Resiliency and adaptation apply as much to birding during these days of COVID-19 disruption as they do to other aspects of existence. Life is simply not the same for any of us, and group birding especially has gone the way of the Bachman’s Warbler, at least for now. So it is that “birding in place” has become VCE’s norm, and gave rise to this spring’s Backyard Bird Quest 2020. Over our 13 years of existence, Birdathon (or in 2019, Biothon) has been a hallowed tradition for VCE staff. Not only is it our single most important annual fundraiser, it has been a source of inspirational team camaraderie, and fun.
In line with our COVID-mandated office closure and working-from-home paradigm, this spring required a different approach to Birdathon. No team piling into vehicles and scouring a variety of birding hotspots. No mid-morning group coffee break to refuel. We took a step back, embraced our individual sheltering in place, and decided to each conduct our own local birding itinerary on May 23. Backyard Bird Quest was born—not only for the Green Mountain Goatsuckers, but for all Vermont-based birders. The statewide response was phenomenal, as 305 birders submitted a single-day record 724 eBird checklists and tallied 178 species across the state, including Vermont’s first-ever King Rail!
For the Goatsuckers, no fewer than 13 of us (10 in VT, 2 in NH, 1 in MA) plied their local woods, fields and waterways on May 23. A couple of us logged 12 or more miles on foot, while others stayed literally close to home (modeling their efforts after traditional “Big Sits“); Jason Hill even launched his kayak on the Connecticut River below Wilder Dam. Nathaniel Sharp birded salt marshes and coastal forests on Cape Cod, where he is currently sheltering in place. Within Vermont, Liza sallied forth from her Burlington home, Susan from Weathersfield, Sarah from Ludlow, Kent from Woodstock, Karen from West Fairlee, and Steve from Strafford. Spencer, Kevin and I each birded independently in Norwich.
At day’s end, we had every reason to be pleased, and satisfied, with our efforts. Not only did each of us delight in exploring our local “backyards,” in the process limiting carbon footprints to near zero, but our collective in-state tally of 134 species (and one hybrid Brewster’s Warbler) exceeded expectations. From the first awakening thrush songs at 4 am to the final woodcock ‘peent’ at 9 pm, the Goatsuckers worked hard and did well. Highlights included a Common Loon and Common Nighthawk in Ludlow, Black Vulture and Caspian Tern in Burlington, Common Gallinule and Olive-sided Flycatcher in Norwich, American Bittern and Wilson’s Snipe in West Fairlee, Peregrine Falcon (on nest with young) in Weathersfield, Bald Eagle (by its nest) in Wilder, and Mourning Warbler in Woodstock.
While we greatly missed the camaraderie of our past group outings, Backyard Bird Quest 2020 brought the Green Mountain Goatsuckers together in new ways, as we vicariously shared one another’s discoveries, worked diligently (and joyfully) to compile a diverse master species list, and formed a revised notion of “team.” Some of us never set foot in a vehicle for the entire day, and we all celebrated our low-carbon approach to birding. Importantly, we together raised crucial funds to sustain VCE’s wildlife conservation projects—on birds, herps, pollinators, even Lady Beetles. With our field seasons now in full swing, it’s time to get to work!
Thanks to all who participated, sponsored us, and wished us well. We’ll see what Birdathon 2021 brings, but Backyard Bird Quest 2020 proved a truly refreshing, uplifting and reflective change of pace. We just may be on to something…
Visit the Backyard Bird Quest 2020 stats page for a list of all species found in Vermont, and the list of species tallied by Backyard Bird Questers outside Vermont.