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Please support bird conservation by a donation to the Corvid-21 Birdathon team.

June 2, 2021

Did you know that there are 30% fewer birds in North America now then there were 50 years ago? Human actions are behind the population drop. Human actions must also drive the recovery. Birds need our help. We can’t wait for someone else to do it. One way of helping is through a generous donation to the Great Canadian Birdathon. If you have not already supported me, I humbly request your generosity and support this year. As I write this account, the CORVID-21 team has raised $3,470. With you support, we can make it to the magic $5,000! Please click on this link to go to the support page if you have not already done so.

The Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory (BPBO), a nonprofit charity, does much to help save bird lives. BPBO’s work includes excellent science to track bird populations over time, training of young ornithologists to become passionate bird advocates, and standing up for birds on the Bruce Peninsula, an important migration corridor in Ontario and one of the most unique landscapes in Southern Canada.

Your support for my birdathon means so much for BPBO. It’s been an extremely tough year for BPBO due to COVID, the extremely high water levels that washed out the road into the research station, and damage to the electrical lines coming into the station. Your support will help us reach our goal of doubling our solar energy capacity so that we can operate our migration monitoring station without interruption.

Let me tell you about my birdathons.  Yes, it is plural. I took a couple days off work, to do two birdathons. Thursday, May 20, I spent several hours on my bicycle doing reconnaissance of my new area. It is always worthwhile to scout an area prior to the “big day” as many of the birds, especially the territorial ones can be relocated the next day, and make a big day more efficient. As we moved into our new neighbourhood in January, a few kilometres to the west of where we had lived for the last decade, I didn’t know the surroundings that well, particularly the large forest near our new house. The new neighbourhood is very forested. Local birders call the nearby forest “la Foret Chantegrives” or “Thrush Song Woods,” and according to a 1930 map the entire area was a bird sanctuary at one time. Now the subdivision streets, including our own, have bird names bearing testament to this sanctuary. As is often the case with housing developments, streets are named after some nature feature that was destroyed when the land was cleared. Fortunately some of that natural features are still intact and functioning nicely. A sign of this during reconnaissance on Thursday, was that I located 57 species in less than two hours in my neighbourhood, boding well for birdathon Friday.

Friday:

The winds had turned to southerlies on Thursday, bringing in some new species while allowing others to migrate north. A few Robins were already singing as I stepped out the back door onto the deck at 4:10 am. My bike was ready as I saddled up and I rode along the dark streets and bike trails into Gatineau Park. My hope was to hear owls before sunrise. Though that didn’t happen, I did hear an American Woodcock’s courtship flight display in the south end of the Park. Male Woodcocks perform an amazing dusk and pre-dawn flight filled with strange whirring and twittering sounds made by a combination of their voices and wings. As day broke, I quickly added many other species, including an enchanting chorus of Hermit Thrushes – who have, without doubt, one of the most beautiful voices in nature. After an hour of building a good initial list of songbirds, I returned home for a quick breakfast. A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was a delightful find from my deck as I sipped my coffee. La Foret Chantegrives was quite productive (though fewer species than the day before), with Wood Thrush in good numbers, as well as a few Veerys and a Swainson’s Thrush. I cycled south to the Ottawa River, where I observed several new species including a spectacular Great Egret, many Hooded Mergansers, Tree Swallows, Baltimore Orioles and Warbling Vireos.

Great Egret digiscoped by Ted Cheskey

Heading east, I encountered the only Common Ravens observed that day. You couldn’t miss them on the bike path which went directly under their conspicuous and foul-smelling nest beneath the Champlain Bridge. At Brebeuf Park, looking onto the Ottawa River where a rapid separates the mainland from a large flat rock, to my delight, I spotted severak Black-belled Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Least Sandpipers and an American Pipit.

My last stop along the river was a lookout behind the campus of the Université du Quebec en Outaouais. Atop the limestone cliffs, I had a perfect view of some of the seabird colonies on small islands in the Ottawa River. In addition to hundreds of Ring-billed Gull, Double-crested Cormorants, and a few Black-crowned Night Herons, I found the one “boss” Herring Gull, nesting at the very top of the island. All of the smaller Ring-billed Gulls appeared to be relegated to lower areas, some of which are vulnerable to flooding.

By the time I arrived home before noon, I was up to 83 species. Most birders consider mid-afternoon as the “dead zone” because bird activity such as singing and feeding seems to stop for a few hours. It is tough to find new species at that time. I took advantage by taking a short break to eat, rest and review my list of species to determine what was missing. Late afternoon, I rallied my energy and headed out on a mission to find some of the missing species. It was tough going, but I did find three new birds, two that I had found from my reconnaissance the previous day: Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chimney Swift, and an Indigo Bunting, always a delight. I ended up with 86 species, three more than the previous year and very satisfying.

Sunday

Two days later, the weather was not as I had hoped. A cold front came in with wind, which makes birding challenging because of the noise created by wind in the leaves. I recognize a high percentage of the birds that I am able to identify by their songs and calls so I was at a disadvantage from the start. Despite the wind, I followed essentially the same route as Thursday, leaving the house shortly after 4 am, and heading into Gatineau Park by bike. My straining ears did detect a faint “peent” call note of a Woodcock at the same place I had the species on Friday. About an hour later, I heard the deep cooing of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which was a nice surprise on top of the array of Thrushes and other birds. After about an hour of birding, I returned home for a quick breakfast. There were fewer birds singing, and much more background noise from the trees. I was convinced that birding would be more challenging this day.

A friend joined me for the next several hours, as we biked through la Forest Chantegrives to the Ottawa River, picking up some of the species that I had heard there two days earlier. At the Ottawa River, there was no Egret, but there were several good finds. We spotted a well-hidden American Coot by a beaver lodge on the river, a beautiful Northern Pintail dabbling with some Mallards by the Champlain Bridge, some agile Common Terns fishing on the other side of the River, and a Solitary Sandpiper proving that whoever named the species really got it right. The cold air also brought the Chimney Swifts to the river. Two days earlier, I fought hard to find two swifts. On Sunday, there were hundreds foraging above the River.

When we returned home for lunch I was up to 84 species!  At 11h30, I was ready to take a break for lunch, and did this short update video. https://youtu.be/7PkcuzH2wcc

I went solo in the afternoon, walking some of the route I had done by bicycle, again through the Bois des Grives. I worked hard to find a few of the Blackburnian Warblers that breed in the Corridor Champlain, about 1 kilometre from my house as the Raven flies. I watched for nearly 30 minutes on a lookout with a view over the southern hills in Gatineau Park before spotting two Turkey Vultures, that were invisible without binoculars. Turkey Vulture was a species that eluded me on Thursday. The last species observed was from home. I looked to the skies with a glass of wine in hand just as the sun was setting. Three Rough-winged Swallows winged their way northward high above our house, rounding the daily total up to 88 species.

Combined over the two birdathon days, I observed 102 species. There were four species observed during my reconnaissance day that I didn’t find on either birdathon. This knowledge drives my determination (some might say obsession) to find more species the next year. Can I crack the magic 100 species total in one day, within a three km radius of my house before my own faculties give out? Probably not, but I will try, and definitely have fun in so doing.

Thank you for enduring my accounts and especially for your generosity in helping bird conservation in general, and the very deserving Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory in particular. As I explained in one of the videos, in the past, there was a strong incentive to observe as many species as possible during birdathon, as many people would sponsor me a certain amount per species. Now, that birdathon is organized by an automated donation system that only has a flat rate option, there might appear to be less incentive to work hard to observe birds. I have not given in and softened my approach. I hope you can tell from the account that I do work hard to try and find as many species as possible. I do this because I love it, it is fun, and I want to demonstrate my commitment to this cause. The BPBO Board of Directors, the large BPBO family, and myself are extremely grateful for your support!

Again, here is the link to support my team and BPBO.

Thank you/Merci/Gracias/Obrigado,

Ted

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