Best of the City: Birdwatchers view nature through a different lens

Best of the City: Birdwatchers view nature through a different lens

Birdwatching remains a popular hobby in Nanaimo

This article was originally published in Best of the City 2017, a special publication presented by the Nanaimo News Bulletin. For the e-edition, click here.

A tree branch bobs as a bird lands, tucking in red-tipped wings.

“Look at that red-winged blackbird. Isn’t he gorgeous,” says Mike Yip, bird photographer.

He presses an eye to his camera, trying to capture the bird before it can spring into flight at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo’s bird and wildlife sanctuary.

There are about 300 bird species in the Nanaimo region and Buttertubs Marsh is just one of birders’ favourite spots to catch glimpses of them.

It’s “special,” a migratory trap because there are few good spots for birds to stop as they go across the city, said Yip as he strolled the gravel pathway, stopping to take in the different sights and songs of birds flitting between branches and reeds.

Birdwatching remains a popular hobby, according to Colin Bartlett, owner of Backyard Wild Bird and Nature Store, who says anyone can do it, it’s easy and there’s always something of interest.

All people need are binoculars, a birding guide like Birds of Southwestern B.C. and patience.

Bartlett’s store puts on a free Sunday bird walk and he said it can take two or three hours. As people move, birds get out of the way, which is why people should stop and become part of the habitat, he said, recommending Buttertubs, Pipers Lagoon, Neck Point Park, Morrell Wildlife Sanctuary and Colliery Dam Park as places to observe.

Kim Goldberg, Nanaimo birdwatcher, has always enjoyed birds and birdwatching and says Nanaimo is a great place for it with different ecosystems and terrain.

For her, the hobby is both relaxing and purposeful. There’s something calming about having the mind so occupied with precise, small details that everything else just goes away for the time that you’re birding, she said.

“It’s almost like a form of active meditation really,” she said.

Goldberg also said the more we know about the natural world, the more motivated we are to protect it.

“People who aren’t birders go out and say, oh there’s a robin, there’s a crow and that’s kind of the end of it,” she said. “But if you really know how incredibly complex and beautiful and awesome the world out there is with the whole variety of species and what their bizarre – to us perhaps – behaviours are and what they’re really all about then all of a sudden our sense of value of that natural environment increases.”

Getting outdoors, the fresh air, learning about nature are all good things, says Yip, who loves seeing the birds and the challenge of getting that perfect picture.

After his walk around Buttertubs, he planned to search out the indigo bunting, spotted at someone’s feeder in Port Alberni. There are maybe only one or two of the birds on the Island every five years, and so the fact that there’s one on the Island and it’s staying makes it quite special for birders, he said.

“It’s like a treasure hunt when you go birding,” he said. “You’re looking for all these featured treasures and if you find one it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it’s exciting.”

How exciting? He said one year, when his children were young, they stopped in at Parksville ice rink by accident and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky was there.

“Finding a new bird, it’s like it’s even more exciting than Wayne Gretzky.”

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