Page 5: Tony Gaston to Kari Horn
Photo: Anne-Marie Gaston
Photo: Garry Donaldson
At Reef Island, Haida Gwaii in 1985, the Canadian Wildlife Service field crew spent their spare time gazing seawards in hopes of spotting passing seabirds. On 14 June we saw, far-off in Hecate Strait, dense flocks of Sooty Shearwaters in flight and we could make out huge rafts of birds on the water – presumably shearwaters as well. We estimated between a quarter – and a half-million shearwaters. The next few days the tideline was thick with moulted feathers. We never saw those numbers since: why then and why there? We shall never know, but that was the most birds I ever saw at once.
Photo: Benoît Fontaine
Photo: Hélène Gaulin
Every summer, I am blown away by what I see in the Gaspé. Suddenly, without warning, a white cloud of thousands of Northern Gannets appears above the sea. They [translation] “swiftly dive into endless sea, wings like arms tucked close to their bodies, rustling as the water rolls off,” as in the Félix Leclerc song. These [translation] “big white birds with drops for eyes” sparkle in the sunshine and the thick cloud they form resembles a big jewel suspended in the air. I stay and watch them for a long time. Until suddenly, they disperse without warning, just as they arrived.
Photo: Jean Gauthier
Photo: Francis St-Pierre
The Canadian Wildlife Service’s strength is that it can count on thousands of volunteer bird watchers. Every year, these men and women passionately apply themselves to gathering data on our country’s biodiversity. Their commitment is undoubtedly attributable to the fun of discovery and the feeling of helping the planet. Their enthusiasm is contagious. I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of these volunteers when I coordinated the first Québec Breeding Bird Atlas. They helped me achieve something very fulfilling, and I thank them for this wholeheartedly.
Photo: Jean Rodrigue
Having spent many hours in the “field” over the years, I feel fortunate to have experienced many memorable moments with birds across Canada. A particularly special encounter with Whip-poor-wills in Killarney Provincial Park likely tops my list. After a long day of fieldwork, we were trying to get some sleep next to Ishmael Lake but three Whip-poor-wills had other plans for us as they started calling at each other, one of which was centimeters from our tent. The chorus, accompanied by a pair of Common Loons, went on for twenty minutes, until the bird next to us got startled and bounced off our tent! Simply remarkable.
Photo: Mike Sudoma
Photo: Dave Fifield
We awoke to a calm Arctic Ocean with thousands of kittiwakes, Thick-billed Murres and Northern Fulmars escorting our approach towards the truly breathtaking bird cliffs of Hantzsch Island, Nunavut. As the fog lifted, the island and surrounding icebergs emerged in the morning sun, and the air and sea teemed with beautiful life. We stared in awe and wonder at this corner of paradise along Canada’s vast and extraordinary coastline. Returning to the ship our zodiac passed a small ice floe. In unison, a hundred kittiwakes leapt into gentle flight over our heads and lifted our spirits and love for this planet to new heights.
Photo: Kerry Hecker
I helped to band American White Pelican chicks at Last Mountain Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Saskatchewan. When we landed on the nesting island, I was overwhelmed by the smell! The odour of acrid bird droppings dominated, with notes of bile and semi-digested fish, complemented by the aroma of dead chicks. We caught live chicks, put on their leg bands, took blood samples and set them free. Finished, we packed up and left quickly. Now whenever I pause to admire those elegant white birds gliding through the sky, I remember a hint (just a hint…) of that most horrible smell.
Photo: Todd Kemper
When I was a kid in the 1970s I spent much time at my grandparents’ farm in central Saskatchewan watching birds, hunting birds, and learning. My biology career led me into work involving birds, then on to fish, plants, fire and people! However, the past two years in Kelowna I’ve become reacquainted and reconnected to my love for birds through my monitoring work on Lewis’s Woodpecker (threatened) and Williamson’s Sapsucker (endangered). I had almost forgotten the peace and beauty of quietly listening, carefully peering through binoculars, and immersing myself in their world for hours and days.
Photo: Sherry Nigro
Photo: Christian Marcotte
Over the last few years, as my health declines, I get a lot of enjoyment sitting by the window watching my feathered friends, from greedy Blue Jays to nuthatches and grosbeaks. In the summer hummingbirds buzz around and the phoebe sings me his song. My favourite is the Ruffed Grouse. I love to see them marching across the yard to see if there are some oats. Their plumage is wonderful camouflage as they roost in my spruce tree but they can also disappear into the snow bank. One we call Strutter gives a fine display as he courts the females.
Photo: John Conkin
Brant are my favourite geese largely due to their spunky, yet unassuming, character. In the north, helicopters are often used to help Canadian Wildlife Service biologists corral moulting birds for banding. Most of the time, geese are wary of the helicopter and will run away from it, but the first time I banded Brant, many of these tiny creatures turned around to face the helicopter and sat down in defiance. It was such a strange thing to witness: one of the smallest North American goose species in a stand-off with a multi-tonne machine!
When I was diagnosed with cancer, getting outside helped take my mind off of what was happening to me and I did so every day, even when I could only manage a few steps. I began to notice birds that I had never noticed before. They brought me a great deal of joy during a time when I was suffering. The wee Black-capped Chickadees that were ever-present during my walks always made me smile, even at my lowest points – they didn’t care that I was bald, they were more interested in whether I had sunflower seeds. I have since become an avid birder.
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