New Brunswick

Two rare specimens make appearance on Tantramar Marsh: a rare bird and 13 year-old birder

Thirteen-year-old birder Jaden Barney is breaking records through his prolific bird sightings and recently added to his count with a glimpse of the rare northern wheatear.

The northern wheatear only spotted in N.B. a few times a year and Jaden Barney was there to see it

13-year-old birder Jaden Barney worried in the spring that the pandemic would wreck his plans for a 'big year'. But then he saw the silver lining, "I got so much more time to go birding around here because I didn't have to worry about things like going to school every day." (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Jaden Barney got an alert on Monday night that a northern wheatear was just a few minutes away from his house in Sackville.

The 13-year-old grabbed his scope, camera and binoculars and asked his dad for a ride.

They made it to the Tantramar Marsh in time to see the bird, which nests in the arctic. It was the 222nd bird species Jaden identified in Westmorland County this year — a record for the area.

"The previous record was 215 and my goal was really 200," he said.

This photo of a northern wheatear was taken on Oct. 5 on the Tantramar Marsh by Jayden's friend and fellow young birder Davin McAskill. Jaden said, "He's an excellent birder as well." (Davin McAskill/submitted)

"So I'm really pleased with what I've gotten so far."

This is Jaden's first attempt at what's known in the birding world as a "big year." It's an attempt to identify through sight or sound as many different species of birds in a geographical location as possible within one year.

Jaden had hoped to go much farther than Westmorland County, but COVID-19 changed his plans.

"At first it was kind of a bad thing, I thought, like, 'Oh, no, the big year's going to be over because I can't go to the Prairies and see all those birds'," he said.

Barney was one of a few people to see the northern wheatear Monday evening. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"But really, it was actually a good thing because I got so much more time to go birding around here because I didn't have to worry about things like going to school every day." 

'It's time to go'

Jaden hit his record by spending his days monitoring his yard for new species, following birding sites for alerts and participating in bird counts that rely on birding enthusiasts to collect data.

He credits his parents with helping achieve his goal by chauffeuring him around, often early in the morning, and as far as Salisbury, 90 kilometres away. 

"Oftentimes he's up before the alarm goes, tapping not so quietly on the door to say, 'Hey, Mom' or, 'Hey Dad, it's time to go'," said Ted Barney, Jaden's father.

One of Jaden's favourite bird sightings this year was a black vulture. 'The entire family got a lifer all at once and it was awesome,' he said. 'We got some excellent pictures that it was just super co-operative and everything.' (Jaden Barney/submitted)

Ted and his wife started Jaden birding at a young age, but this project is his entirely his son's. Jaden is the one studying field guides, sighting locations and bird songs.

Jaden admits he, too, is a rare specimen. Young birders exist, but you don't see a lot of them. 

Rare birds and a rare birder

"It doesn't really bother me at all," he said.

"I like to see myself as an equal to everybody else."

Rather than an equal, Bill Winsor wonders if young birders don't have an advantage. Winsor had driven 70 kilometres to the marsh in hopes of spotting the northern wheatear, a species he had seen once before — nine years ago.

"Some people who pick up the hobby real early become very expert because they've got really good ears," Winsor said with a laugh.

Marguerite and Bill Winsor drove from Salisbury the day after the northern wheatear sighting. They had heard of Jaden Barney before meeting him on the marsh Tuesday. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

He knew of Jaden because of the teen's prolific posting on a local birding site.

Hearing of Jaden's record breaking accomplishment, Winsor agreed that 222 is "a good county list."

One wrong turn ...

According to Sean Blaney, executive director at the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, seeing a northern wheatear is no small feat.

"It's only seen a few times per year or less than that in New Brunswick," said Blaney.

"It's in rocky tundra or Arctic habitats, and then it migrates across Greenland through and into North Africa."

When hears Jayden of a bird sighting he grabs his, 'scope and my camera and my binoculars and any clothes that I need to dress for the conditions outside and then get right into the car and go.' He's seen 222 bird species this year. (Jaden Barney/submitted)

Blaney figures this particular bird could have taken a wrong turn at the coast and ended up here, but it could still get back on track and have a good chance of survival.

The year's not over yet

Jaden still has more than two months to add to his bird count, and he has big plans for his big year.

"One of the birds that we really had trouble finding is a spruce grouse which are here year round, so we should be able to find that," he said.

"Also a buff-breasted sandpiper, which would be another life bird for me."

He tried to see the sandpiper earlier in the year but missed it.

"So, I'm really hoping to find that as well." 


Tori Weldon


Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.


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