The Mayne Island Big Day Bird Count is a part of the Global Big Day; an annual celebration of wild birds coinciding with International Migratory Bird Day. This event was first held in 2015 by Cornell University, a leader in wild bird science. Cornell manages the website and tracks the count data to better study and conserve bird populations and is also the developer of the popular birding identification app, Merlin. Our count was completed on May 13 this year, with fantastic results!

The weather the day of the count was incredible, with light winds and clear views. We seemed to be at a peak of returning migrants, and those moving through. This year we had 27 participants moving throughout the island and surveying all habitats. The results were some incredibly diverse lists of birds seen and/or heard. As a result, we collectively tallied an outstanding list of 101 different species.

The timing was almost perfect to catch some of the overwintering birds that had not yet left for breeding grounds, while our migrant breeders were arriving in numbers. Early to mid-May is a great time to observe birds and to get an appreciation of the seasonal transitions that happen among bird species. As an example, this year we counted scoters, mergansers, and loons, who a month from now will all be gone to breeding sites. Gulls also disappear during breeding season, except for the glaucous-winged gull.

May also marks the arrival of species that we only see in the spring and summer months. In this group, we counted most of the expected warblers, vireos, swallows, some additional sparrow species, and flycatchers. Others include the Swainson’s thrush and some still lingering hermit thrushes, the rufous hummingbird, the osprey, the Western tanager and the black-headed grosbeak; all beautiful birds to observe and hear.

Caspian tern. Modified from a photo by Dick Daniels ( via Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation license.

The highlight species for this year would be the sightings of a Caspian tern, a Townsend’s solitaire, Western wood peewee and the Wilson’s snipe (which by the way, is now an apparent breeder on the island – see a previous article about the Wilson’s snipe on Mayne). As with the Christmas bird count, the Big Day is only a snapshot of  species observed in a location during a specific time period. It does not represent all the potential species that could be seen, and therein lies the challenge and the fun of this event. For example, we observed species last year that we did not see this year, notably the house sparrow, Cooper’s Hawk, and red-breasted merganser. Even so, with 101 species, 2023 set a new bar for the future Big Day Counts. Thanks to all who participated and joined the post count gathering.


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