 km and biked nearly 30 km! All that in an area with a diameter of 6 km. I believe that 83 species for a urban area without grassland habitat or shorebird habitat was a good result, especially during a year with frighteningly few birds. That will be another blog story. In the meantime, I am preparing for Monday. Why Monday? Well, western Quebec and Eastern Ontario have been under a high pressure system with clear blue skies and warm temperatures for over a week, which means that the birds that are migrating up from the south are, for the most part, not stopping, but continuing on to the boreal forest. So. I am taking the day off work on Monday to do Birdathon-2 because it is expected to be rainy. Why, you must be wondering, am I planning on birding on a rainy day? I will be doing so (hoping it doesn’t rain all day), as I am counting on the clouds and rain to halt the migration so that birds are forced down and there will hopefully be more birds to find.

I’ve noticed relatively few individuals stopping in the trees near my place over the past several weeks due to the “great weather” as some people dear to me might say. Despite this “great weather” my “birding from the balcony” list is good this year because I’ve been working from home since mid-March and that has meant an hour or two of birding nearly each day from the house. When you can do that, eventually you see more species. I am already at 97 species for the year from our apartment, which is pretty good. But I’ve noticed that other good birders who keep “yard lists” on eBird are doing equally well, undoubtedly for the same reasons. So, I’ll fill you in, dear reader, with details of my second birdathon this Monday. Please sponsor me, if you haven’t already. To do so, please Go to this link

I will report back soon.

Signing off. .. .


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  1. May 25, 2020 . . . the Fallout | birdingfromthebalcony

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