Birding isn’t just for the birds

Last chance to try something new in 2011 - join us on the annual Ashcroft Christmas Bird Count on the 23rd.

I remember being extremely impressed by my Aunt Jessie one summer as she rattled off the names of all the wild flowers I pointed out to her as we drove across the prairies, my dad behind the wheel.

She could have made up the names for all I knew – and probably did, just to make up for the boredom of that long drive from Saskatchewan to Ontario, but her seeming knowledge of the native flowers made me sit up and take notice. There was something about recognizing the unknown that made me think she was very, very smart.

For years I’ve been an armchair botanist, and have since learned that the common names of flowers can apply to several different plants. However, I see the same thrill in others when I am able to provide a name and solve a mystery for someone.

The same goes for birds – our wild flowers of the air. My parents were avid birders for many years and spent a lot of time wandering the trails of Point Pelee National Park, which wasn’t all that far from where we lived. While my parents were scouting out the branches overhead with their binoculars, my brother and I were nosing through the underbrush, discovering the beautiful and mysterious flora that rarely grew outside the park anymore.

Birds? Bah! I knew a robin when I saw one. Or a sparrow.

I guess it was the first time I saw a mountain bluebird that I really began to take notice.

Little by little, one by one, I’ve began to recognize certain birds. The learning curve hit a definite upward spike when I joined the annual Christmas Bird Count when it started here in Ashcroft a few years ago. Now I can tell a towhee from a robin, a flicker from a woodpecker and a Cedar waxwing from an Evening Grosbeak. It may not be useful information, but it’s satisfyng to be able to identify what I am seeing and to know that when I participate in the Christmas Bird Count, that I am providing information that will be used to track bird trends and migratory patterns, and may help us learn more about how climate change is affecting us.

Join us for this year’s bird count. Regardless of whether you can tell an eagle from an osprey, spotters and identifiers are all a great help.

Friday, Dec. 23 is the date, 8 am is the time. Meet us at the OK Stop in Ashcroft.

Wendy Coomber is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal