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  • Ron Davidson

My Non-Big Bird Day

No, this isn’t about a giant yellow bird that lives on a street named for a seed. It’s about my annual drive to raise money for the protection of Canadian birds. I must reiterate how dire the fates of many of our birds are. The way we’re going, the avifauna will be very different 30 or 40 years from now unless something miraculous happens. Government programs offer lip service to create and protect habitats. But the bottom line is the economy drives the country, not wildlife.

For almost every one of the last 35 years, I have gone out in May to honour your kind donations to Birds Canada and North Durham Nature by seeing how many different bird species I can see in a 24-hour period. This year as I planned my outing, I realized something strange had happened. Although most of the species one would expect to migrate through the Durham Region were being observed, the numbers were very low, and the dates not consistent with patterns of the past. Migrant birds are very particular when they migrate and where they stop to feed and rest enroute. So it is not difficult to add a modicum of success to a ‘Big Day’ by studying weather and timing.

However, four things conspired against me this year. One was the aforementioned decline in species numbers, where our warblers and many flycatchers and almost all of the swallows were only present in low numbers. The second had to do with a blend of weather impacts and climate change as the spring was much warmer than expected, resulting in an earlier than usual migration of many species. So simply stated, they weren’t here when they should have been! Strong south winds persisted throughout much of the migration period, allowing birds to overshoot our area and fly non-stop to their breeding grounds farther north. A tiny bird pushed by a 100+ km/hour tailwind can travel great distances with little effort, so when conditions exist, they take advantage. The fourth had to do with habitat loss, both here, enroute and on the wintering grounds. The decline in wetlands, tropical forests and mudflats led to a decline in many birds. And it bore true here as well, as shorebirds were very hard to find until after my Big Day when they finally moved through in good numbers in June, too late!

So, where did that leave me? I decided I couldn’t do a Big Day this year, so I chose to look at the patterns of migrants over a month-long period. This personal choice doesn’t affect the fundraising, and simply stated makes it a bit more fun for me! During May, I saw approximately 212 species in Ontario! I was conducting breeding bird surveys for work. I undertook some Covid-safe travelling to some hotspots to find unusual birds and to study these amusing little migrants. The outcome was much more impressive than I thought it would be, as some amazing rarities showed up. These included a European vagrant establishing itself in North America, the Eurasian Collared Dove; a few marsh and shorebird species, Black-necked Stilt, Snowy Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Yellow Rail, and Glossy Ibis. A southern bird related to our Whip-poor-will, Chuck-wills-widow; and a few rare warblers, finches and vireos, Yellow-throated, Prairie, Kirtland’s, Prothonotary and Cerulean Warblers, Painted Bunting and Blue Grosbeak.

I had an amazing month and enjoyed these encounters over a series of days instead of trying to see everything in a single day. And it was way more relaxing! Thanks to the generosity of many people, I have raised about $3,500 so far to help scientists and conservationists in their work to protect our birds. There is still time if you have a few extra pennies. You can still donate. Go to my secure portal on the Birds Canada website to donate. Here is the link: https://www.canadahelps.org/me/6JznRV8. Thank you all for caring about the wild things that amuse and tell us how well we’re protecting our Earth.

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online at LinkedIn and Facebook.

#conservation #geoffcarpentier #walksoftly

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