Watching our feathered friends in the backcountry
©Outdoor Adventure Canada
The tent is set up, your water
is filtered and it's too early for dinner, what do you do?
Grab your binoculars and spend some time looking at the
local bird life. Many backcountry travelers never take the
time to do this and they miss one of nature's best shows.
watching is popular with people of all ages and activity
levels. Canada offers excellent bird watching opportunities
because of a huge variety of species ranging from the curious
little chickadee to large creatures like the owl. Common
species of finches, chickadees, blue jays and sparrows are
often seen in our backyards, but you are not likely to find
a large prey bird such as the bald eagle, osprey or peregrine
falcon at your backyard bird feeder. You may be fortunate
enough to see one of these giants from your vantage point
on a lookout. Or you may have the opportunity to share your
lunch with a smaller bird such as a gray jay (whiskey jack),
which is friendly enough to land on your hand to take the
bird food you offer. You may even paddle up to a prehistoric
looking Great Blue Heron. Seeing one of these take off from
a canoe is certainly a majestic sight.
These experiences make my trips
more interesting. One year, around the middle of May we
had backpacked into a spot on the rugged coast of Georgian
Bay. After I set up my tent, I turned around to see what
a strange buzzing noise was. I was pleasantly surprised
to see an emerald green hummingbird flitting around the
bright orange-red flashes of the Moss Little Dipper. It
seemed a little far North for this tiny bird but he certainly
was curious about my tent.
Bird watching for backpackers and paddlers doesn't necessarily
mean carrying a lot of extra weight; usually just a small
pair of binoculars or a good
pair of eyes is all you need. I also carry a small Ziploc
of seed to share with my feathered friends. Be careful about
feeding birds with human fare such as bread. Uneaten bread
can fall to a pond bottom and cause disease that will make
the birds sick or even kill them. Some areas recommend that
you do not feed any of the wildlife, including birds because
of environmental sensitivity. It is best to find out about
the region before you set off on your trip.
This is an activity that can
be enjoyed year round. Times like the Spring or Fall migration
can offer sights of birds not always seen in the area. Winter
birding allows for wonderful photographic opportunities
because of the lack of foliage on deciduous tree. In winter,
you may find that binoculars and camera lenses fog up a
little. Just wait a few minutes and that will dissipate.
When finished setting
up camp, sneak off into the woods or head for the river
bank and sit still and quiet. Gradually the forest comes
alive, and you will see many birds and other wildlife. Sometimes
a comedy unfolds as the raven tries to steal your face cloth
or a tragic ending if played out as a chipmunk is snatched
from the forest floor by a mighty hawk.
Great Blue Heron photo courtesy Laurie March
Owl photo courtesy Claude Lauzon