Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
The Annual Birdwatching Battle for the Golden Binoculars

In today’s post, Learning and Education Specialist Rachelle Law chronicles the Ontario team’s effort to find as many birds as possible.

Every year, a team of expert birders from Ontario parks prepare, binoculars in hand, to compete in a heated competition.

The goal: spot and record as many bird species as possible over a weekend and win the coveted “golden” binoculars.

This heated birding battle is part of the National Association of Interpretives (NAI) Great Lakes Region Birdathon, in which Ontario Parks staff (“Team Ontario”) compete against teams from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

bird watching staff

The annual Birdathon helps raise funds for the NAI and encourages park naturalists who are NAI members to come out and demonstrate their impressive birding skills.

This year, the competition was held on the weekend of May 7-9.

How does the Birdathon work?

From different places in the province, the team members make sightings whenever they have the opportunity for three days.

Bird watching is done on an individual basis and looks different for everyone. For some, it could be a sunrise birdwatching session, a bike ride through the woods, a walk along the shores of lakes, rivers and ponds, or even watching from our windows.

person watching birds with binoculars

Ontario Parks staff keep their eyes fixed on the sky and record as many birds as they can see or hear. We keep track of the number and variety of species we find and count them as a team, which we then send to NAI.

The winning team receives the “golden” binoculars of the year (and bragging rights!).

Why is it important to participate in Birdathons?

Bird marathons are a great way for park staff to track the performance of bird populations in their area.

Ecological monitoring and community science are important initiatives, especially for tracking the ongoing effects of climate change and habitat loss.

I asked Ontario Parks Discovery staff why they thought it was important to participate in the Birdathon.

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Here’s what they had to share:

A strong sense of community

“I feel bIrdatons are important to promote a culture of knowledge sharing and community science.

“The more time we spend outdoors, especially observing species, the more we can learn about and appreciate them. There is also a sense of community that comes from a Birdathon.”

– Laura McClintock, Senior Naturalist at Sibbald Point Provincial Park

fishing eagleDavid Legros of Algonquin Provincial Park captured this exciting sighting of an osprey in its nest during the Birdathon

Connection and gratitude

“I love how a little friendly competition like this connects me with my fellow interpretive naturalists from across the province.

“It gives me a new appreciation for the amazing diversity of birds in our parks and the incredible naturalistic skills of our Discovery staff. It is also for me an annual reminder of the spectacular phenomenon that is spring migration.”

– Tobi Kiesewalter, Learning and Discovery Program Coordinator

The best bird sightings of the weekend.

Bird sightings from the weekend are still being counted and Team Ontario is very hopeful they won this year!

Team members were able to observe a large and diverse number of bird species from across the province, including sandhill cranes, plovers, bald eagles, great horned owls and many more.

When Ontario Parks staff were asked about their favorite bird sightings, here’s what some shared:

A lucky encounter

“The sighting that caught my attention the most was a chance encounter I had with a Virginia Rail. I was birding by a pond at a local nature preserve and there wasn’t much bird action: Canada geese, mallards and the usual ones.

“I was standing at the water’s edge when a stick floating in the water came into view. On the pole was a Virginia Rail! It just floated by, unbothered by my presence. “It was comical to see this bird enjoying the ride on its stick, but also gratifying to study it from such a close distance.”

– Laura McClintock, Senior Naturalist at Sibbald Point Provincial Park

hummingbirdAlistair MacKenzie from Pinery Provincial Park captured this beautiful photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird he spotted over the weekend.

Inspiring migrants

“Imagine sitting at one of those ON route rest stations along the 401, watching people come and go and wondering where everyone’s final destination is. That’s what comes to mind this time of year.

“The palm warbler I saw in my neighborhood park was probably on its way to its breeding habitat in a swamp in northern Ontario. Almost 100% of palm warblers breed in Canada’s boreal forests. This bird was flying home from Mexico or the Caribbean and chose my neighborhood to rest and refuel. Incredible…”

– Tobi Kiesewalter, Learning and Discovery Program Coordinator

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Other highlights from the weekend:

Connected by birds

“Entering the forest long before dawn, hearing the birds wake up and start singing, hearing a new migrant that wasn’t there the day before, was just incredible. “Imagining the millions of birds flying through the night and landing around us is a great reminder of how our world is connected by birds.”

– David Legros, discovery specialist at Algonquin Provincial Park

unemploymentMy favorite observation of the weekend was watching a black-capped chickadee completely devour a caterpillar.

A peaceful escape

“I feel like we all enjoyed the time together looking for birds and just spending time outdoors. “I’m still new to birding, but we all left with smiles on our faces and let the stress of life melt away during those couple of hours we were outside.”

– Janet Fenton, Discovery Program Area Coordinator

two wooden ducksAlistair MacKenzie spotted these male and female wood ducks

Bird monitoring and conservation beyond the Birdathon

Caring for birds is not just limited to participating in an annual Birdathon. Ontario Parks and Discovery staff are actively involved in many different bird monitoring and conservation projects across the province.

One project we are especially excited about is the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas! This is a huge community scientific initiative that aims to study all the breeding birds in the province.

Beyond the golden binoculars

staff looking through binoculars

For the Discovery staff, the Birdathon is more than just a competition.

The Golden Binoculars are a symbol of the extraordinary passion that Discovery staff across the province have for the natural world.

We work hard as a team to protect the parks and all living things in the diverse ecosystems of Ontario parks.

We recommend you grab a pair of binoculars and explore the world of birds at your local park!

Submit your sightings to iNaturalist and contact us if you have any questions.

Happy birding!