On a Victoria Day weekend with blue sky and scattered cloud, 14 field naturalists were walking the shoreline of a wetland at Chilanko Forks in a long-standing tradition, looking, listening and counting.
Williams Lake Field Naturalists have been counting bird species through sightings and listening for bird song for decades, as part of an agreement with the Nature Trust of BC, which purchased the property the Chilanko Marsh is on near Puntzi Air Tanker base.
When the nature trust bought the land, dikes were created to build the wetland which exists today.
Rain, sun, wind, or whatever Chilcotin weather throws at them, the field naturalists returned to not only continue the tradition, but also to enjoy a day doing something they love -birdwatching.
“It makes you much more aware of what’s around you, the sounds, the movement,” said Betty Donahue, a relatively new birder to the group. Donahue is one of many in the group who became infected with the birding bug through the contagious enthusiasm of Kris Andrews, a passionate naturalist and dedicated nature photographer.
“I love the freeing of the tyranny of the mind that birdwatching is,” said Denise Deschene, who said she was a “closet birder” for a long time before finally getting braver about it and going out birding with a neighbour.
Most of the group were retirees, with many using hi-tech tools to better their abilities as birdwatchers and naturalists.
Where once birders would carry a book and a notepad, modern bird enthusiasts can carry a smart phone or a tablet instead, because you guessed it — there’s an app for that.
Two apps, eBird and Merlin, help naturalists in confirming species and recording their sightings. The apps also help provide valuable real-time data for scientists and conservationists.
Merlin is like Shazam, the song app which listens to a song playing and tells you the song and who sings it, except Merlin does it for bird songs.
You let the app record the birds singing in the area and the species name will come up on the app to help you identify what you hear. While not foolproof, perhaps partially due to some regional dialects in bird song, it is an incredible tool which enables even total amateurs to get an idea what species are singing the morning chorus in their area.
The Victoria Day weekend group had a diverse range of experience and perspectives on birding and what exactly draws them to pursue feathered friends, some of whom did not need the help of any app.
Sandy Proulx, who has been serious about his birding for about 25 years, but was introduced as a youngster thanks to his father being a birder, was easily identifying the songs and sightings, and his expertise was impressive —as was his birding scope, which helped him see further across the expansive wetland.
The group all meandered slowly along the marsh edge, then into the woods and willows for some variety and across some open meadows.
It was a lovely way to spend a day on the Chilcotin Plateau with some very experienced and knowledgeable birders who clearly appreciate the beauty and wildlife of our area.
The list of bird species was over 70 species long,.
Many of those who were out for the day were also spending the night on the plateau, some renting a cabin, some staying in their own cabin, and some headed back to the big smoke. Those who stayed were enjoying a pot luck dinner and social, where they could probably talk turkey, grouse or waterfowl all night long.