Audubon have a set of guidelines I try to always adhere to – https://www.audubon.org/get-outside/audubons-guide-ethical-bird-photography
I’m often asked questions about my experiences with birding and wildlife here in BC so I’ve created this blog post to share some of my thoughts.
- What lead you to first get involved with birding?
I’ve always loved birds and wildlife, enjoyed nature, camping, road trips and being outside! But I really only got serious about birding when I came to Canada! The bird life here is outstanding! It just takes your breath away! I’ve been lucky enough to live in some lovely countries (Zimbabwe, New Zealand) with fantastic birdlife but the Delta region of Lower Mainland Vancouver must be seriously one of the best birding locations in the world! What really blew my mind was a simple first walk in the local park in my new suburb – bald eagles, red tailed hawks, northern harriers, herons, hummingbirds, finches, waxwings, the list was endless! It took my breath away! I’ve been addicted ever since! I need my daily birding fix! LOL. And I might add the nature walks were encouraged by my very supportive family who saw I was getting a bit depressed about the lack of work available for older immigrants – they bought me a camera and a Sibleys bird book and said – Take a hike Mum! And I did! My teenagers loved my first crazy out of focus images and helped me set up my first social media account Instagram and the rest is history! Once my photographs improved I could start identifying several birds – then it got interesting and I found out about iNaturalist, eBird and Bird Studies Canada where you can enter your bird sightings into a database and keep a record. Some people enjoy that side of it – keeping a tally of birds they’ve seen – they call them bird “twitchers”.. But I am happy to see any bird and don’t keep track of my birding numbers. What I do is record my daily nature walk and I try to photograph as much as I can each day (not only birds but scenic landscapes, wildflowers, insects anything that catches my eye – I really enjoy early morning walks when the sun is rising – the light is fantastic and makes for really great images!) and if I see any rare bird I report them to eBird. I’m a big fan of video – I have a YouTube channel where I upload my more interesting videos – http://www.youtube.com/c/Pacificnorthwestkate and my main social media account is – https://www.instagram.com/pacificnorthwestkate/
- How would you encourage others to first start getting involved with birding?
First – you have got to like nature! You’ve got to like being outside! If you’re not having fun outside then this might not be for you! I find nature walks very therapeutic – it’s a good way to reduce stress and get some balance back – life can be quite hectic at times and it’s important to do things that make you feel good and at peace. Forest bathing and nature walks are not only good for ones physical health they’re for good for mental health too! As John Muir said – “and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” He has some great quotes – “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks” – I would encourage people to just be more aware of their surroundings – I see a lot of people on my walks – first thing – leave the cell phone and headphones at home! Just walk and listen and look around you! Take a break from the constant bombardment of images and information online.. Set yourself a short walk at first – around the block or neighborhood park maybe? Feel the sun (or rain) and breathe fresh air and watch what’s going on – nature is constantly changing everyday with every season – there is always something new to see! Listen to the insects – see what’s flowering – notice the scents of different trees and flowers, Watch the bees and notice what birds are around! We live on the Pacific Flyway – an invisible migratory corridor that birds and wildlife use to move up and down the coast of North America. The beautiful mountain blue birds arrive in flocks for a few weeks each spring and fall – then move on, then come the blackbirds with the lovely songs, then the pretty waxwings arrive and then the finches, the warblers flitting through the trees … bird life is constantly changing, every day is different– I await the first raucous call of the Yellow headed blackbird each spring with great anticipation! Some birds are resident here and it’s always good to see them around. At the moment (early September) most of the bald eagles have taken their fledgling to teach the how to catch salmon that are running now. The bald eagles will return to delta in their thousands in early winter. Nature is all interconnected and it’s important to see the big picture! Respect for our wildlife and natural resources is paramount and we must see it is protected and conserved for future generations. Once you start noticing the birds then you start looking out for them! They often frequent the same areas and trees and you can often find nests – its exciting to watch the babies fledge but very important that you don’t disturb or harass them – keep your distance – stay quiet – don’t ever feed wildlife – and you’ll be rewarded with wonderful wild bird encounters!
- What are the top 5 things you would recommend all birders have/bring with them when they go birding?
Top 5 things! Well quite honestly you don’t need anything but yourself – your eyes and legs (although many trails are wheelchair accessible which is great!)
Here in Delta the Fraser Regional Library offers “bird watching backpacks” on loan to beginners – a great idea I think – before you spend any money – see if bird watching is for you? Hire one of their backpacks and try it out! The backpack has a pair of good quality binoculars, two pocket bird guides and a laminated sheet for tips!
So my five things would probably be much the same – I’d add a notebook and pen and maybe an added map showing local trails. Local knowledge is also very important and it often helps to join birding groups – there are so many, online and local nature groups to help you get started. I personally prefer birding alone as I can keep quieter than a noisy group but there are definite advantages to groups – shared knowledge and tips that are so important and can only be learnt from someone who has been there, done that, seen that bird! Many birders and photographers are more than happy to share their knowledge – if you see a photographer or birder outside with their camera or binoculars and they’re not actively filming – approach them and ask if they’re seen anything good today? Most are happy to tell you about their finds and even share where they saw it (if it’s not an endangered species) – they’ll often turn on their camera display to show you photos and give you tips – maybe even suggest contacts or birding groups you could join? It’s a rare photographer that won’t talk to you. I’ve learnt so much from the local Lower Mainland photographers and birding people – I virtually knew nothing when I came here and while I’m not any kind of expert I have quite a database of knowledge now thanks to them!
I always pack my camera first. But for birding your just need your eyes and maybe a notebook if you’re wanting to record details, binoculars or spotting scope, you don’t need expensive camera equipment – but having a tripod or monopod to maintain balance while you try to focus on birds helps! Wear comfortable walking shoes. Birding involves a lot of standing around – you want to be comfortable on your feet! Dress for the weather. My summer birding outfits are very different to my winter gear. Be aware of weather report – keep a rain jacket or umbrella handy. Dress in layers. In winter a warm parka is vital! And waterproof warm boots. In summer I often wear sandals and shorts – depending on the location. Bring extra water bottles and have some fruit or Snack bars ready in case you’re out for longer than expected! (and that often happens!) Have a good attitude! Be calm and ready to enjoy a good walk and hopefully some new and interesting birds!
- Can you elaborate on the problem of lead poisoning and rodenticide affecting raptors? How can people be aware, be more contentious, and help solve this problem?
This is an enormous problem. And very controversial! I don’t think I can cover it adequately here – but I’d like to say Raptors are the Solution! People buy rodenticides thinking they’re just getting rid of a few rats… what they don’t realize is that owls and hawks and eagles already hunt those rodents – when they see one staggering out in the open they think an easy meal! They don’t know the rat is slowly dying. The poison is then ingested by the eagle and in turn can kill or seriously damage the raptors health. This is a horrific problem. OWL Rehab in Delta deal with poisoned raptors every day – treating them and then trying to rehabilitate and hopefully release them again but sadly most die. Rodenticides are a cruel and very painful death to all it touches. The solution is humane traps where the rat is caught live and then released elsewhere or call in the experts – there are companies that will humanely catch the rodents and take then away for release.
The real solution is for humans to not make such a mess with all our rubbish and food waste that our cities are a breeding ground for rats and to let raptors and coyotes and bobcats clean up the rodents!
The issue of lead poisoning is another giant problem altogether. I’m not a hunter. I don’t like hunting – I don’t like killing wildlife. I don’t support hunting in any way. But Canada has a big hunting culture and sadly lead bullets are cheaper than any other kind. The lead shot sprayed in hunting ducks for example scatter over a wide area – poisoning smaller creatures, if a duck is shot and left behind by a hunter (as often happens here in delta – I’ve come across many injured and dying ducks in hunting season) and then an eagle eats the shot duck – the eagle will die from the high levels of lead. I support one hundred percent OWL Rehab in Delta – every day they have to deal with poisoned birds, electrocuted raptors, beautiful eagles harmed by mankind! What a misnomer that is! Man is anything but kind to wildlife! The statistics and cases of lead poisoning in raptors is so devastatingly depressing. Unless they can be treated quickly they don’t stand a chance of survival and sadly by the time the eagle is caught – it’s too weak to feed and fly and is staggering around on the ground – it’s too late anyway. It’s very tragic. It’s a topic that is difficult to bring up because there is big money in hunting and money talks. The Hunting community have the Government in their back pocket (this is my personal opinion).
- What are your thoughts on litter, rubbish, and off leash dogs in relation to ethical birding? Do you have any tips for helping to solve this problem?
Ethical birding – or ethical behavior in nature – means putting nature, birds and wildlife first! Be aware of your surroundings – once you start noticing the discarded rubbish, Starbucks – McDonalds – Tim Horton’s coffee cups thrown into drainage ditches – hurled onto highway verges, ponds full of peoples rubbish you start to realize what a negative effect people have on our natural environment! We have got to do better! Nature and wildlife deserve our respect and protection! What is the answer? I’m at a loss for words! Metro Vancouver Regional Parks (where I walk most days) put up plenty of bins, recycling and rubbish, lots of signs and yet people just discard their trash – two feet away from a bin! My mind just boggles! WTF is the matter with you? It takes zero effort to reach out and drop it in the bin! So the answer I believe is education and more enforcement! Getting angry like I do doesn’t help but I get so frustrated! So more programs in Education – more enforcement of laws – making people realize what actual harmful damage their recklessness causes – is the key. The thing is – people obviously like being outside – they love being in nature – taking walks and enjoying fresh air – I wish they’d realize it’s their job to keep the environment clean or the places they enjoy so much will just become giant rubbish tips! It’s not the Parks people’s jobs to walk around picking up scattered rubbish – they will empty bins but so much of their valuable time is spent cleaning up after messy humans! This is wildlife’s home – don’t make a mess in it!
Dogs and off leash dogs are another very controversial topic. Again education and enforcement of laws is the key. Dog owners can’t read so maybe a reading program is in order lol – I’m joking but honestly.. it beggars belief – the signs all clearly state – No Dogs – Protected Wildlife Conservation Area – and yet – there goes Spot chasing recent migratory birds and ducks that have just arrived from a long flight from Russia to rest and feed on our shores only to be chased by Spot – whose owner (although an animal lover obviously) thinks the rules don’t apply to him and his Spot! It drives me crazy! And the dog poo bags. I’m just astounded at the mentality of dog owners that bother to pick up the dogs mess – put it in a plastic bag, tie a knot in the end, and then promptly toss the bag high into the bushes! Like?? What the!! Just leave the damn mess on the ground if you’re going to do that! That would be better than leaving plastic in unreachable places! In the UK there are strict laws – plastic wrapped dog poo bags thrown into horse and cattle fields have been known to kill horses who eat the bags as they can smell the grain scented dog meal in them! It’s a very serious problem And as for the plastic litter! Aaaaarggghh It’s the bane of my life! I see these plastic bags everywhere! Tossed into trees like Christmas decorations endangering the wildlife – its beyond my ken.
Education and much stronger enforcement is the key to solving this problem. I have a plan to make a Wildlife and Nature documentary on just this subject – it’s called Wild Vancouver and I’ve set up a few social media pages and blog posts and am trying to apply for grants to make this dream documentary of mine a reality – in the hopes of raising awareness and educating people on the damage their recklessness causes.
Disclaimer – not all dog owners are this thoughtless… I know most are very conscientious and care about the environment but the few who don’t give the majority a very bad name!
- What are the top 5 things you would like beginners to know about birding before they start?
Birding is great fun! It’s good for your health and it’s good for the birds too! It’s important they are recognized! Bird counts and data entered into eBird and iNaturalist are important tools to record the wildlife and natural environment around us – before it is potentially lost!
Respect nature. Keep your distance from all wildlife and give them their space.
Leave No Trace. Take only photos and leave only (light) footprints! Do not step off marked trails – this leads to ‘braiding’ and can destroys the environment and kills native plants and insects.
Do not litter.
Never feed wildlife. Fed Wildlife is Dead Wildlife.
(Garden feeders and hummingbird nectar feeders are an exception but in the wild please don’t feed birds or wildlife – your stale moldy bread is not good for ducks! It makes them sick and fills their stomachs with empty calories! They need to forage for themselves if they are to survive.)
- How would you suggest getting kids excited about birds or birding?
Instead of laptops and iPads how about a nice set of kids binoculars and a birding book for a birthday gift! Endless hours of pleasure! And much better for everyone!
There are some great groups taking kids out birding! It’s a wonderful way to get kids out in the wild – get them interested and excited in what nature has – and hopefully learn to look after it! Our children hold the key the future. Melissa Hafting runs a Dare To Bird group for young teens – she takes them out on great birding adventures in BC – I thoroughly recommend you talk to her! She runs the BCRBA and the BC Young Birder Program – she’s an amazing person, best birder I know. Any Bird Ids I’m not sure of – I always ask Melissa! She’s a very ethical photographer and really knows and cares about the birds and the natural environment here in BC. Here is a link to her Blog – http://daretobird.blogspot.ca/search/label/young%20birder%20trip
I’d like to add that a lot of young people nowadays are very interested in the environment and conscious of climate change and are doing great things to raise awareness. I follow Greta Thunberg and have enormous respect for this young person trying to wake the world up to the danger our planet is in. Our children hold the key to the future! I also follow many young birders on social media and their skill and attention to detail and their ethical birding practices are inspiring!
Thank you for reading my blog! Please follow me on social media for daily updates on my nature, bird and wildlife sightings in the lower mainland – and also for updates on my Wild Vancouver project documentary!
A list of all my social media
And this Instagram page is for updates about my project documentary Wild Vancouver that I’m hoping to make one day to raise awareness on how important our wild and natural areas are in Vancouver to wildlife and our selves!
Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any specific requests – I often take hundreds of photos every day and only post one or two a day – so I may easy have the image you’re after on file!