The route is pre-scouted so we can maximize the outcome, meaning that we went out a few days in advance, trying to find where the rarer or more elusive species might be hiding.
On the eve of May 26th off we went, heading north to the Carden Alvar, which is a bird-rich area just north of Durham Region. We birded here until dark, struggling a bit to find all the species we sought. After several hours, we had found most of the key species, including Loggerhead Shrike, Upland Sandpiper, Black-billed Cuckoo, Sedge Wren, and Golden-winged Warbler and lots more.
From here we headed south and birded through the night, looking and listening for owls and marsh birds. Exciting finds like Whip-poor-will, Eastern Screech-owl, Barred Owl, Sora, Virginia Rail, Common Gallinule and Least Bittern made the effort worthwhile!
Near dawn, we checked out some fields and added several species of sparrow, Clay-coloured, Grasshopper, Vesper, Field and Eastern Towhee.
Now this is where it got tough, as the water levels on the Great Lakes were very high and most of the mudflats and beaches, we needed to find sandpipers in, were under water. But we trudged (sloshed?) on, and managed to find some good birds, at Darlington Provincial Park and nearby areas: Piping Plover which is super rare, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, Black-crowned Night-heron, Red-throated Loon, and several species of ducks, such as Redhead, Lesser Scaup, White-winged Scoter, Common Goldeneye, and Long-tailed Duck.
Visits to Thickson’s Woods and Cranberry Marsh in south Whitby, and the woodlands at Darlington added a host of other species such as: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole and more.
Once we left the lakeshore we wandered to our favourite spots in central Durham, looking for habitat specific species. Here we found Blue-winged,
Black-throated Blue, Tennessee, Orange-crowned, and Hooded Warblers, Alder and Olive-sided Flycatchers, Northern Mockingbird, and Indigo Bunting.
By the end of it all we had found 155 species! Not bad, but well below our hoped for 175+ species. But why? Well weather primarily. A cool and very wet spring made the shorebirds widely scattered and put much of the favoured habitat under water. Many insect eating species were in low numbers due to the lack of insect food.
Okay, so why do I do this? To help birds of course. The Birdathon, as it is called, is a fund-raiser that strives to raise at least $250,000 annually to help Canadian birds. Each sponsored birdwatcher gets to designate how 25% of his or her donations are used.
Mine go to North Durham Nature, for our work with flora and birds and other forms of North Durham wildlife. This year I raised almost $1900.
The balance of the monies raised goes through a grant program, to researchers and rehabilitators to assist our birds. Studies focus on outright preservation of a species or habitats, or scientific studies to look for causes and solutions to the drastic decline in most of our breeding birds.
Just in case you think I’m totally off my rocker, well maybe I am, because 24 hours after I did my Big Day, I did it again with a new team! This time I stayed in Durham and did not travel to the Carden area. Ironically, I found almost exactly the same number of species but the composition was quite different.
We missed about 18 species on the first day that we saw on the second and vice versa. The composite total was 174 species for the two outings. I can’t wait until next year and I hope the weather is good. If you meant to donate, or would like to donate now, it’s not too late. Just let me know please and I’ll tell you how. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com, and on LinkedIn and Facebook.