Report: 2023 Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon, May 26-27, 2023

2023 marked the second full-on Birdathon since we (mostly) emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Once again it was a pleasure for everyone to be able to gather socially for dinner after the birdwatching dust cleared!

Tired Birdathon participants gathered at Rotary Park on Saturday evening to share stories and a meal. Fortunately the cold wind was kept at bay by a clever windbreak of tarps (on the right) erected by John Meikle and Paul Warner!


Total participants: 32
Number of people attending the post-Birdathon BBQ:  28
Total Species observed: 139
(Summary Tables with names of all participants and a complete species list are at the bottom of this post…)

Most Species by a new Birdathoner:
  • Cathy Hoehn 32
  • Colin Abbott and Vickie Rochon 31
  • Tony Gonda 23
  • Jasper Caudle 16
  • Gemma and River Richardson 16

Most Species by a family/household:
  • Julie Bauer and Terry Skjonsberg 78
  • Shyloh, Toren, and Kassandra van Delft 68
  • John Meikle and Helen Liskova 42
  • Amy, Lauren, and Hannah Ryder 22
  • Gemma and River Richardson 16

Is that a Swainson’s or Hermit Thrush? Our youngest birder this year was 6-year-old River Richardson, who participated with his mother Gemma Richardson.
Youngest Participants:
  • River Richardson (6 years old)
  • Hannah and Lauren Ryder  (12 years old)
  • Jasper Caudle (12 years old)
Hannah and Lauren Ryder had so much fun on last year’s Birdathon they came back again! This year they had some serious competition for the youngest participant award! While exploring the area near their home in Whistlebend on foot, they dressed appropriately for the cool spring weather, but their friend opted to stay in his winter coat….. (Amy Ryder)

Oldest Participant:

  • Faulty Team (Bob Atkinson, Barbara Grueger, and Angelika Lange)  Age 75
  • Jim Hawkings Age 69

Most Species Envirobirding:
  • Shyloh, Toren, and Kassandra van Delft 68 (bike and foot)
  • eShrikes – Lena Ware and Cameron Eckert 63 (eBike and foot)
  • Jenny Trapnell 57 (foot and public transit)
  • Cathy Hoehn 32 (foot and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle)
  • Becky Striegler 31 (foot and public transit)
  • Jim Hawkings 31 (foot)
  • Tony Gonda 23 (foot)
  • Amy, Lauren and Hannah Ryder 22 (foot)
Shyloh van Delft and her daughter Kassandra all set for a fun day of birdwatching by bike! Note the multi-function child seat on this bike… (Toren van Delft)

Most species found near your own home/backyard/shared space:
  • Jim Hawkings 31 (walked around Wolf Creek, Pineridge, Fox Haven)
  • Tony Gonda 23 (walked around Hidden Lakes)
  • Amy, Lauren and Hannah Ryder 21 (walked trails near/around Whistlebend)

Perhaps the most unusual bird found in this year’s Birdathon was this Black-Legged Kittiwake, found at Quartz Road Marsh and seen by multiple observers. (Adam Perrier)

Once again we had tremendous participation.  There were  29 birders, including 7 first-timers.  Cathy Hoehn had a great time in her first birdathon, using her plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle to get around.  Newcomer 12-year-old Jasper Caudle made a great effort, and even dragged his six siblings and both parents to the potluck!

Lots of folks made a really good effort to be enviro-birders:  Five people were solely on foot, two more used foot and public transit, three were on regular bikes (even hauled an infant with them!), two were on eBikes, and one used an electric car.  Together, that’s 13 of 29 participants – a huge change from previous Birdathons.

Toren, Shyloh, and Kassandra van Delft (somewhere in the Ibex Valley?) show how much fun our Yukon Birdathon is when you envirobird! (Shyloh van Delft).  All three of them spent the day getting around by bike and foot from their home base near the Takhini River Bridge on the Alaska Highway.

Weather…..well, after a pretty nice time last year, 2023 was a bit of a character-builder.  Windy and pretty cool (11-13C), with just a few drops of rain on Saturday. The wind was definitely our constant companion, and it made life at the potluck dinner much more interesting as well.  luckily at Rotary Park Paul Warner and John Meikle  stepped up and rigged a very nice windbreak using tarps and rope.  With the wind at bay, the evening sun kept everyone warm long enough to enjoy a great meal and the great company of other birders.

Ted Murphy-Kelly took the opportunity to bask in his favorite haunts at the Albert Creek Bird Observatory at Upper Liard…..which was a bit wetter than normal this spring. (Jukka Jantunen)

As usual most people were birding in the Southern Lakes between Marsh Lake, Carcross, and Lake Laberge, again this year, but we did have some going further afield. Julie Bauer and Terry Skjonsberg were out between Kluane and Haines Juction. Jukka Jantunen and Ted Murphy-Kelly decided to relive their birdathon of 10 years ago, so they drove from Whitehorse to Watson Lake on Friday and returned on Saturday.  Thanks to their sleep-deprived efforts, our species total was bumped up by 20 species.  Close to half of that increase was from birding in southeast Yukon – where a handful of species can be found at the very northwestern part of their North American range (e.g. Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-headed Vireo, Clay-coloured Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart, Western Tanager) .  Meanwhile Julie and Terry added another 5 species that were not seen by other observers (Northern Harrier, Great Gray Owl, Great Horned Owl, American Pipit, Pine Grosbeak).

Hardcore Yukon Birdathoners (left to right) Jukka Jantunen, and Ted Murphy-Kelly managed to see/hear 111 species this year, making them champions by quite a good margin. We’re not sure if Rudy – on the left with the binoculars – was part of the team or not.

Hard work (and covering a lot of ground) makes for a long bird list.  Our resident experts Jukka Jantunen and Ted Murphy Kelly proved this once again.  Their “sleepless in Watson Lake” epic netted 111 species.  This year’s Feature Birder, Alex Oberg, got a better night’s sleep at home, and was not too far behind with 87 species, followed by Tracy Allard with 81.

Our Feature Birder, Alex Oberg, managed 87 species in only his second Yukon Birdathon.   Alex also put in a huge effort to get sponsors for his Birdathon.  Well done Alex!

Our Birdathon species total was 139, which ties for the lowest number in recent years.  The cold, windy weather definitely played into this relatively low number. Compare that to 151 in 2019, 139 in 2020, 147 in 2021, and 146 in 2022.

As to the actual birds seen this year, nothing horribly unusual was seen, but there were a few interesting wanderers:  a Black-legged Kittiwake appeared at Quartz Road – this is gull there never really strays far from salt water and nests on cliffs along the coast! Also at Quartz Road was a Ring-billed gull….common on the prairies, but not here.

Memorable moments from this year’s 24 hours?  Swallows will figure in most people’s notes: It seems people saw almost no swallows, or, if they were lucky, stumbled on one the sheltered wetlands where hundreds or thousands of swallows were desperately wheeling about trying to get enough to eat.  In my case, the only one I saw during 30 km of walking was the Tree Swallow that was nesting in my nestbox at home – and all I saw was its head!   Logan McLeod found the other end of the spectrum – hordes of them in a small pothole lake near the Whitehorse Sewage Lagoons.

The Birdathon is one of the main fundraisers for the Yukon Bird Club – really the only one we have aside from our annual membership dues.  This year several participants really stepped up:  Alex Oberg, our 2023 Feature Birder, Cathy Hoehn – a new member and brand new participant in the Birdathon, and Ted Murphy-Kelly – a longtime YBC member and an undisputed cornerstone of the Yukon birding community. A huge THANK YOU to them and all the other participants and their sponsors this year.

On behalf of myself and all the other participants, I’d like to thank  once again 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.


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Master Checklist

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