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NatureSpeak Articles

My journey from animal enthusiast to bird nerd

Birding is a popular pastime in Whistler. Pictured here is the elusive Pacific wren sharing its song. PHOTO BY: Craig Gauld

There was a large gap between my first and second “aha” birding moment. The third was followed by a healthy dose of humble pie. My first “aha” moment was in the Maasai Mara. I saw a brilliant flash of turquoise several hundred metres away. I actually screamed a little. The guides knew instantly that I had spotted a lilac-breasted roller. I was mesmerized by the colour palette, and I couldn’t get enough of watching the differences in the bird between flight and posing for my husband’s camera. This led to my love of African birds.

We birded avidly when we were in Africa (four trips so far since then) but at a pretty amateur level. I remember my husband and I mocking an older British chap for his indignation that a very young Rwandan guide confused a European bee-eater and a blue-cheeked bee-eater. Simply “bee-eater” was good enough for me. “ That will never be us,” I said.

Flash forward to the spring of 2020. Back in Whistler, my husband and I began to walk the Valley Trail and even further afield on a regular basis. One day we saw a number of waterfowl we couldn’t identify making their home on Green Lake. Sadly, they were just out of view. My second “aha” moment was to start to always walk with my binoculars. A Sea-to-Sky birder was born.

All of last summer I tried to discern between the different types of mergansers. Then, there were the pine Ssskins, warblers, vireos and flycatchers—all of which were in the category of “yellow bird.” Anything that lacked colour was dismissed as a LBB or “little brown bird.” I was in it for the glory.

Less than a year later we are getting pretty adept at differentiating types of warblers and have now learned how to do bird counts of large flocks. I am starting to get better at identifying by sound. This is where more humble pie comes in.

While walking the Valley Trail along Fitzsimmons Creek I heard an incredible noise. Right out on the trail at eye level was a little brown bird singing its heart out. It posed for me as I frantically tried to identify it. Aha! It was the Pacific wren.

There are actually a pair that we go and listen to and they have been heard without exception. A friend (and long-time birder) who had not yet checked one off on his Whistler life list came along last time. We spent 40 minutes trying to spot a little brown bird.

There is a pleasure that comes from spending time in nature with purpose. The element of surprise is another renewable resource. We often get a great bird just at the end of the walk.

I also appreciate that birdwatching has developed my patience. If you told me a year ago that I would hunt for 40 minutes for something I had already seen I would have laughed. But to watch that little wren sing at the top of his lungs, seeing his beak open and close through my binoculars, I was filled with joy. Again.

Written by: Briar Sexton


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