The 2020 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon took place from 5 pm 29 May to 5 pm 30 May. Other field trips usually offered by the Yukon Bird Club have been cancelled to date due to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a slightly modified Birdathon turned out to be a winner for both the club and keen birders in the Yukon. As can happen, the weather challenged everyone, with frequent rainshowers both days sending birders scurrying for the shelter of the nearest building or vehicle or even a handy spruce tree. In spite of these difficulties, we had 22 participants in 14 parties, including 4 families (2 or more people from the same household). Four parties (7 participants) were enviro-birding, i.e. they birdwatched using human- or renewable energy-powered transportation only from 5 pm Friday to 5 pm Saturday. In the spirit of current times, most people stayed pretty close to home – even those who used their car to get around.
A total of 139 species was seen, a bit less than last year’s 151. Jukka Jantunen, our perennial champion, saw the most species (103), but this year he only beat the runner up, Adam Perrier, by one species! Adam’s Birdathon effort was remarkable considering he did not have the benefit of species that frequent southeast Yukon, where Jukka was birding. Julie Bauer, who was also birding in southeast Yukon, managed 98 species, while Cameron Eckert and Pam Sinclair were 4th with 86 species. In the Enviro-birding category Jim Hawkings was first with 47 species; Kim Selbee was second with 38 and the family team of Melanie McFadyen with Joseph, Kalia, and Morel Graham were 3rd with 31 species.
Speaking of species found in southeast Yukon but generally not around Whitehorse, here are a few that gave Jukka and Julie an edge this year: Pileated Woodpecker, Franklin’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Magnolia Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Western Tanager, Brown-headed Cowbird. In addition, they found a couple of habitually late migrants, Alder and Least Flycatchers, which had made it to southeast Yukon by Birdathon time but were not yet in the Whitehorse area. Eastern Kingbird is another species usually found only in southeast, but Adam Perrier managed to find one closer to Whitehorse this year, one of the more unusual sightings of the 2020 Birdathon.
In honour of COVID -19 this year, there was a special category for the most species of Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Jays, Magpies). Julie Bauer wins most species (Common Raven, Common Crow, and Canada Jay). Most species for a household/family team goes to Cameron Eckert and Pam Sinclair with 86 species followed by Logan McLeod and Caitlin Willier with 70 and Melanie McFadyen and her family with 31. The most species by a person new to the Birdathon goes to Logan McLeod and Caitlin Willier. The youngest participant was a 10-year-old member of the Graham clan, while the oldest participant award goes to Betty Sutton.
This year’s feature birder, Taylor Belansky, sighted 38 species. We thank her for spearheading the fundraising side of the Birdathon, with all of this year’s donations going to the Whitehorse Food Bank. We do not know how much money was raised for the Food Bank, but we sincerely thank everyone who donated in these times that are so difficult for many low-income people.
In lieu of the normal BBQ gathering at Robert Service Campground, most of this year’s Birdathon participants took part in a cozy and delicious online conference call to compare bird notes and tales of survival. Particpants on the call mused about some apparent trends in the birds seen over the years: Where have all the Red-necked Phalaropes gone? Why only one Least Sandpiper? Why no American Kestrels? Where are all the Mountain Bluebirds – they were quite common in past years? Are we going to get Rock Pigeons back in town?
So, in spite of being in the midst of a global pandemic, our 2020 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon adapted to the times and was a success. Kim Selbee summed it up pretty well after her 24 hours of fun:
I got home at 4:50pm, starving but really happy 👍. I hope you, and everyone else who participated had half as much fun as I did!!!
Thanks to all participants and fellow organizers, especially our Birdathon Coordinator Betty Sutton. We hope to see you all again next year at a real live post-event BBQ social!