Not Just Another Bird Nerd

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.

Caspian Tern with SushiBird 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, 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 (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].

A Pine Siskin Sneaks in Some SeedsSixteen 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.

Male House Sparrow CloseupThis 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 HarrierProfile 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.

A Sanderling on ShoreSanderlings 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. ♠


21 thoughts on “Not Just Another Bird Nerd

  1. Queen E Park and Jericho Beach and Ladner! Are you a fellow Vancouverite? 🙂 I’m an ex-pat though.

    Boy, your trajectory sounds a lot like my son’s. While we are a family of birders and environmentalists, my son started with a serious bird obsession at age 8 (took the Cornell Bird Lab home study course at age 10), then added a tree obsession at age 17, and just finished his first year at university with plans to major in ecology (I think I mentioned that last time I commented). I’ve shared your blog with my son; he’s not into commenting, but I know he’ll love it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Teresa — yes indeed, I am a fellow Vancouverite. 🙂

      there are so many places and opportunities to bird in the Lower Mainland, for which I am thankful. equally fascinating for me is to understand the why, when, and where about the wildlife I’ve been fortunate enough to see and photograph, and our impact on them.

      kudos to your son for his career choice, which was obviously well nurtured at home!

      thank you for commenting! Hui

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve started taking birds photos last march, so far I have 37 species. I am surprise how hook I am on this type of photography. Before I started bird photography I though it was cheesy and easy to do. I was sooooo wrong. When you get a beautiful bird photo, it is very rewarding because bird photo is very difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ‘challenging’ is the word I use when I can get a still of a bird sitting still. action photography (in flight or in motion) … is even more so. 🙂 (free to sign up) is great for tracking your lifelist and submitting what you saw. you can even analyze patterns with bird behaviour with sufficient data over time. of course, I say that, being a statistics junkie myself. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. To your listing of lovable bird attributes, I would add this one: that birds are basically dinosaurs! How incredible is that?! :p I’ve loved dinos since I was a child, and when I see small passerines, sometimes I can’t help feeling amazed that their ancestor might well be the T-Rex 🙂 I find that adult hawfinches look particularly reptilian, I had the chance to have one come to feeder last spring: really stunning looking birds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • actually, no surprise! 🙂

      As a 10-year-old, I was reading a book about dinosaurs and came across the proto-bird Archeopteryx. pretty much all birds can probably trace their ancestry back to this creature (with the exception of the owls) 🙂

      the hawfinch looks pretty reptilian, all right!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Caspian Terns | W.H. SIM PHOTOGRAPHY

Your comments are like chocolate for my soul ... I can never get enough of them! Bonus brownie points for witty comments! I love a good turn of phrase. :)

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