A Big Day (Year) Bird Watching in Labrador
By Gordon Parsons
In the bird-watching community there is a fascination with lists, particularly those for ‘Big Days’ and ‘Big Years’. Simply put, a birdwatcher records all bird species seen in one day or one year.
The movie, The Big Year, documents a race between three individuals: Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin, as they hit the road to follow their bird watching dream to see the most birds possible in North America in one calendar year. All three are experiencing a crisis of some sort, a mid-life crisis, a late-life crisis and a no-life crisis, which makes for a very interesting, to me at least, movie.
I am not going to try and become a movie reviewer, but there were some quite funny scenes and a few jokes that everyone seemed to get. Some of the stuff seemed silly to me as a birder - lots of real life stuff, like the different characters we as birdwatchers meet, the things that go wrong and the things that go right. I really liked the diversity of birdwatchers portrayed in the movie and, no doubt, this alone will get a few people to join our ranks.
I don’t think the movie will entice many birders to try and break the Big Year record, but it should get a few of us to start to keep our own sort of list. Sure, it would be fun to be able to travel to see a rare bird anywhere in North America on a whim, but most of us can’t. Still, even the most casual birder among us can try and break the list they had of birds in their backyard, their town, their region or province in past years.
Depending on the location or travels of the birdwatcher this number can be quite high. In Labrador, with under a couple of hundred possible birds to see, a Big Day would be normally 50 plus or minus – depending on the season and the effort put forth. A Big Year would most certainly exceed 100, and might even get close to 150 if one was truly giving it their all - especially now that the road along the south coast is open.
I have never tried for a Big Year, nor have I kept track of the total number of birds I’ve seen in any one year within Labrador. But my best guess would hopefully be a few over 100. Maybe this will be the year I will track numbers - if not make it my Big Year.
A friend and I once decided to try for a Big Day run from Labrador City out the Trans Labrador Highway and up towards Esker where we would stay overnight. The next day we would do the run in reverse. Our daily tallies did not compare with one that could be done in Codroy Valley, NL, Point Pelee, ON, or Grand Manan, NB, but we were happy. No doubt we missed some and we both have had better days, but this gives one a snapshot of early summer birds along a Labrador roadside.
On the first day, we seen (a quantity) of 34 species, namely: American Black Duck (two), Mallard (five), Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, Spruce Grouse (eight), Common Loon (two), Bald Eagle (two), Semipalmated Plover (four), Greater Yellowlegs (four), Spotted Sandpiper (three), Least Sandpiper (nine), Herring Gull (five), Arctic Tern (five), Northern Flicker, Olive-sided Flycatcher (two), Northern Shrike, Gray Jay (14), Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin (26), Cedar Waxwing (three), Yellow Warbler (two), Yellow-rumped Warbler (two), Blackpoll Warbler (four), Northern Waterthrush, Wilson's Warbler, Savannah Sparrow (two), Fox Sparrow (nine), Lincoln's Sparrow (six), White-throated Sparrow (three), White-crowned Sparrow (31), Dark-eyed Junco (46), and White-winged Crossbill (two)
On our second day, we seen (a quantity) of 41 species, namely: American Black Duck 13,Mallard (six), Greater Scaup (9), Red-breasted Merganser (three), Spruce Grouse (eight), Common Loon (four), Osprey (six), Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs (eight), Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe (four), Ring-billed Gull (four), Herring Gull (42), Common Tern (16), Arctic Tern (20), Northern Flicker, Gray Jay (9), Common Raven, Tree Swallow (68), Bank Swallow (16), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (two), Swainson's Thrush (two), Hermit Thrush, American Robin (9), Cedar Waxwing (three), Yellow Warbler (two), Yellow-rumped Warbler (two), Blackpoll Warbler, American Tree Sparrow (four), Fox Sparrow (three), Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow (two), White-throated Sparrow (seven), White-crowned Sparrow (12), Dark-eyed Junco (11), Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, White-winged Crossbill (five), Common Redpoll (25), and Pine Siskin (two).
If I don’t get to try for a Big Year next year soon maybe I will try another few Big Day runs from Labrador West to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and to Blanc Sablon. If you see me along the roadside with my binoculars out, and you have seen an odd bird close by, be sure and tell me.
For a complete list of all birds ever seen in Labrador West,
A long time resident of Labrador West, Gordon Parsons is a regular contributor to the Gateway Labrador website. With his knowledge of the local area and local attractions, Mr. Parsons has been able, through his written contributions, to guide us through all that Labrador West has to offer.