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Bird Watching
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.

Bird 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.

Written by Laurie March
Great Blue Heron photo courtesy Laurie March
Owl photo courtesy Claude Lauzon

masthead photo courtesy




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