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Climate, Covid-19 and the Birds

Annually, I do a Birdathon in support of projects designed to help or in some cases save Canadian birds. While this column today is a reporting of my annual May fundraiser for birds, it tells a story of how the unusual weather and the effects of Covid-19 can impact our birds, and my fundraiser, in different ways. First of all, here’s the end of the story. I did my 24-hour birdathon this past weekend in hot and sunny conditions that changed overnight to a cool and breezy start to the next day. Sounds ideal: right? Well not really, as the muggy weather that has been with us for a few days actually meant few birds lingered to be counted on my Big Day and few new birds arrived to replace them. My total of 148 species sounds impressive but is one of the lowest totals I have ever recorded in my last 35 years of doing a birdathon! Many species of birds have been dribbling into Ontario, and just as quickly quietly leaving. But I need them to stay for a bit to be counted! Migration is a costly time for birds and there is urgency for them to get here and start nesting. Food, reproduction and shelter are paramount in their life cycles. Yet is seems they’re exhibiting almost a blasé attitude towards migration this year. Others, which should have arrived by now, were either in very low numbers or hadn’t even shown up yet. Most flycatchers and warblers should have already passed through our area and headed for their breeding grounds but many, seemed to, have not even started to show up. Typically, some are late migrants anyway but this year they seem to have forgotten to come! Many enjoy Canada, yet the Blackpoll and Wilson’s Warblers are virtually missing. Sandpipers are another group that I rely on to show up on this birdathon weekend, as they bolster the number of species I can find on my important day. Where were they this year? I expected to get 20 to 22 species, but this year only 11 species were here. Most lingering ducks didn’t linger but had already moved on, despite the fact that large amounts of food were available on Lake Ontario. Bird song was much diminished, on the Kawartha breeding grounds that we visit each year, as we searched for specialties that nest on the Carden Alvar. The intense sun and high temperatures depressed their song even more, so the birds that were there weren’t evident because they were silent. Covid-19 had an odd effect on my success this year. As I said already I rely on birds to be here, to be visible and in many cases announce their presence through song. But what I have never had to contend with before is, access limitations to traditional areas where I look for these migrants. Please don’t think me critical, for that is not the purpose of the next few statements, I completely understand and support what officials are doing to protect us. Darlington Provincial Park is a home to major migration staging areas for waterfowl, sandpipers and myriad landbirds. This year, we were not allowed access to any of the beach areas and had to view birds from less than ideal vantage points. Much of the lakefront habitat was not even visible to us, so we missed several key species, further reducing our success. Nonquon lagoons in Port Perry generally offer great numbers of unusual land and water birds that help immensely in our quest. This year we could not enter the site at all, so, likely lost about 10 species of waterfowl and shorebirds that we count on to bolster our total. So bottom line, we had a great day under trying conditions with diminished success. So here is my plea. If any of you care about our birds and haven’t already sponsored me in my birdathon this year, please consider doing so. Here is the link to my donation page, as set up by Birds Canada to raise monies for Canadian birds’ preservation and study, go to, or contact me by email at Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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