The birds are back! And so is the annual Yukon Birdathon – a 24-hour birding extravaganza and sweet fundraiser.
Held the last weekend in May, the 2016 event starts at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 27 and ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 28. Birders can take from a few hours to all 24 to identify as many bird species as they can.
“The role of the Birdathon is to highlight the bird diversity we have,” says Yukon Bird Club President Cameron Eckert. “It’s usually an impressive one day survey of the variety of birds that have arrived during spring migration.”
A total 327 species have been recorded in Yukon, with 187 species breeding here. On average, between 135 and 145 species are heard or seen during the birdathon, Eckert says.
Jim Hawkings founded the first event in the late 1980s and is still in charge. “Things have been early this spring so it’s hard to say what birds will be out there.”
Individuals, teams and families are welcome to take part.
Prizes are offered for the youngest and oldest birder, the most species observed overall and the most seen by enviro-birding, which means not using motorized vehicles during the Birdathon, except public transportation.
The event was renamed the Helmut Grünberg Yukon Birdathon last year to recognize club’s late president and most avid birdathon participant.
It takes time to identify birds when you are first learning, but I find it satisfying to finally match up the description in my guidebook with the little yellow bird singing sweetly in the trees in front of me.
For some, the Birdathon is definitely a competitive event.
Hawkings’ main tip for the sporting types: stay up late and get up early!
That will be my plan as I bike and walk to hotspots around Riverdale, the Millennium Trail and the Quartz Road wetlands, with maybe a bus trip to Takhini and the Crestview sewage lagoon.
The wrap-up highlight is a potluck at Robert Service Campground on Saturday at 6 p.m. to socialize and share sightings.
There will be a barbecue and it’s nice if people can bring something to share and a lawnchair for sitting.
Besides a feast of birds, so to speak, the Birdathon is also the Yukon Bird Club’s main fundraiser, supporting education such as free field trips and presentations and travel assistance for young Yukoners to attend ornithology workshops, as well as research projects such as banding and studies of pharmaceuticals in the Whitehorse sewage ponds.
Sightings can also be posted to eBird.org, which is an online sightings database, to increase the knowledge of bird populations around the globe. (More on that in another column.)
Pledge sheets, reference guides, and other information is available on the Yukon Bird Club’s new website, YukonBirds.ca.
Even if you don’t know a magpie from a merganser, you can take part by making a donation or sponsoring a birder such as me, the Feature Birder this year! Tax receipts are issued for all donations of $10 or more. (I aim to find 30 species.)