Two hawks fight over a dead pigeon April 15 in downtown Quesnel. (Sasha Sefter - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

The bird is the word: birding takes flight in Quesnel

Bird watching is a great way to pass the time, especially while social distancing

Bird watching or “birding” is a beloved pastime practised across the globe, which has grown in popularity year after year.

One of the reasons for the hobby’s growth is that all that is required of an individual, or “birder” as they are called, to take up the hobby is to observe birds in the field.

In Quesnel, the birding community has boomed in the last decade, thanks largely due to the efforts of birder Adrian Leather, the founder of the Quesnel Birding Club.

Leather became interested in birding at a young age at his home in Manchester, England, thanks to the influence of his mother and his best friend.

“I probably started birding without even realizing it when I was about nine or 10, just watching birds in the yard,” he said. “My mum would feed the birds, and I guess I started to take notice of that, but it was on a very subconscious level, and then what really kicked me off was that my best friend showed me a field guide one day and that just totally blew my mind.”

Field guides are books which contain detailed illustrations and descriptions designed to help the reader identify wildlife, plants and other naturally occurring objects.

Leather immigrated to Quesnel from England in 1997 and quickly began to search for fellow birders who shared his passion. The search would last two years, but in 1999, Leather would meet Quesnel resident Manfred Roschitz, who shared his love of bird watching. The two began to share sightings and locations back and forth, and slowly a community of birders began to form.

As the interest in birding began to grow in Quesnel and Leather found more and more people reaching out to him for information, he decided to form The Quesnel Bird Watching Club (QBC).

“I realized as time went on, you know, why don’t I just form a birding club and just see how it goes — it kind of gradually built up,” said Leather. “We used to have an email listing where I would put out an email with sightings and add the odd photo here and there.”

Not long after the QBC began to take shape, social media platforms burst onto the scene, and Leather decided to launch the club on Facebook, offering content that appealed to everyone from new birders to experienced ornithologists. To his surprise, the group grew exponentially, and as of April 16 has 451 members. Leather says he can’t believe how the community has grown.

“It’s something I never could have foreseen,” he said. “It took me two years to find another guy into birding. There wasn’t really anything going on in Quesnel at the time, and now, of course, it’s just off the charts really.”

The QBC holds a yearly Christmas Bird Count, which sees its members scan the skies and record the number of bird species found, as well as the number of individual birds within a species. Leather says that so far this spring, the birding has been very good, which he and his fellow birders are happy about since the 2019 Christmas count showed lower-than-normal bird activity.

“Spring has been really good,” he said. “We had a pretty poor Christmas bird count; I’m not really sure why. It seems to me as if the bird activity is peaking in November, and by the time the count comes around, it’s actually pretty quiet in Quesnel. We only counted 41 species when typically we get 48, so that was down, and the numbers were down too.”

As the seasons change, birders prepare for an exciting few months of watching as birds begin their spring migration and are often easier to spot as they travel together in large groups on their way to their final destination.

“The migration so far this spring is really good — it’s fantastic,” said Leather. “What’s helping is we are getting a lot more reports, and there are a lot more people birding, so when you put the sightings together, you start to see pretty clear patterns. It’s helpful to new birders because they can look at the sightings and say, ‘OK, that’s something that’s around at the moment — I need to watch for that,’ and then the next thing they know, they are seeing it in their own yard.”

Leather says during the spring migration, Quesnel birders can typically expect to see Canadian geese starting in early March as the migration begins, followed by various waterfowl, such as trumpeter swans and different duck species through April.

Leather says during years which see colder weather reach into spring, such as this year, these birds can be spotted in surprising places, as many of the lakes and ponds in the region are still frozen.

“The lakes are often still frozen over, so a lot of the ducks and geese, swans are looking for staging posts, which are often just flooded farm fields so they can be seen there — like right now, for example, there a about 30 white pelicans that are staging near Kersley,” said Leather.

As the weather warms up and the calendar moves into May, birders will be treated to a wilderness symphony, as Leather says this is when the bulk of the songbirds from the warbler, flycatcher and sparrow species fly into town.

Leather says one of the best things about birding is it can be done by anyone from anywhere.

“One of the great things about birding is that it’s so accessible — I mean, you can bird anywhere really, whether you are right in the centre of a city or you’re in remote country,” he said. “Birding can happen anywhere, anytime.”

Leather also believes birding is a perfect hobby to pick up during this time in which individuals and families are being asked to isolate themselves socially, as it is often a solitary activity and can be done at home, whether through a window or in one’s yard, during a walk in the neighbourhood or in a park.

“Birders in general I think tend to be fairly quiet — and you know they probably do quite enjoy their own company, or they might sort of link up with one other birder — it’s easy to do the social distance thing while birding,” said Leather.

The QBC has postponed all its events for 2020 but has big plans for 2021, as they have a three-day trip to Bella Coola and Anahim Lake planned for May, as well as a trip to Northern Peru planned for July.

Anyone interested in learning more about birding and becoming part of the community in Quesnel is encouraged to join the Q-Birds group on Facebook.

READ MORE: A quacking good time on Dragon Lake

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