Saturday, 23 May 2020

2020 Great Canadian Birdathon

Today, my dad and I set out to complete a big day as part of the Great Canadian Birdathon. This was no ordinary big day though. Due to COVID-19 concerns and the need for social distancing, we decided to do our big day at one location so that we could bird together but not have to get into a vehicle together to travel from location to location. There was no better spot to do this than the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary!

Prior to going out, I came up a with a list of 104 species that I would expect to see at this location for May 23rd. Getting all 104 of those would obviously be a best case scenario, as it's not like I see every common and expected species every time I go birding. However, I set our goal for the day at 100 species, hoping that I could get most of those, plus a couple unexpected ones.

We met on site for 4:00am. A calling American Bittern was our first bird of the day, followed by Common Loon, American Woodcock, and two Barred Owls. One of the owls flew in and landed in a tree right over our heads!

We continued to rack up singing and calling birds as we biked our way through the sanctuary. We reached the ruins of Fort St. Joseph for sunrise and waited until it was light enough to scan out over the water. Ring-billed Gulls and Common Terns were out there, but there was a real lack of waterfowl. That wasn't totally unexpected though, most of the ducks have gone through here already. A heavy fog started to roll in, so we took a break from atop the ruins and went to look for songbirds in the forested areas.

I heard the familiar call of a House Wren, which normally wouldn't be too notable, however, I knew this was a species that had never officially been recorded within the boundaries of the St. Joseph Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary before. House Wrens have certainly been there before, likely every year, but they just somehow never made it to eBird or any of the historical records from the sanctuary. It is now officially the 198th species to be recorded in the sanctuary!

As we birded along, we picked up some nice species like Scarlet Tanager, Canada Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, and Baltimore Oriole. By 9:00am or so, we had already accumulated almost 80 species, but we were running out of species left to get, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle to even get close to our goal.

Great Crested Flycatcher
Porcupine
Baltimore Oriole
Then I found our bird of the day. Foraging along the road was a Field Sparrow! This is a rare bird for the Algoma District, with only eight previous eBird records of the species, and my first time seeing one locally. Species number 199 for the sanctuary! Luckily, it cooperated great for photos. It even sang once for us, but I was unable to capture that.

Field Sparrow
After eating an early lunch, we hung around the ruins area to see if anything interesting would fly by. We added a few species, such as Warbling Vireo, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but no Great Egrets or American White Pelicans like we wanted!

Turkey Vultures
We continued to bird but the new birds for the day were few and far in between. Our last new bird was a Mourning Warbler, our 91st species of the day. At 6:00pm, we called it quits, we were just too tired and there was no way we were going to get to 100. However, we of course were very satisfied with our results, especially the Field Sparrow!

A huge thanks goes out to everyone who contributed to our birdathon. Ron and I were able to raise $1,200, which surpassed our goal of $1,000. All the money raised is going towards Birds Canada for their bird conservation efforts here in Canada. If you are interested, you can still contribute here: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/bird-studies-canada/p2p/birdathon20/team/dorscht-birding/.