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Birdwatching: the perfect physical distancing activity

Black and white warbler = Male

Now that the snow has melted and spring has officially arrived, the beloved warblers are starting to trickle in at the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory. The first Black-and-white Warbler of the season was encountered on May 4th, followed by the first Yellow Warbler two days later. Since both of these species are long-distance migrants, their early arrival from their wintering grounds in South America was a tad unexpected – in 2019, both species weren’t encountered at the LSLBO until May 15th! Although their speedy arrival this year is not the earliest on record, it is surprising when we consider the large amount of late snow we received only a few weeks ago. In addition, short-distance migrants like flickers and sapsuckers continue to move through the area, as well as large flocks of geese, Trumpeter Swans, and Sandhill Cranes.

Although the LSLBO will remain closed to the public this year due to COVID-19, there are still ample opportunities to get in touch with nature and enjoy the sights and sounds of spring. Birdwatching is the perfect physical distancing activity for both kids and adults: it can be done individually or in small groups practically anywhere, requires very little equipment, and you don’t have to be an expert to get started. One of the best places to start observing birds is in your own backyard! Building a simple bird feeder from an egg carton or milk jug is a great inexpensive family activity that will make your yard more attractive for a variety of birds like grosbeaks, nuthatches, chickadees, and even woodpeckers. You can also make your yard more bird-friendly this spring by installing a shallow bird bath, planting native shrubs or fruiting trees, or building your very own birdhouse for specific species like robins or tree swallows.

Students learning the basics of bird watching at the Boreal Centre

Whether you live in town or out in the bush, spring is one of the best times for birdwatching. New species are arriving on their breeding grounds every day in the boreal forest, which means you’ll likely see or hear something new each time you go outside over the next month. Even for experienced birders, this brief spring window is a very exciting time; not only are the birds often arriving in in their brilliant breeding plumages, they’re engaging in territorial and courtship behaviours as they get ready to start their families. The best time of day to watch birds is first thing in the morning during the “dawn chorus” when they are most vocal and therefore easier to find. Keep your eyes open for new and interesting species on your next walk through your neighbourhood as well, especially in habitats with shrubby willows, small ponds, or streams running through wooded areas.

Although COVID-19 has caused a swath of closures and cancellations, nature in general remains open. Now is the perfect time to slow down, step outside, and enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds of spring migration in the boreal forest.

By Laura Brandon, Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory