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Okanagan Big Day Challenge


The Okanagan Big Day Challenge has been an annual event in the Okanagan Valley since 1986 and a part of the Meadowlark Festival since that event began.  Held on the Sunday of the Victoria Day weekend (i.e. the Sunday just before May 24), it is one of the premier birding events in Canada.  Or at least one of the most exciting.  If you’d like to participate, read on!  If you’d like to make a pledge to support my team, click here to donate.  The funds go to the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory and the Baillie Fund for bird conservation.  This year the Challenge will be held on Sunday, May 17, 2015.


The object of a Big Day is to see or hear as many bird species as possible on one day, usually in a given area.  This year’s Big Day takes place on Sunday, May 17, from midnight to midnight.  The Little Big Day competition involves teams going out for any 8-hour period on Sunday.  The Okanagan Big Day Challenge has long been a fund-raising venture for bird conservation.  This is coordinated through the Baillie Birdathon, so participants must register as Baillie Birdathon participants.  This allows each participant to direct where their pledges go, though we recommend the Vaseux Lake Bird Observatory (VLBO) as a very worthy local recipient.  To make VLBO your Birdathon charity, simply select Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance when prompted to designate your Birdathon funds to a conservation organization.


The Monday morning brunch is a not-to-be-missed event, when all the participants trade stories of yesterday’s adventures.  It is a pot-luck event, so please bring something to eat and/or drink if you’re coming!  This year the brunch will be held at Dick Cannings’ house: 705 Sunglo Drive, Penticton from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Monday, May 17, 2015.


1.  Teams must have a name.  If you don’t have a team name before you start, you must think one up during the day.  Usually after 20 hours of straight birding, something appropriate will surface.

2.  Teams can consist of any number of birders, though 2 to 6 is ideal.  Team members must remain within earshot of each other throughout the day.

3.  After years of 600 to 900-km marathons, this is now a “green” event, so birders must travel on bicycle or by foot.  If a car is used, the team must remain within a 24-km diameter circle (e.g. a Christmas Bird Count circle).  There are different categories for each type of transportation.

4.  Teams must begin and end the day within the Okanagan watershed in Canada, and/or remain within Okanogan County, Washington.

5.  No playback (phone apps, MP3 players, CDs, etc.) is allowed to attract birds, although the participants may imitate bird calls by whistles, grunts, hoots, or whatever.

6.  A participant may join or leave a team part way through the day, as long as he or she is part of the team for at least half of the time that team spends in the field.  E.g. a person who is not too keen on getting up at 0200 may join his/her team at dawn without that team having to delete species not seen by that person.  A corollary of this is that the ABA’s 95% rule does not apply.  A person in the field for less than half of the time must act as a “nonparticipating companion” as defined and regulated in the ABA rules.

7.  All species seen or heard during the day must be checked off a checklist and the checklist submitted to the organizers before or during the brunch on Monday.  Any species indicated as casual, accidental or nonexistent in spring or summer on the Okanagan checklist must be documented with a full field description, photograph, or tape recording, and this evidence must be submitted to and accepted by the organizers.



This award is presented to the team which records the most species during the day.  If two teams are tied, the winner is the one which saw its last species earliest.


This award, donated by Gary Davidson, is presented to the team, usually Gary Davidson’s, which records the second highest species total of the day.


To be eligible for the Little Big Day award, teams are restricted to birding for 8 consecutive hours only (e.g. 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.).


This award will be given to the birder who first sights the “Bird of the Day”.  This decision will be made by public show of hands at the Monday brunch by all participants present.


A large cluster of green steel grapes, donated by Doug Kragh and the now-defunct Freightliner shop in Burnaby (donating awards to this event is clearly not good luck), is slung like an albatross around the neck of the leader of the team which misses the commonest bird species during the challenge, another decision made by public show of hands.


Awarded to the team that sees the best non-bird animal of the day.


Plaques are presented to teams that report the most species while doing their Big Day on bicycle or on foot.


This is a new award this year, given to the team with the highest species total that birds by bicycle or on foot, and which starts and finishes their trip at the same spot (usually a home base).  Thus, a bicycle team that is dropped off on a mountain top, then cycles to the valley bottom and is picked up by car there, is ineligible for this award.

It is clear that to properly assign some of these awards, it would be very helpful if teams kept a running list during the day, recording the time at which each species was seen.  A team wishing to submit its Big Day Count to the American Birding Association must, of course, abide fully by ABA rules rather than the more relaxed ones outlined above.



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