Going to the birds

By Dianne Bersea   

What do you do when a pandemic shuts down your normal activities?

You put on your walking shoes, grab your binoculars and go birding — at a distance.

Judy Vokey and husband Chris Mutch did exactly that.

With family in Ottawa and a penchant for travel, these folks normally spend a lot of time on the road. With travel shut down, they knew they wouldn’t be going anywhere soon.

They also felt a bit lost in a city they had only lightly landed in four years earlier.

What to do? The nature lovers at heart had always explored a little on their own, but really wanted to go with a group.

“Fortunately, we joined the South Okanagan Naturalists three weeks before the Covid shutdown," Judy said. "Sadly, we weren’t able to get out on any Thursday nature walks, but SONC president Alex Bodden gave us such good advice on birding.

“I really count that such a blessing. We discovered a whole new world.”

The social aspects didn’t go unnoticed either. “So welcoming. Good information on where to go and what to look for.”

Judy also extols the value of the Okanagan Birding Trail Guide, a SONC publication. “It’s been like a Bible to us!”

When I ask where they’ve been birding, I hear a rush of area place names. These folks have been making the most of their new interest.

 “We often make a lunch and just go,” Judy says. “Anywhere from Salmon Arm (for Harlequin ducks), to Osoyoos and Anarchist Mountain, to White Lake and Mahoney Lake to all the back roads between Summerland and Peachland.”

How about some favourite sightings?

“Coot babies!”

Well done! These comical little hatchlings are hard to find in their reed hideaways.

Other birds?

“Ruddy ducks. Their blue bills are astounding. When we sent ruddy duck photos back east, no one would believe us!”

Any other special encounters?

“I especially love the cedar waxwings, house finches, meadowlarks and Western tanagers. Those tanagers…who would imagine such a colourful bird?

"And a huge thrill to see the pelicans!”

Now major bird fans, Judy and Chris still find identifying the sparrows their biggest challenge. “There’s just too many of them with such small differences.”

Despite sparrow challenges, Judy’s enthusiasm for their new hobby is infectious.

“Birding has become a part of everything we do. We both really enjoy it. When the life we knew had to change, it gave us a wonderful opportunity to expand our social and nature network.”

I hear Chris is even contemplating a better camera with more telephoto lenses.

What do they want to see now? Judy sighs hopefully. “I really want to see an owl.”

I’m sure that can be arranged. I look forward to seeing you on a South Okanagan Naturalists birding event some day soon…post pandemic.

In the meantime, happy birding.

Dianne Bersea, an artist, illustrator and writer, is a member of the South Okanagan Naturalists.


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