Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
One Amazing Day of Birding
June 09, 2018
By Steve Grinley
If you are close to birding, you have likely already heard or read the story. If not, then I must share it with you here. I have had many good days birding. I have even had a few great days. some of which I have shared with you. But few, if any, birders have experienced a day birding like Massachusetts native Ian Davies did, with five companions, on May 28 at Tadoussac on the St. Lawrence River in eastern Quebec, Canada. This was Ian’s report:
“Today was the greatest birding day of my life.
“Southwest winds overnight had led to high hopes for the morning, compounded by dawn rain in the area. Our first stop had been fruitless, with a handful of warblers moving, but nothing notable. We decided to head for the Tadoussac dunes anyways.
“On our arrival (5:45am), it was raining. A few warblers passed here and there, and we got excited about groups of 5-10 birds. Shortly before 6:30am, there was a break in the showers, and things were never the same.
“For the next 9 hours, we counted a nonstop flight of warblers, at times covering the entire visible sky from horizon to horizon. The volume of flight calls was so vast that it often faded into a constant background buzz. There were times where there were so many birds, so close, that naked eyes were better than binoculars to count and identify. Three species of warbler flew between my legs throughout the day [Tennessee, Magnolia, Myrtle Warbler]. For hours at a time, a single binocular scan would give you hundreds or low thousands of warblers below eye level.
“The flight line(s) varied depending on wind direction and speed. All birds were heading southwest. When calm, birds were high, often inland or farther out over the river. High winds (especially from the W, or SW), brought birds down low, sometimes feet from the ground and water. Rain also lowered birds, and the most intimate experiences with migrants occurred during a rain squall and strong wind period. Hundreds of birds stopped to feed and rest on the bare sand, or in the small shrubs.
“Counting birds and estimating species composition was the biggest challenge of the day—balancing the need to document what was happening with the desire to just bask in the greatest avian spectacle I’ve ever witnessed. A significant effort was made to estimate movement rates throughout the day, and those rates combined with species-specific movement estimates were used for the… totals…
“Movement rate estimates were made by looking through binoculars at a flight line, and counting the number of individuals passing a vertical line in that field of view, per second. This was repeated multiple times for each bin view, and repeated throughout the sky so that all flight at that moment was accounted for. The average birds/second was then used for that time period, until another rate estimate showed a different volume of movement. Non-warblers were counted separately. I took a couple attempts at video… These videos only hint at the magnitude of the spectacle.
[Using] my warbler rate estimates, total number of warblers: 721,620!
“To our knowledge, the previous warbler high for a single day in the region was around 200,000, which was the highest tally anywhere in the world. Other observers in the area today had multiple hundreds of thousands, so there were likely more than a million warblers moving through the region on 28 May 2018. Thank you to the Observatoire d’Oiseaux de Tadoussac … for monitoring these movements for decades, and sharing the wonder of this place with the global birding community.
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