Monthly Archive for January, 2012

My Small Year

Red-winged Blackbird IllustrationThis is my second ‘official’ year as a birder of sorts. Actually, I’ve been casually watching birds for years but somehow never worked up the enthusiasm to bother identifying the various species I didn’t recognize. It was a lazy enjoyment without any sort of catalogue or accounting. All of this changed, however, after I chanced upon iBird, a smartphone app that makes identifying birds a fairly simple task. After successfully using the app to identify an American Dipper that was feeding along the shore of Rolley Lake as my wife and I walked by, I was hooked.

After I installed iBird on my phone, I created a list of all the birds I was certain I’d seen in the recent past by marking them as favourites in the app. This list was quite small as I didn’t want to record any species that I might have mistaken with another in the days when I wasn’t concerned with such details. For that reason, I left most of the various waterfowl, shore, and seabird species off of my list despite having seen a great number of them in the past. This was my initial list:

American Robin
Anna’s Hummingbird
Bald Eagle
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bushtit
Canada Goose
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Common Loon
Common Raven
Cooper’s Hawk
Dark-eyed Junco
European Starling
Glaucous-winged Gull
Gray Jay (Whiskey Jack)
Great Blue Heron
Hermit Thrush
House Finch
Mallard
Northern Flicker
Northwestern Crow
Osprey
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-winged Blackbird
Rock Pigeon
Ruffed Grouse
Rufous Hummingbird
Sooty Grouse
Spruce Grouse
Steller’s Jay
Trumpeter Swan
Varied Thrush

Then, I started keeping an eye out for new birds while out and about. I came across a few birds that I wasn’t able to identify, like the owl, I assume, that flew overhead and vanished among the trees before the synapses in my brain could even light up with owly thoughts. Despite my sluggish synapses, however, I identified and added the following twenty-nine slower moving species to the list:

American Dipper
American Wigeon
Belted Kingfisher
Bewick’s Wren
Brown Creeper
Common Merganser
Common Yellowthroat
Downy Woodpecker
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Hooded Merganser
House Sparrow
Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Scaup
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific Wren
Pileated Woodpecker
Purple Finch
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Ring-necked Pheasant
Snow Goose
Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Swainson’s Thrush
White-crowned Sparrow
Wilson’s Warbler

Still, even with these new additions, it remains a fairly short list. That’s okay. I really don’t want to become an obsessed birder travelling all over the country in search of birds and bragging rights. In fact, I’ve recently discovered and am quite taken with the idea of green birding. These birders focus on the birds they can find within the self-powered reach of their own homes or workplaces. I’ll admit the notion wouldn’t be too much of a hardship on me as I am fortunate to live within walking distance of Burns Bog, but the idea would fit nicely into what I’m already trying to do in terms of weighing the environmental impact of all my actions and, consequently, pursuing only my deepest of interests.

Backcountry Bear Basics

Bear Book Cover ImageHey Joe!
I read Backcountry Bear Basics, by Dave Smith, last summer and definitely recommend it if you spend time in bear country.
I thought I was fairly bear aware, but this book certainly opened my eyes to a number of misconceptions I had about bear behaviour and how one should best handle an encounter with one.
Smith debunks many of the common myths about grizzlies and black bears and offers sound advice on how to best store food, choose a safe campsite, and avoid encounters with bears in the first place. There is also specific advice for various recreational pursuits.
Along the way, he explains how to distinguish between grizzly and black bears, but it’s not always easy to do. If you’d like to practice your bear identification skills, the state of Montana offers free online training and self-testing that’s pretty good. Click here to try it out.