I am an entomologist. Well, that is what my colleagues and qualifications will tell you. An entomologist studies insects, and do you know how many of them there are out there? Well, conservative estimates put it in the over a million range. So, next time you catch an insect, don’t expect me to know what species it is! Given the difficulties associated with identifying insects, I have decided to branch out, widen my horizons, spread my wings, so to speak, and I have started to develop an interest in birds. Well, there are apparently only 462 bird species in Canada, so my chances of correctly identifying one are dramatically improved. However, I am still a neophyte bird nerd, so I may require a little more time before I can distinguish a herring gull from a western gull or a dusky flycatcher from a gray flycatcher.
Birding does, of course, have its downsides, the biggest one being the whole getting up at stupid o’clock for dawn in the middle of summer. What is wrong with birds? Don’t they want to enjoy a bit of a lie-in every now and then? But, it is also very rewarding. I was taloned by a sharp-shinned hawk for the very first time this autumn, which involved the very sharp claws of a bird of prey being imbedded into my index finger. I have now learnt that hawks have much, much faster reflexes than I do and that you really should leave its talons tangled in the mist net as long as possible. I have held a tiny hummingbird in my hand and felt its heart beating at around 1000 beats per minute and watch wide-mouthed baby swallows begging for food.
Most of my birding experience has been gained by volunteering for the Vancouver Avian Research Centre. VARC is a Registered Canadian charity dedicated to wild bird research and conservation. It conducts bird monitoring and banding, provides research, demonstration, education, volunteer opportunities, and visitor programs at its main Colony Farm field station. Its primary objective is to safeguard habitat for breeding and migratory birds to ensure their long term survival by providing scientifically defensible strategies for avian and ecosystem conservation. I spend my weekend mornings extracting birds from nets, taking biometric measurements, attaching ID bands to their legs and practicing my bird identification skills. Hopefully, some of the data collected will be used to show the importance of urban wildlife areas to the survival of many migratory birds that pass through our area on their way north in the summer and south in the winter and may contribute to the preservation of these habitats for generations of birds to come.
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