2021 Birdathon Big Day

by Eric Demers

May 8, was birdathon day with Karen Barry and Danielle Lacasse, where the goal was to see or hear as many bird species as possible in 1 day to raise funds through the Great Canadian Birdathon. Funds raised will help support our bird monitoring projects.

I got an early start at 04:50 and walked out to the car to a chorus of American Robin and Spotted Towhee. My first stop was Legacy Marsh in Lantzville. I got there early hoping to hear at least one owl species, but the constant trills of many Orange-crowned Warblers from the red alders was my welcome. A Red-breasted Sapsucker was also drumming its morse-code call from a telephone poll. This first stop  yielded 40 species, plus finally a rather timid call of a Barred Owl. I then met Karen and Danielle at Woodgrove Mall at 06:30, and we headed out to Qualicum Beach.

Hamilton Marsh (E. Demers)

Together, we hit 10 different birding hotspots. Some highlights included a lump on the ground that turned out to be a Merlin at the Happy Cow Farm, a pair of Blue-winged Teal at Morningstar ponds, great photo views of Western Tanager for Danielle at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks (and we bought some cheese curds too), and an American Kestrel right where we hoped perched on its favorite wire at Coldwater Road. Unfortunately, we dipped on the Dipper at the Little Qualicum Hatchery.

Common Merganser, Little Qualicum Hatchery (D. Lacasse)

After Danielle left for her afternoon kayaking adventure, Karen and I hit both sides of the Englishman River estuary. We were glad to see a few shorebirds were still around, including two Long-billed Dowitchers, a Dunlin hanging around with 12 Western Sandpiper, and a lone Semipalmated Plover. The ocean side was quieter since most waterbirds have gone north or inland to breed, but there were still some Pacific Loon and Red-necked Grebe. While scoping a Canada Goose to read the code on its neck collar, an American Pipit just happened to walk into view.

Western Tanager, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks (D. Lacasse)

We then returned to Nanaimo, and I continued solo to Pipers Lagoon Park. The first bird in the binoculars was a Whimbrel feeding on the mudflat, which was an unexpected bonus. Next was a stop at the Nanaimo River Estuary where the highlight was a pair of California Quail that crossed the road (not what birders go there for!). At that point, I was feeling ready for a nap, but I pressed on to Quennell Lake. Sure glad I did! The pot farm yielded several dabbling ducks that had been missed elsewhere (Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, bonus Cinnamon Teal), plus Greater Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper, and loads of swallows. Just as I was packing up, an Osprey arrived and perched in a distant tree.

Barred Owl, Buttertubs West Marsh (E. Demers)

After a dinner break at home (while still birding to pick up Hooded Merganser and Pied-billed Grebe on Cathers Lake), I went for a loop around Buttertubs Marsh. I watched a Virginia Rail stand on the side of the trail wondering if it should cross, then it quickly dashed over to the other side. I figured that I should end the day with stop at Buttertubs West Marsh. Although I didn’t observe any new species, I heard that same timid Barred Owl call from my early morning start, but this time the bird just happened to be staring at me from above the access road. A fitting bookend to a great day of birding!

Our birdathon total was 107 species, which isn’t too bad for a first time. The complete list is included below. Please donate on our birdathon page to support our bird monitoring projects.

Highlights: bonus species, good views of Western Tanager, a cooperating American Kestrel (it caught a mouse), nice birding companions, good weather.

Some misses: American Dipper, Downy & Hairy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Belted Kingfisher, Cedar Waxwing, Red Crossbill

Regrets: Not taking more photos/videos, but thanks to Danielle for sharing some awesome pics.

SpeciesLocation First Seen
Canada GooseLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Wood DuckLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Blue-winged TealParksville–Morningstar Golf Course ponds
Cinnamon TealCedar–Quennell Lake
Northern ShovelerCedar–Quennell Lake
GadwallCedar–Quennell Lake
American WigeonFrench Creek mouth
MallardNanaimo – Woodgrove Mall
Northern PintailCedar–Quennell Lake
Green-winged TealNanaimo River Estuary
Ring-necked DuckLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Harlequin DuckEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
BuffleheadParksville–Morningstar Golf Course ponds
Hooded MerganserNanaimo – Cathers Lake
Common MerganserLittle Qualicum fish hatchery
Red-breasted MerganserEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
California QuailNanaimo River Estuary
Pied-billed GrebeNanaimo – Cathers Lake
Red-necked GrebeEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
Rock PigeonNanaimo – Woodgrove Mall
Band-tailed PigeonFrench Creek mouth
Eurasian Collared-DoveHamilton Marsh, Coombs
Vaux’s SwiftParksville–Morningstar Golf Course ponds
Anna’s HummingbirdHamilton Marsh, Coombs
Rufous HummingbirdLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Virginia RailButtertubs Marsh
Black OystercatcherPipers Lagoon
Semipalmated PloverEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
KilldeerHilliers Road Farm
WhimbrelPipers Lagoon
DunlinEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
Least SandpiperCedar–Quennell Lake
Western SandpiperEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
Long-billed DowitcherEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
Greater YellowlegsCedar–Quennell Lake
Pigeon GuillemotEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
Marbled MurreletQualicum Beach–Viewing Platform
Mew GullEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
California GullLittle Qualicum estuary
Glaucous-winged GullNanaimo – Woodgrove Mall
Pacific LoonLittle Qualicum estuary
Common LoonLittle Qualicum estuary
Pelagic CormorantPipers Lagoon
Double-crested CormorantPipers Lagoon
Great Blue HeronQualicum Beach–Viewing Platform
Turkey VultureLittle Qualicum fish hatchery
OspreyCedar–Quennell Lake
Cooper’s HawkParksville–Coldwater Road
Bald EagleHilliers Road Farm
Red-tailed HawkParksville–Coldwater Road
Barred OwlLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Red-breasted SapsuckerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Pileated WoodpeckerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Northern FlickerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
American KestrelParksville–Coldwater Road
MerlinHilliers Road Farm
Hammond’s FlycatcherLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Pacific-slope FlycatcherEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
Hutton’s VireoLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Cassin’s VireoHamilton Marsh, Coombs
Warbling VireoLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Northwestern CrowNanaimo – Woodgrove Mall
Common RavenLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Chestnut-backed ChickadeeLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Northern Rough-winged SwallowParksville–Morningstar Golf Course ponds
Purple MartinFrench Creek mouth
Tree SwallowHilliers Road Farm
Violet-green SwallowLittle Qualicum fish hatchery
Barn SwallowHilliers Road Farm
Cliff SwallowHilliers Road Farm
BushtitEnglishman River Estuary–Shelly St side
Red-breasted NuthatchLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Brown CreeperLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Pacific WrenLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Marsh WrenLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Bewick’s WrenLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
European StarlingHilliers Road Farm
Varied ThrushLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Swainson’s ThrushLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
American RobinLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
House SparrowCedar–Quennell Lake
American PipitEnglishman River Estuary–Plummer Rd side
House FinchLittle Qualicum estuary
Purple FinchLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Pine SiskinLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
American GoldfinchLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Chipping SparrowLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Dark-eyed JuncoLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
White-crowned SparrowLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Golden-crowned SparrowLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Savannah SparrowHilliers Road Farm
Song SparrowLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Lincoln’s SparrowParksville–Morningstar Golf Course ponds
Spotted TowheeLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Red-winged BlackbirdLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Brown-headed CowbirdLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Brewer’s BlackbirdHilliers Road Farm
Orange-crowned WarblerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
MacGillivray’s WarblerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Common YellowthroatLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Yellow WarblerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Yellow-rumped WarblerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Black-throated Gray WarblerEnglishman River Estuary–Shelly St side
Townsend’s WarblerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Wilson’s WarblerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Western TanagerLegacy Marsh, Lantzville
Black-headed GrosbeakLegacy Marsh, Lantzville