Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Birder Profile: Kim Wakelin

Kim Wakelin
Cloverdale, British Columbia, Canada

How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

Sadly, I got into birding after my dad passed away, in July of 2007. Why is it sad? Well, some of my earliest childhood memories are of my dad and me sitting on our backyard deck, listening to birds. When I was very young [maybe 4 or 5 years of age], my dad built a very impressive bird house with several perches. From each perch, he hung a wild seed bell or, in winter, some homemade suet. We also had a bird bath, and since our property was lined with old cedars and pine trees, we were able to observe many different species of birds, year-round.

My dad seemed to know the name of every bird we saw, and those we couldn’t see, by sound. I can close my eyes and hear my dad calling out to a Black-capped Chickadee who always returned the favor. I remember rolling my eyes whenever my dad did his “chicka-dee-dee-dee” call. Now, 30 years later, I find myself calling the Chickadees and now, my own kids roll their eyes at me.  I’m ashamed to say that, growing up, I paid very little attention to my dad’s fascination with birds.

Shortly after my dad’s passing, my husband and I purchased our first house. To honor my dad’s memory, I hung a few feeders in the yard. Days melted into weeks and not a single bird visited the feeders. I changed the seed mix. Nothing. I moved the feeders around. Nothing. One day, I was home, sick with the flu. As I sat at the kitchen table, looking out at my lonely feeders, I looked up to the sky and said aloud, “Dad, if you’re up there…send me a bird.” A couple of hours later, I heard the call ~ of a single male Red-winged Blackbird. I kid you not. It’s a true story!

From then on, I was hooked. In spite of the Red-winged Blackbird being the bird that triggered my interest in birds, I consider the Black-capped Chickadee as my SPARK bird. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad, whenever I hear one call.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

My hours at work have been reduced, due to the economic slowdown, and as a result, I find myself free for 1 or 2 days during a week. In addition to that, If the weather is nice on the weekends, I take my sons out with me.

I regularly bird Elgin Heritage Park and Blackie Spit at Crescent Beach, both in South Surrey, and the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island, British Columbia.  My favorite would be Blackie Spit, at Crescent Beach, without question! This location has the greatest variety of birds in the area ~ shorebirds, songbirds, woodpeckers, falcons, eagles, they’re all there!

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

Absolutely! If you head east on Ladner Trunk Road and hang a left at 72nd Street in Delta (map), you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Here, the trees are loaded with Bald Eagles; generations of them. The best time to see them here is from late September – January. I believe it’s the Kings Link Golf Course [with plenty of tasty sitting ducks], the Turf Farm [home to herds of meaty rodents], and the chubby [and always jumpin’] fish of Boundary Bay that keep the Bald Eagles returning year-after-year. I’ve seen many Peregrine Falcons, Northern Harriers, Merlins, and Red-tailed Hawks at this location, as well.

Where in your state/province would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

I think most birders are aware of the Serpentine Fen, but because it’s right off the very busy King George Hwy in Surrey, and is plagued by nearby road and overpass construction, it’s very often over-looked. I’ve been there many times and haven’t run into a single person. I’ve seen as many as 15 Great Blue Herons in the marsh, at one time, and there’s always a fantastic variety of ducks, especially in the Fall/Winter. The Red-tailed Hawks hunt there and the Bald Eagles perch in the trees, overlooking the Serpentine River.
How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I’m a bird watcher that keeps a list. I’ve been known to chase a bird or two, as well.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Certainly nothing fancy: A pair of Bushnell Bins, a Canon Rebel XSi w/ 50-250mm lens, and a Canon Powershot w/ wide angle/tele lens kit. This year, I’m asking Santa for a scope!

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

When I’m in the field, I use the WildLab app, for iPhone, to record sightings. I can export my list to eBird once I’m home. I use Wildlab because, as history has proven, I can’t seem to retain a list of more than 10 items on it. I use eBird because it’s easy to use and I also like to see the list of rare bird sightings in my area.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

The Long-billed Curlew! My friend and birding partner, Robbie Piper, and I went out to Blackie Spit in search of the bird. We searched high and low, braved the mud flats, and had all but given up. We were only a few paces from the car when I noticed a couple of birds on the shore, adjacent to the parking lot. They had their rumps to us. I said to Robbie, “Are those Gulls…or something else? They look a little…odd” Suddenly, the Curlew turned and I got a glimpse of the profile. Needless to say, I was back out in the mud within seconds.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I enjoy “WildBird” Magazine and often visit my local birding forum, on-line, to see what others have spotted and where.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibley’s, hands-down! I’ve tried other guides but find this one far easier to use. They also have a version for iPhone so I can take it with me wherever I go.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

- The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

- The SIBLEY Field Guide to Birds
- The Birds of Canada
If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I have a basic knowledge of most birds found in and around the Vancouver area but I wouldn’t call myself an expert, by any stretch of the imagination.

What future birding plans do you have?

I’d like to travel to the interior of British Columbia, this summer, to see the Quail and Sage Grouse.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

Not yet. When my boys are a little older, I’d like to get more involved with Nature Vancouver or perhaps volunteer out at OWL [The Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre] or at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

What is your nemesis bird?

OWLS! I have only seen one and, even then, it was because there were a dozen photographers staked out beneath the tree.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Last Fall, Robbie and I went out to bird Blackie Spit. The tide was way out but through our bins, we could see a nice flock of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, some Dowitchers, and one or two Marbled Godwits. Foolishly, Robbie and I decided to head out to the mudflats to get a closer look. We were about halfway when Robbie sank up to her waist in the mud. After a whole lot of tugging, we finally got her out…with only one boot and one sock. My only real regret was not pausing to take a photo or two, at the time.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

A Hooded Merganser ~ I really dig the punk rocker hairstyle.  Male or female? They both have punk rocker hairstyles, but... I think the female Hooded Merganser is goofier lookin', so I'm going with that one.

Total life list?

182 and counting

You can follow Kimberly Wakelin on her blog LadyWoodpecker's Birds & Beyond and on @BCBirder on Twitter.

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

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