Bird Protection Quebec Virtual Field Trips Report

Participant Photos Collage ©Wayne Grubert

When Covid-19 shut down the world to a degree we could never have imagined, Bird Protection Quebec suddenly found itself  faced with the dilemma of cancelling all of our activities, including the more than a century long tradition of weekly birding field trips.

However, not to be deterred, the BPQ Field Trip Committee came up with a simple solution – let the birds come to you!

In the words of long time BPQ member and field trip leader Wayne Grubert, ‘that is when the committee hatched the idea of Virtual Field Trips. Members and non-members alike were encouraged to birdwatch from their homes and then report all their observations. These would then be collated into a weekly report to be shared with all participants, hopefully giving us a snapshot view of changing birdlife on a temporal basis as the weeks progressed.’

Wayne’s report is below. You can also download the full pdf version here.

BPQ Virtual Field Trips April 4th – June 6th 2020

Summary Report

By: Wayne Grubert


It hardly seems possible that it was only three months ago in mid-March 2020 that the BPQ Field Trip Committee was just starting to consider this new COVID-19 virus and its potential implications for life in general and BPQ field trips in particular. The committee looked at several options. Should we continue with outings as normal, let individual leaders decide whether to proceed, continue but with certain guidelines, or err on the side of caution and cancel all field trips for a hopefully short period of time?

Within a week that decision was essentially taken out of our hands as the situation seemed to grow more dire daily and health authorities laid out stricter guidelines. Terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” entered the everyday lexicon and life had definitely changed.

However, we believed that the general public still needed activities to keep themselves occupied especially as many were confined at home. For our members, birding would certainly be curtailed, but there had to be a way to continue, at least on a limited basis, without encouraging any dangerous habits. Certainly individuals could bird on their own but the camaraderie of sharing sightings and anecdotes would be lost.

That is when the committee hatched the idea of “Virtual Field Trips”. Members and non-members alike were encouraged to birdwatch from their homes and then report all their observations. These would then be collated into a weekly report to be shared with all participants hopefully giving us a snapshot view of changing birdlife on a temporal basis as the weeks progressed. From the outset the idea was not to make this a competitive event but to have a more collegial atmosphere where observations would be contributed to a growing group result and everyone’s sightings were important. For this reason only the cumulative results were to be published and not those of individual participants.

Spring migration period is a time when birders often travel to favourite hotspots near and far to see their favourite feathered friends returning. With travel limitations in place another of our hoped for results would be that participants would gain new found knowledge and appreciation of avian life close to their domicile. Forced to stay at home, we hoped they would be pleasantly surprised by what could be observed from their urban balconies, suburban backyards or rural farms.

We launched our first Virtual Field Trip April 4th not knowing what to expect but hopeful that we could stimulate some interest from at least a few participants.

BPQ Virtual FIeld Trip participant map

This map indicates the approximate position of most locations. Or click on the map for more detail


Although this project started as an amorphous idea to provide a few birders with an outlet to pursue their passion, the Field Trip Committee soon realized that we might have struck a chord with many more than expected. We were pleasantly shocked when 27 people participated in our inaugural event on Saturday April 4th which is significantly higher than the average number of “Real World” BPQ field trip participants. That number grew, peaking at 55 for two weekends in early/mid May, before tapering off slightly as we headed into early June. We had expected an increase in these numbers as migration progressed but we also hoped that ongoing reports and continued marketing would spark an interest for new people as they saw the birding potential for their own homes. In total, we had 74 different birders take part in at least one of the outings and amazingly 15 participated on all ten Saturdays. The average number of participants was 43.

The number of locations varied from a low of 21 to a high of 43 over the course of the event with a total of 56 different domiciles involved at one time or another. These were spread out from Belleville, Ontario in the west to La Tabatière, Québec in the east although most were found in the greater Montréal region particularly the Notre Dame de Grace and the West Island areas.

Graph #1 - Bpq virtual field trip participants by date

Graph #1 – Field Trip Participants by date  ©Wayne Grubert

If one of stated goals was to give participants an activity to pursue during this period of self-isolation then it appears we succeeded beyond our expectations. In all our cumulative participation amounted to well over 1500 “birder-hours.”

Participation in our “Bird of the Day” nominations was also interesting in the sheer number of different species put forth. Migration meant that we were seeing many species but the variation in selection can also be accounted for by diverse reasons for the choice…, addition to life list, addition to property list, an interesting behavior, constant singing…etc… In all 57 different species were selected over the weeks with none being picked more than four times (Cooper’s Hawk) and the majority only once.

Lessons Learned

Early on in this endeavour there were a number of bumps in the road as a few participants “stretched” the guidelines by venturing outside their property boundaries. Reporting procedures also had a few hiccoughs that needed to be overcome and the compilers quickly realized that jotting down results on random scraps of paper as they came in was not going to do be very efficient given the growing number of lists being received. These latter difficulties were ironed out by streamlining procedures as the weeks continued.

Graph #2 – Individual Bird Counts by Date ©Wayne Grubert

Graph #3 Species Counts

Graph #3 – Species Counts ©Wayne Grubert

Predicting the 100th Species – worthy of a contest!

A contest was held to predict the 100th species to be observed as we approached that milestone. The winner was Diane Cameron with her choice of Yellow Warbler and her prize was to have the May 23rd trip named for her.


Just a note concerning the following summary of observations amassed during our 10 weeks of Virtual Field Trips.

The figures presented are, for the most part, the raw data of total numbers of birds observed and have not been adjusted to control for any variables such as number of birders or locations each week, birding hours, weather or birder experience. In other words, this is by no means a rigorous scientific study. The numbers are simply a compilation of what everyone saw on any particular day. Still, a few interesting patterns are evident. Many of these will add credence to some of the preconceived hypotheses that many of us would have had before starting but may be of special interest to those new to birding.

Graph #2  shows, in green, the total number of all birds viewed on each of the 10 consecutive Saturdays that trips were held. The pattern, such as it is, has some severe spikes in early April and early May. In looking at the raw data it was evident that on both those days large numbers of geese were seen. Geese, both Snow and Canada, are big conspicuous birds travelling in large flocks that are noticeable from great distances. Both species had significant presence those weeks with Snow dominating Week #1 and Canada Week # 5. In both cases favourable weather conditions may have been conducive to mass migration.

Removing goose numbers from the data results in the dashed brown line which might be more in tune with what would be expected over the migration period. The number of birds shows a gradual increase (with some anomalies) through April to mid-May and then begins to drop off as migrating birds finish passing through. The dip on May 9th can almost certainly be accounted for by weather conditions. As participants will remember, it was unseasonably cold with strong northwest winds.

Graph #3 shows the total number of species observed by date. Again the trend shows a predictable pattern with total species increasing through April to mid-May before dropping off as migration starts to wind down. That May 9th “outlier” point again stands out.

The total number of different species observed reached 138 by the end of Week #10. The average number of species seen each week was a very respectable 74. A complete list of our 138 species along with weeks on the list can be found in the pdf report here

Graph #4 Warbler Observations ©Wayne Grubert

Graph #4 – Warbler Species ©Wayne Grubert

Graph #5 Sparrow Observations ©Wayne Grubert

Graph #5 – Sparrow Species ©Wayne Grubert

Graph #6 Comparison of the 3 Sparrow Species ©Wayne Grubert

Graph #6 – Comparison of 3 Sparrow species ©Wayne Grubert

Wood Warblers and New World Sparrows

For many individual species the numbers were not large enough to show any real patterns. It was therefore decided to look at two “groups” of birds which birders think of as coming in waves during migration and for which there were sufficient observations recorded. The two groups chosen were Wood Warblers and New World Sparrows (sorry Richard G. and Sam L., you know that doesn’t include House Sparrows!)

Graph #4 shows the number of warbler species observed in blue as well as the total number of individual warblers of all species combined in red. It will come as no surprise that both these values remained low before spiking in mid-May and then generally dropping off for the rest of the outings

Graph #5 shows the corresponding data for all sparrow species. One notices first off that the number of sparrow species being observed over time stays a little more consistent than did the warblers. (Note that this does not necessarily mean they are the same species.) In terms of overall numbers we again see a spike. It occurs earlier than that of warblers as again would be expected. It can be postulated that the weather around May 9th may have disrupted sparrow migration accounting for a second peak a week later. It may also simply be an anomaly based on poorer viewing conditions as birds already present stayed hidden from the cold and wind on May 9th.

Both warblers and sparrows are diverse groups and one could speculate that within the main peak for these groups there might be species specific spikes in numbers seen. A few sparrow species were present in large enough numbers to investigate.

Graph #6 shows the data gathered for three sparrow species: Dark-eyed Junco (DEJU), White-throated Sparrow (WTSP)and White-crowned Sparrow (WCSP). Three definite peaks are seen although May 9th again causes some confusion with WTSP. DEJU definitely peaked this year in mid-April at least as far as our observations were concerned. WTSP’s were pushed into early May before peaking although some experienced birders might argue this usually occurs in late April. Again weather may have played a factor both here and to our south. WCSP’s show a peak in mid-May at approximately the expected time which is usually later than the other two species.

In summary, the point of these analyses was not to discover every single pattern hidden in the data but to show how observations contributed to science by individuals (i.e. Citizen Science ) can actually produce interesting and significant results. Obviously the more data collected the more patterns emerge and their accuracy is strengthened. To illustrate that point it should be noted that those participants who submitted their observations to eBird on May 9th were part of a massive Global Big Day endeavour which saw an amazing 120 000 lists gathered representing 2.1 million observations from all over the world. All in one day!

So with that in mind we encourage you to either continue to submit your observations to eBird or, if you have not already done so, to open an account and start contributing. This database, arguably the largest citizen science project in existence, can be a wealth of information of various kinds for professional ornithologists as well as all recreational birders whether novice or experienced.


Based on participation alone the BPQ Field Trip Committee must deem our plunge into “Virtual Field Trips” to be a success and for that we thank everyone who submitted their lists whether short or long, once only or all 10 weeks. We never dreamed we would have this many individuals take part. That we actually produced some interesting data that could be studied was a bonus.

We hope that the experience of getting to know your local bird life has been an eye-opening and valuable one for most of you and that you will continue to record your observations. Many of you who do not already have one should now be in possession a nice start to a personal “property list”!

Thank you to all participants from the BPQ Field Trip Committee: Darlene Harvey, Sheldon Harvey, Chris Cloutier, Wayne Grubert