Thursday, January 26, 2012

Big Year birders visit Pukaskwa National Park and beyond

A Big Year is an informal competition among birders to see who can see or hear the largest number of species of birds within a single calendar year and within a specific geographical area. Wikipedia.
Josh Vandermeulen and Barb Charlton.
The phenomenon of the Big Year, with all of its excesses and eccentricities, has inspired a 2011 Hollywood movie (available on DVD Jan 31st!) and a sub-genre of travel literature.

The all-time total number of species recorded for Ontario stands at 486: many of these are vagrants which have occurred only once or twice before. In recent decades, a small number of mega-motivated Ontario birders have taken up the Big Year challenge. Seeing more than 300 species in a year is no mean feat. Glenn Coady's 1996 record of 338 - a total boosted by an unprecedented number of hurricane-borne waifs - remains unbeaten.

A target species
In 2011, Barb Charlton of Flamborough twitched a very impressive 322 species. Her friend, Guelph birder Josh Vandermeulen, has commenced a 2012 Big Year. The two - a Big Year veteran and a Big Year rookie - are now in the midst of a precisely calculated swing through northwest Ontario with their sights set on specific rarities and more common species unique to the boreal forest. A particular attraction was the pristine spruce-lichen forest of Pukaskwa National Park which provides excellent winter habitat for Spruce Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee and many "winter finch" species.

Owling with Josh, Barb & Martha
This week Josh and Barb spent some time at Pukaskwa and in the Town of Marathon. We joined them on daytime and nighttime snowshoeing treks as they sought out new species for the year. We had a great time. They were gracious guests and their enthusiasm for nature, Ontario and meeting people is infectious.

I won't say what Josh and Barb did or didn't see in the area because the story is really Josh's to tell. Fortunately, he updates his blog frequently.

We look forward to following the journey through 2012.

Good luck Josh!

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