On a cold February day in 1993, local biologists Cameron Eckert, Pam Sinclair, Wendy Nixon and the late Helmut Grünberg met over coffee, determined to fill a major gap in Yukon’s birding community. While there was a strong body of knowledge and research underway, there was no public organization in place to support Yukon birding and birds.
The four resolved to move forward and, on March 5, 1993, held the Yukon Bird Club’s (YBC) founding meeting at the Whitehorse Public Library.
“We were shocked—it was just packed. It was pretty clear that people were wanting this to happen for some time” said Eckert. The club’s first board immediately got to work on the first newsletter and an array of field trips and “it’s been an incredible ride ever since!” said Eckert.
Since its creation, the YBC has hosted around a thousand field trips and events, publishing regular newsletters (The Warbler), several bird checklists and an atlas of Yukon birds (Birds of the Yukon Territory.) YBC has also advocated for several bird-related conservation initiatives and has significantly enhanced knowledge of the territory’s birds. But its greatest success has been helping residents and visitors get out to see and enjoy birds through free public field trips and events. Hosted by volunteers in Whitehorse and the communities, one of the most popular YBC events has been the annual Yukon Birdathon, a fundraiser held each May. The event, recently renamed the Helmut Grünberg Birdathon (in honour of Helmut’s passion for birds and long-time dedication to birding), was started by the Yukon Conservation Society in the early ’80s. For the last 40 years, it has been run mainly by Jim Hawkings.
Another YBC initiative that stands out is one that aimed to protect McIntyre Creek. Before Friends of McIntyre Creek was established, YBC members were the lone voices advocating to city council on behalf of the creek as an important wilderness wetland, watershed and movement corridor for wildlife. Other YBC conservation advocacy has involved Shallow Bay, Swan Lake, the Beaver and LaBiche Rivers, the Mayo area, Ear Lake and more.
“And it’s not always opposing some sort of development plan, it’s also trying to work with people to make sure bird habitat concerns are taken into consideration,” Eckert said.
Every year brings something new, and the YBC has seen a lot of change since 1993. “To me, the greatest changes have come recently with the emergence of eBird as a wonderful means for all birdwatchers to contribute to knowledge on Yukon birds. This has been helped by the advent of the internet, digital photography, GPS, smartphones and social media, especially the Yukon Birds Facebook Group, which has offered an entire new forum for the exchange of bird information among enthusiasts and citizen scientists,” said Hawkings.
Attracting the attention of young people is a challenge faced by many societies, but it is integral to the long-term resilience of the YBC. “I’m really hopeful and encouraged by the new generation of people getting involved in the club and I hope this trend continues,” said Hawkings.
Over the last 25 years, the YBC has been a strong promoter of bird conservation, awareness and appreciation.
The YBC will be celebrating its 25th birthday at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre on Thursday, April 11, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
There will be guest presentations by Katie Aitken, Shyloh van Delft, Cameron Eckert, Dave Mossop and Ted Murphy-Kelly. There will also be door prizes and, of course, birthday cake.
This is a free public event, open to all ages, so come celebrate with your friends and family.