Well, after a couple of pretty weird years, the Yukon Bird Club is back in normal field trip operating mode this year, including a fully-fledged Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon held on 27-28 May – complete with an IN PERSON potluck dinner on Saturday evening after the 24 hours of birding was finished. This was a pleasant change from two years of Zoom meetings which made it very difficult to share any delicious food!
This year’s Birdathon had tremendous participation. There were 29 birders, including 11 first-timers. For the first time in several years, the weather was quite pleasant (definitely in a different league than last year!), notwithstanding a few isolated squalls of rain and hail on Friday night in the Whitehorse area.
People were birding mostly in the Southern Lakes between Marsh Lake, Carcross, and Lake Laberge, but a few went as far as Haines Junction, and we had Kim Selbee up in Mayo. This was the first year in quite awhile that none of our participants were birding in the Watson Lake area, where a handful of species can be found at the very northwestern part of their North American range. In spite of that, our hard-birding crew managed to see or hear 146 species, just one less that the 147 seen in 2021, and better than the 139 seen in 2020. The best recent year was 151 species recorded in 2019.
As to the actual birds seen this year, a few oddballs turned up. A Willet – a large shorebird normally found on the prairies- was seen by multiple participants at Lewes Marsh. Tracy Allard glimpsed a Black Tern at Jackfish Bay on Lake Laberge. Black Terns are also prairie birds that just poke their noses into the southeast Yukon. A Glaucous-winged Gull was skulking among the hordes of Herring Gulls in on the gravel bars at Quartz Road, well inland from it’s usual home on the Pacific Coast. Alex Oberg found another visitor from the southeast – a Western Tanager – at the Marsh Lake Campground.
After all the Steller’s Jays seen in the past 18 months, only one turned up on the Birdathon – all that is left of the big invasion?
Our top birders this year were a team of biologists: the Dufflbags, including our feature birder Lena Ware, long-time YBC board member Cameron Eckert, and Kirsten Wilcox. They managed 116 species of birds – and even got a few hours of sleep in the middle of it! Close on their heels was Adam Perrier with 114 followed by Tracy Allard with 106. Our perennial winner, Jukka Jantunen, tried his luck in Haines Junction this year instead of his usual Watson Lake haunts. Along with teammates Shyloh van Delft and Julie Bauer, he saw 96 species.
It was particularly heartening to see the 11 first-time Birdathoners, many of whom are still quite new to birding. Congrats to all of you! One of our new youngish keeners, Kirsten Wilcox, topped this crowd as well as being part of the overall winning team. Behind her was Dominique Blanc with 96 and Alex Oberg with 60. Among our newcomers were 11-year old sisters Lauren and Hannah Ryder and their mom Amy Ryder. Lauren and Hannah were also our youngest participants and their team also distinguished themselves by enviro-birding very close to their own home in Whistle-bend!
Aside from the Ryder clan, the only other enviro-birder this year was yours truly. Enviro-birders participate under their own power or using only renewable energy during the entire 24 hour period. Traditionally this has been walking, biking, or paddling. This year does mark our first Electric Vehicle participants: Grant Abbott and Wendy Nixon! Next year we will consider officially expanding this with some other categories: e-bikes, other Electric Vehicles, Car Pooling, Public Transit. Let us know if you have other suggestions!
This year our Birdathon wasn’t completely without glitches, as our normal post-Birdathon social venue, Robert Service Campground, was closed for renovations, forcing a move to a more exposed location at Rotary Park. Luckily for us, the sun was out and the wind calmed down so it was an extremely pleasant shirt-sleeve event attended by 27 people!
As always, there were interesting stories of adventure from participants. Among my memorable moments was exploring the bike trail along the Alaska Highway between Golden Horn subdivision and the Yukon River Bridge for the first time ever, even though I have lived here since 1983, and even lived for 7 years at the Yukon River Bridge! This was a very pleasant ride in the warm(ish) morning sun, made even better by a nice tailwind from the north and a generally downhill gradient. Coming back at the end of the afternoon into the wind and uphill was a bit more exhausting however. Another great moment was a surprise I got while watching an Olive-sided Flycatcher busily working the shrubby area at the far end of Lewes Marsh next to the sawmill road. I was enjoying a nice view of this bird through my binoculars and lazily waving at a bee that was buzzing around me, when the flycatcher looked my way and then, completely unprovoked, suddenly charged directly at my head. I was actually quite startled but quickly understood the situation as the bird snagged the bee next to my ear and darted back to it’s perch, where it beat it’s quarry furiously against a tree branch and swallowed it. That was the end of that buzzing.
On behalf of myself and all the other participants, I’d like to thank our Birdathon Coordinator Jenny Trapnell for all her efforts, as well as Betty Sutton who lined up prizes and took care of logistics for the BBQ. And of course thanks to all the participants and sponsors for making the event a huge success this year!