Packing for a Birding Workshop

I just got confirmation a few weeks ago that I, along with nine others, will be attending the inaugural Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) in Tofield, Alberta in early August.

In contrast to my Long Point Bird Observatory workshop (2012) and internship near LPBO at The Tip (2013) in Ontario, I’ll be driving to Beaverhill (which is about 90 minutes away), so I’ll be packing a little differently; here’s my packing post from 2013. Since I’ll be a Team Leader at BBO as well as a participant, I thought a packing post might be helpful for some of the young birders and anyone else who might be attending a similar birding or naturalist workshop, especially those who might not have camping experience or who might be looking for new camping gadgets and gear.

My first piece of advice is to pack light, but pack smart. There’s nothing more frustrating than overpacking and then having to haul everything, especially the unnecessary items, around. Especially if the trip is short, keep your packing list to a minimum.

Clothing

Don’t bring your best clothes. Bring things that can get dirty and possibly even ripped or torn (think thorns, branches, and maybe barbed wire fences) and think layers, no matter what the season. In Alberta, even in the summer the early mornings and evenings can be cool, and extra layers are also helpful against mosquitoes and ticks. Polyester and other fast-drying tops and bottoms (including underwear and socks) are great if you need to wash anything. I’m also going to bring my microfiber towel that absorbs a lot of water but dries quickly; my mother found it on Amazon.ca. AT BBO, there’s the possibility of going on the water and maybe swimming during the workshop, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.

Bring some warmer layers just in case — a fleece top, heavier socks, a winter hat, a neck gaiter, and a light pair of gloves. Inexpensive nitrile garden gloves are good; they’re waterproof and give you a good grip for binoculars and cameras. My mother swears by the selection, quality, and price at Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware stores.

For rain gear, I’ve had a women’s L.L. Bean Trail Model rain jacket for the past few years. It’s made from waterproof TEK2.5 ripstop nylon with a ceramic coating and is both waterproof and breathable, which is nice when you’re in it for hours at a time. It’s also light enough to wear in the summer. It has a hood, packs down to nothing, and there are versions for women, men, and kids. Everyone in my family has one and finds them very useful on the farm. The exchange rate with the U.S. is a little better now, and while the price of L.L. Bean items can be high for Canadians without a sale, they don’t charge additional shipping fees. (Full disclosure — L.L. Bean is a recent sponsor of my segment on Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds radio show, but all of the L.L. Bean items I own were bought by my mother long before the sponsorship began.)

I like wearing baseball caps for rain and sun and have a variety from the Long Point Bird Observatory and Cornell Lab of Ornithology; besides the protection they offer, their sale supports bird conservation organizations. However, especially if you have shorter hair, ball caps don’t provide a lot of shade protection for ears or the back of the neck, so you might want a hat with more coverage.

Bonus points if your shoes or boots are waterproof or water resistant, especially if you’ll be spending any time in the mud. In addition to a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots, especially if you’re travelling by vehicle, I’d recommend tossing a pair of rubber boots in the trunk, just in case. The boots I wear almost year-round, except in the coldest winter weather, are women’s Ropers, which are leather with a forged steel shank and double-stitched seams; you can buy them at UFA farm supply stores in Alberta, or at Lammle’s western wear. They’re not waterproof though, and they can be heavy, so I ‘ve been considering a new pair of Keen hiking boots. And I will put in a plug for Smartwool or Thorlo socks.

As for bottoms, I usually wear jeans instead of shorts because of ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, and the possibility of barbed wire. However, since my 4H NWT trip last summer, I’ve become a fan of MEC ripstop nylon convertible pants — they’re light, breathable, easy to wash and fast to dry, convert to shorts when needed, fit well, and very comfortable. And lighter than jeans. You can find them made by different companies, including (I believe) Columbia, which you can find at sporting goods stores, such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and Sport Chek.

Bedding

Temperatures in Alberta are cool at night even in the summer, so bring a sleeping bag that is rated for a pretty low temperature. Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable, so an air mattress or a sleeping pad makes for more restful sleep. For the NWT trip last summer, I was going to take a pad but at the last minute borrowed an old air mattress from my aunt and uncle. The mattress inflated with a pump which wasn’t that much work, but the self-inflating mattresses others had were better — lighter and much less to carry. My mother just bought a lower priced MEC reactor sleeping pad for my brothers and me to use this summer, and it seems pretty comfortable. Don’t forget a pillow and maybe a small extra blanket (preferably fleece/microfibre in case it gets wet).

Toiletries/Personal Items:

I’m not going to mention much here because everyone has particular preferences. I have fair skin and burn if I’m not careful, so sunscreen is imperative. And bug spray! Of course, soap and shampoo (and possibly conditioner), but if water access is limited, dry shampoo works very well; brands I’ve found that work well and can be found easily are Batiste, Not Your Mother’s, and Aveeno dry shampoos. Baby wipes can also come in handy for a variety of uses when water is in short supply; and a washcloth or two for when water is available (microfiber rather than cotton, so it dries quickly — if you can’t find them in the bath department, look in the household cleaning section.) Less is definitely more when it comes to toiletries. Also, try to avoid any highly scented products to help keep the mosquitoes away. Water bottles are a necessity and if you aren’t flying, bring a few extras and fill them at home before you leave.

Since we’ll be camping for a week, bring a small amount of any medicine/first aid items you’d like to have on hand: bandaids, Advil or Tylenol, Vitamin C for a sore throat, Tums, antibacterial ointment like Polysporin, tweezers for tick removal, antihistamine tablets (like Benadryl) in case of allergic reactions to plants or insects, and so on.

Camping Tech:

This will be my first time camping with a phone, and since we’ll have limited electricity, I’m bringing a car charger, our Eton BoostTurbine Portable Charger with a hand crank, and a solar charger.

At Long Point we woke before sunrise to set up the mist nests and in retrospect, a headlight instead of just a flashlight would have been very helpful. My youngest brother swears by headlamps for chores in the winter; he has a Fenix HP 300 as well as a Boruit (5000 lumens). The Boruit is fairly inexpensive and available from Amazon.ca. Decide how much light you need or want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

I would also recommend at least a pocket knife, or a Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or similar multi-tool.

A small backpack for day trips is useful, especially if you’ve packed everything else in a larger pack.

Birding:

Binoculars are a must, but if you don’t have a pair, ask around and you may be able to borrow some from a friend or acquaintance. If you’re searching for any items, consider posting to your local birding listserv as many members are willing to help young birders.

If you have a spotting scope, it can be a great piece of equipment to bring. While it can be bulky, the views of far-off birds are all worth the weight. If you don’t have a scope, though, don’t worry. Most bird observatories have one and will lend it out to the young birders attending the workshop or camp.

Notebooks are an easy way to keep track of your notes, observations, and sketches — I learned at Long Point that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count! Bring pens, pencils (small Ikea pencils are great!), coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener (or penknife), erasers, and notebooks. BBO will supply notebooks (Long Point did as well), but if you like Rite-In-The-Rain notebooks, you can find them at Peavey Marts in Alberta.

Decide before you start to pack if you really want to carry your camera around everywhere, and whether you’re going to take lots of photographs or just the occasional snap. This will affect what you pack. If you are bringing anything that needs batteries, bring extra batteries and/or make sure that your batteries are fully charged before leaving home. Also bring enough, or extra, empty SD (memory) cards. You might also want to bring a new clean plastic bag for your camera and/or scope in case you’re out all day in the rain.

This might sound counter-intuitive for a stay at a bird observatory, but I suggest not bringing a field guide, since they’re usually heavy and most observatories have a shelf of field guides available to use. You might also want to consider some field guide/birding apps, which you can download to your mobile device before you get to the workshop. I recommend the eBird Mobile app (free iTunes and Google Play), Birdseye North American (free), Merlin Bird ID (free), Bird Codes (free), and the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America ($19.99). For more about birding apps and birding with your phone, here’s a post I wrote earlier this month.

Miscellaneous:

I’d also suggest a variety of plastic bags, from smaller Ziploc bags for toiletries to larger garbage bags (the clear kind are good for scopes) for your backpack, scope, sleeping bag, and delicate electronics that should be kept dry.

Some stores my family and I like where we’ve had good luck finding sturdy and waterproof clothing and equipment, for birding, camping, farm chores, and country living:

MEC (Canada)

Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware (Canada)

L.L. Bean (US)

Cabela’s (Canada)

*******

If I’ve missed anything, or you’ve found something to be very useful for birding/nature camps or workshops, please leave a comment below.

IMG_1310

A Yellow Warbler we banded at LPBO ,and I imagine that we’ll be banding many of them at BBO too!

New Program for Young Canadian Birders

I’m delighted to help spread the word about a new workshop for young Canadian birders!

Named for the chairman and co-founder of the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) near Tofield, Alberta, the Geoff Holroyd Young Ornithologists’ Workshop is being offered by the BBO this summer. This new education program is based on the longstanding Doug Tarry Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario.

The Beaverhill Bird Observatory banding station

The Beaverhill Bird Observatory banding station

The new workshop will provide up to eight birders between the ages of 15 and 18 with “a practical, working knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of birds [and] other wildlife and their conservation”. Here’s more from the application form:

“Participants will be immersed in the daily, hands on work of field ornithology while they learn about the BBO’s migration monitoring program and participate in the running of a banding lab. They will improve their bird identification while being trained in the skills and art of handling and banding birds, aging and sexing techniques, bird behaviour and the life histories and conservation concerns of species. The students will be tenting and sharing camp duties, another necessary skill for a field biologist. Field trips to surrounding areas, nocturnal work and talks by experts on natural history topics will be offered in the afternoons and evenings.”

The dates for the workshop are Sunday, July 31st to Saturday, August 6th. Young birders from across Canada are welcome to apply. The deadline to apply is May 15th and applications with all of the details (Click Here), should be sent to helentrefry AT gmail DOT com.

According to Geoff Holroyd, the times he spent at Long Point Bird Observatory in his youth were instrumental in developing his birding skills and also his commitment to working with birds as a career. The Beaverhill Bird Observatory hopes to build on this tradition by offering another program in Canada where young birders can improve tehir skills and learn about the conservation issues facing local birds and wildlife.

I had such a wonderful time at the workshop (and follow-up Young Ornithologists’ Internship the year after) at Long Point, so I think another program, especially one in western Canada, is an opportunity not to be missed. These programs give young birders important new skills as well as the chance to meet other young naturalists who share similar passions.

Good luck to all the applicants!

IMG_0002

Great Canadian Birdathon 2015 Results

I held my Great Canadian Birdathon on Saturday, May 30th — it was a cool and windy day but there were lots of birds to been seen!

The first bird I saw was a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at my window feeder at 6 am. I saw two female hummingbirds throughout the day while in the house for snacks.

At the slough across from our house where I was able to find many species of waterbirds, including Cinnamon Teals, Black Terns, Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds, Blue-winged Teals, Wilson’s Phalaropes, and American Coots.

A female Yellow-headed Blackbird,

IMG_8928

I walked over to the woods where I added Yellow Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, American Robin, European Starling, and Clay-coloured Sparrow. I think the strong winds prevented many birds from singing, so I wasn’t able to find many songbirds in the woods.

A Bonaparte’s Gull,

IMG_8931

A Marbled Godwit,

IMG_8940

A male Ruddy Duck,

IMG_8950

A Red-necked Grebe,

IMG_8956

I stopped at my grandmother’s yard where I saw lots of American Goldfinches and another female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

A male American Goldfinch,

IMG_8976

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at my grandmother’s feeder,

IMG_8959

From my grandmother’s, I drove to the Vermilion Provincial Park. There weren’t as many species in the park as I was hoping for, but I was able to see Purple Martins, Yellow Warblers, a Great Blue Heron, and a pair of Northern Rough-winged Swallows (a life bird for me!).

I also saw this Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly in the park,

IMG_8986

After the park, I drove north on the gravel roads hoping to find more species to add to my list. On my drive through the countryside I picked up Northern Pintails, Eastern Kingbirds, Ring-necked Ducks, two Snow Geese, an American Kestrel, and possibly the best bird of the day — a Loggerhead Shrike (another life bird) several miles north of my house.

The shrike flew across the road in front of my truck and then landed on a fence post. The photos are very blurry since the shrike was quite a distance off,

IMG_9009 IMG_9010

A California Gull with a duck egg,

IMG_9005

A Canada Goose,

IMG_8984

Altogether my Birdathon was very good and I tallied 76 species.

My goal for the Birdathon was originally $1,000, with my funds earmarked for the Beaverhill Bird Observatory and Bird Studies Canada, but thanks to great support and generosity, I’ve raised $1,750 so far. Thank you very, very much to everyone who has supported my birdathon this year, I greatly appreciate all of the donations and encouragement.

If you’d like to add more to my total for the worthy cause of bird conservation (and donations over $10 are tax deductible), you can visit my team page.

A list of all the species I saw on my Birdathon (in taxonomic order):

Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, American Widgeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Swainson’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Sora, American Coot, Killdeer, American Avocet, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, California Gull, Herring Gull, Black Tern, Rock Pigeon, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Warbling Vireo, Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, Common Raven, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Wren, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Sprague’s Pipit, European Starling, Yellow Warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

Birdathon Day!

Today is my Great Canadian Birdathon Day!

Thank you all very much for your support and encouragement — I can’t believe I’ve once again exceeded my fundraising goal for the fourth year in a row, raising funds for bird conservation in Canada.

You can add your support to my Great Canadian Birdathon by visiting my team page and clicking on the “Give Now” button. This year, I’m raising money the Beaverhill Bird Observatory in Alberta and Bird Studies Canada.

My Birdathon goal is to see 90 species today and my original financial goal was $1,250. I’ve already raised $1,650 with so much generous support. You can still give for another 62 days (until the end of July), and all donations of at least $10 are tax deductible.

If you are also doing the Great Canadian Birdathon before the end of this month (tomorrow!), please leave a link to your page in the comments!

I’ll be to posting some of my photos throughout the day on my Facebook and Twitter pages, and I’ll be using the hashtag #BSCBirdathon.

I will also have a follow-up blog post with my official results.

An American Goldfinch from last year’s Birdathon,

IMG_3802

A Great Canadian Birdathon Thank You, and A Goal Met!

I would like to offer an enormous thank you to Jill, Phillip, Jaynne, Ray of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, Steve from the Wildbird General Store in Edmonton, Linda, Tracey, Theresa, Jackie, Gus, and Aileen for their generosity and support of my Great Canadian Birdathon this year!

I’m very excited to announced that through online and offline donations, I’ve exceeded my goal of $1,250. To date, I’ve raised $1,375! I’m so glad to have reached my goal, and I still have more than a month until my Birdathon.

This year, I’ve earmarked the funds I raise go the Beaverhill Bird Observatory near Tofield, Alberta, and Bird Studies Canada.

Again, thank you all so very much for your kind and generous support of the Birdathon, which goes to support bird conservation.

IMG_4222

Great Canadian Birdathon Thank You!

I would like to offer an enormous thank you to Dennis, Darcey, Delores, Nicholas at Hipster Birders, Angela, Leonard, my aunt Kerri, Janet, Karen, Amy, Mike for their generosity and support of my Great Canadian Birdathon campaign!

So far I’ve raised $430 of my $1,250 goal, so if you’d like to help me reach my goal, you can visit my team page. Your support will be greatly appreciated, not just by me but also by the groups receiving the funds I raise — the Beaverhill Bird Observatory near Tofield, Alberta,  and Bird Studies Canada

Thank you all so very much for your wonderful support!

IMG_3802

The Great Canadian Birdathon 2015

For the past three years as you may know, I’ve participated in the Baillie Birdathon, hosted by Bird Studies Canada, the oldest sponsored bird count in North America.

This year, Bird Studies Canada announced a new logo and a name change to the Great Canadian Birdathon.

GCBBSC

I signed up for the Birdathon on Sunday with the goal of raising $1,250. Part of the money I raise this year will go to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory, near Tofield, Alberta, and the other part to Bird Studies Canada.

This year, I’m hoping to see at least 90 species — I saw 82 last year. Now that I have my drivers licence, I’ll be able to drive myself wherever I need to go! Here are my birdathon results from 2014, 2013, and 2012.

If you’d like to sponsor me, you can visit my team page. I’d be very happy to reach my goal for my fourth Great Canadian (Baillie) Birdathon.

You can follow the Beaverhill Bird Observatory on Facebook and Twitter. Bird Studies Canada is on Facebook and Twitter too. The Great Canadian Birdathon isn’t on Facebook or Twitter yet, but I’m hoping it will be soon.