While at 6 a.m. most mornings, I might normally be found counting sheep still soundly tucked into bed, I recently chose counting birds over the fuzzy mammals.
First of all, as a disclaimer, I must say I am not a birder.
While I enjoy birdsong in my yard and attempt to plant native and berry-laden bushes in yards I inhabit to attract feathery friends, I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to identifying the broad spectrum of winged creatures flitting about.
Sure, I can spot a few, the Cedar Waxwing is easy to pick out, and the Northern Flicker, but try and get me to tell you what type of sparrow is on a branch and I will be lost.
But luckily for me, I had the distinct pleasure of going with some experienced birdwatchers last week, who knew their White-crowned Sparrow from their Lincoln’s Sparrow.
I was invited by Joanne Vinnedge, area biologist and the regional coordinator for the first ever BC Breeding Bird Atlas.
Accompanying her was Randy Rawluk, an experienced birder with a keen ear for birdsong.
Now, we did not tip toe through the woods with binoculars peering up at trees attempting to see rare species, which is more my mental picture of bird watching.
Instead, as part of Vinnedge’s work for the BC Breeding Bird Atlas, we were visiting one of the 10 km by 10 km squares her region is divided up into to do point counts.
Essentially, we went to different points in the square and documented the habitat type and then for five minutes, listened and watched for birds.
Now, if you’re like me, birdsong is more like a pleasant background than something I can use to count birds, but being there with two knowledgable birders was quite a different experience.
They pointed out individual sounds and if there were repeated sounds in a different spot, that meant there were two of this bird.
Now, this must take some practice. After awhile standing there with them, as they called out different species and asked each other if one or the other heard this or that one, it was almost akin to the feeling of staring at one of those 3D images where you unfocus your eyes and eventually an image pops out at you.
Or maybe more like looking at a woven fabric from far away and as you move in closer you begin to see the pattern, and eventually the individual threads.
Different sounds became more distinct and individual.
Seeing the birds was a lot easier for me, as some flew overhead and others clung to branches and fence lines, the “small brown birds” I had never even attempted to identify became more easily distinguished by the white around an ear or the darker breast.
Now of course, had I been on my own, attempting to clarify the individual species using the trusted Sibley’s Field Guide, I would likely have been staring at the book while the bird flew out of sight and had to try to recall whether or not there was a spot of white at the birds throat or perhaps some brown on the breast.
But this is the great part about going out with experienced birders, they can be your guide.
It was a lovely way to spend an hour in the early morning, and a great way to appreciate a little more what is right here in our backyards.
Vinnedge is working on the final push for her BC Breeding Bird Atlas, and can use all the help she can get in doing her final survey work.
The BC Breeding Bird Atlas will help to provide a baseline for conservation in the province. Birds are an indicator of all kinds of environmental changes and this first atlas will help to provide a reference for future changes in bird breeding habits and populations.
Anyone interested in helping out or reporting birds observations can call Vinnedge at 996-7401 or to learn more about the project go to www.birdatlas.bc.ca.