A visit to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner a few years ago reignited my interest in birds in the wild. As a child, my sightings of our feathered friends were confined to the Rock Pigeons, Northwestern Crows, or Mallards at Queen Elizabeth Park, or the slightly more exotic birds like Blue-and-Gold Macaws, Ostriches, or Black-Footed Penguins at the local zoos and aquariums.
Bird species #126 on my life list: a Caspian Tern with freshly caught sushi. Once it’s spotted prey, this tern does a 90° vertical dive into the water and resurfaces with its catch (success rate: 90%).
Since last year, I have become something of a birdwatching buff, diligently noting the species I’ve been privileged to witness, sometimes in surprisingly close (and photographable) circumstances, on eBird.org, a website administered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that amasses the findings of citizen scientists (naturalists and birders) around the world to analyze and extrapolate the where and how of our ornithological friends. I use this website as well as allaboutbirds.org (also managed by CLO), so I have a good idea of what I can expect to see for the areas I want to visit [in North America].
Sixteen Pine Siskins showed up in the backyard one morning in late January–first time I’ve seen these finches. This is one of two who leapt up on my long lens as I was observing the others.
To date, I’ve seen 126 species of bird in the wild. This pales in comparison to the hundreds or even thousands of species that other birders have seen, but it’s a start and a personal best. It would be nice to be able to undertake a “Big Year” myself and see birds for 365 consecutive days from every continent in the world. At the very least, seeing a fraction of the 300 species of hummingbirds (most who live in South America) is a must. No birding expedition would be complete without seeing the world’s smallest extant birds.
This male House Sparrow perched on a bench just long enough for me to snap a closeup. They may be widespread worldwide, but I have only ever seen 2-4 pairs in my backyard.
Why am I so fascinated by birds? With over 5,000 species of birds worldwide, these creatures represent a breathtakingly diverse spectrum of sizes, colours, and shapes. Their ability to soar the skies gives them a freedom that I, as an earthbound creature, envy. They sing to define their territories and attract mates, but that gift of birdsong, which at times can be such intricate repertoires, is one I envy on its own merits (if you’ve never heard a lyrebird “sing”, you’re in for a real treat!) Beautiful flyers and singers — what’s not to like with a combination like that?
Profile of a male Northern Harrier in the Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area. This raptor sought out our company on an evening walk in early March — apparently quite used to the sight of humans.
Sightings of Golden Eagles or Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay make headlines on a scale that many a celebrity would envy. A solitary Mountain Bluebird at Jericho Beach in April brought out hordes of photographers with their long lenses. The presence of Great Grey Owls earlier in February in Ladner created lineups of hundreds of people, waiting for a glimpse of them at Reifel.
Sanderlings are common sights during Vancouver winters. They are also remarkably tolerant of photographers and their long lenses–to my surprise and delight.
My fondness for birds is tempered with a sobering thought: what we do affects not only birds, but ultimately ourselves as well. By their abundance or absence, birds are a bellwether for climate and ecological change. We are directly responsible for wildlife habitat loss and litter. What chemicals we put in the crops may reduce the number of insects that eat them, but they have also been linked to declines in bird populations; and, we eat the harvest, too–including the chemicals. ♠