Every year I go out for 24 consecutive hours to raise money for Canadian related avian causes. Some of the monies are used locally, by North Durham Nature, but most goes to Bird Studies Canada, who shares it with researchers working to help our birds.
Annually, I average about 156 species of birds during that period, but this year I shattered that number. Why? Well, a number of factors have to align perfectly – weather, migration timing and coincidence. This year, I had my biggest day ever.
My friend Peter and I set out at 8 a.m. in south Durham and birded the Courtice area and Darlington Provincial Park. A small migrant trap yielded many warblers in an unexpected tiny woodlot near his house. When we got to Darlington the show began, as ducks and loons streamed past and more late migrants fed in the shoreline trees. Every target bird we sought showed up (e.g. Orchard Oriole and Red-throated Loon). A quick stop at Second Marsh yielded a very uncommon Great Egret for us, as we set off for Thickson’s Woods in Whitby. Almost every conceivable warbler and small passerine we hoped for was there waiting for us. Bonus - the pier at Whitby yielded a Fish Crow - my first ever for Durham Region!
Moving inland, we birded north and to central Durham looking for some of the Moraine’s breeding specialties, like Blue-winged Warbler and Red-shouldered Hawk. We ended this leg of the journey at Nonquon lagoons, where many ducks, normally gone by now, lingered. Mixed amongst them was a very uncommon Red-necked Phalarope, a small shorebird that breeds in the Arctic. Also the Red-necked Grebe, which nested here last year, is back and incubating eggs! A surprise was a very unexpected Red-headed Woodpecker, a species in decline for years.
Exhilarated by our success, we headed north to Kirkfield to bird that unique area known as the Carden Alvar. Essentially, we only bird three roads, on which we often net 100 species, due to the diverse habitats. Target birds here are Loggerhead Shrike (critically endangered), Sedge Wren, Hermit Thrush, Whip-poor-will, Common Nighthawk, Sandhill Crane, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-billed Cuckoo, and several species of sparrows – got'em all!
Throughout the night we started to work southeast through Durham and Northumberland, looking for marsh and night birds. It is always surprising to most how many birds sing at night. That night was no exception, as we found Screech and Barred Owl, several rails, Marsh Wrens and Least Bittern.
So now at dawn, we were nearing the end of our journey, as we entered Presqu’ile Provincial Park to bird the marshes and Owen's Point for more sought after species, like Gallinule, Pied-billed Grebe and a few shorebirds rewarded us, but essentially this area was a bust, because of the extremely high water levels that washed out the entire beach, literally. Inland, we did find a few forest species to add to our list. So by 8 a.m. we wrapped it up, with a group total of 181 species, of which I saw 180, a new personal high!
So why did we do so well? A combination of factors led to this, some related to weather (climate?), others linked to good planning and some just plain good circumstances. The high water levels along Lake Ontario moved shorebirds inland to small puddles in farmer’s fields. Local birdwatchers had been scouting these out for days, so we knew where most of the good sites were. Cold nights meant food was scarce, so when birds found favourable habitats they lingered for days. Several of these were along our route. A small surge of new migrants came in overnight, to bolster the existing species. Our route was well-planned and proven, over the course of several years, so that added to our success and a couple of lingering rarities like the Fish Crow certainly helped.
Thanks to all who supported me logistically or financially. If you’d like to donate to this worthy cause, it’s not too late. To donate go to: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon19/page/carpentiers-201-birdathon/
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.
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Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.