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AB Update April 2018

I have a lot of exciting updates to share this month: moving, travelling, Birding, 5MR, reading, podcasts and sparrows (bet you can’t wait to read about the last one!). I haven’t done an update in a while, so this is a BIG one


As many of you are aware, Pete and I moved from Ottawa to Fernie at the beginning of December. The idea was to spend the winter in western Canada to see if we liked it. At the end of the winter we knew we wanted to stay in British Columbia, but we couldn’t decide whether to stay in Fernie or not. There are so many great places in BC, we weren’t sure if we should try somewhere else before committing to Fernie. We looked at many other towns to see if they met the following criteria:

-Great skiing (Pete)

-Less than 30 minute drive to skiing (Both)

-Amazing birding (Laura)

-Proximity to lakes and paddling in the summer (Both)

-No more than 75 minutes from an airport (Laura)

-Reasonably affordable housing (Both)

We looked at Whistler, Revelstoke, Vernon, Kelowna, Nelson and Rossland (to name a few).

In the end Fernie met the most of our criteria so we signed a 12 month lease on a new place here! We are excited to discover what summer is like here and to continue our BC adventure for at least the next year.

Rosen Lake, 30 minutes from Fernie – looking forward to more of these views!

Fernie Birding Roundup and Preview

I found the birding in Fernie slow over the winter. It’s so snowy here (the ski resort got over 11m of snow this season) that birds head south or down the valley to warmer climes. In Ottawa, part of the highlight of winter birding is seeing owls. In Fernie, the habitat is so vast and the birders few and far between that it’s a challenge to find owls. There aren’t Snowy Owls here, so you’re looking for daytime roosting owls or the Northern Pygmy-Owl (I saw one in Fernie this winter – my only local owl of the season).

The other issue was the house we rented didn’t have any trees so I wasn’t successful at attracting many birds to my feeder. Most of the birds in town are in people’s yards which makes for awkward birding. Our new place looks more promising for birds, so I’m hoping to attract a bigger variety next winter (and having to do less creeping of other people’s feeders).

The good aspect of winter birding here, is you can drive 60 minutes to Cranbrook for more variety of species. Calgary is 3 hours away with an even greater selection or Vancouver is a 90 minute flight away. Fernie was also excellent for Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks this winter so I had some great photography opportunities.

At some points this winter, the snowbanks were over my head!

New Species So Far

Despite the birding in Fernie itself being quiet, I saw the following 14 new species (lifers) in the greater East Kootenay region since arriving in December:

Steller’s Jay
Mountain Chickadee
Harris’s Sparrow
Northern Pygmy-Owl
Clark’s Nutcracker
Varied Thrush
Hoary Redpoll
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
Trumpeter Swan
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Long-billed Curlew
Brewer’s Blackbird


While the birding was slow in January and February, by March new migrants had started to arrive and April birding in Fernie has been really exciting! Many of these western species are lifers for me so I’ve been like a kid in a candy store seeing all these new birds come to town.

The species I am most excited to arrive include:

-Black-chinned, Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds 

-Lewis’s Woodpecker

-MacGillvray’s and Townsend’s Warbler

-Hammond’s, Dusky and Pacific-slope Flycatchers

-Lazuli Bunting

5MR Birding

What the heck is 5MR birding? Blog author Jen Sanford came up with this idea a few years ago and it’s starting to catch on. The premise is to record the birds you see within a 5 mile (8km) radius of your house. It’s the shop local movement applied to birding!

I like the concept because it promotes birding close to home. This is better for the environment and is appealing for people with fatigue issues like me. It also promotes having a great yard which encourages planting native plans and putting up bird feeders. eBird now allows you to record your sightings to a patch (which conveniently can’t be bigger than 5 miles). Here are their guidelines. 

I’ve decided to embrace this idea and start the challenge when I get back to Fernie. This won’t be the only style of birding I do, but I plan to put more focus on birding locally, rather than constantly driving further distances to see birds.

Here is a general Google Earth 5MR drawing of Fernie. I will set up a specific one to my new address when I get back in June. You will notice that Fernie is so small, the entire town fits within the radius. A big portion of the radius is also taken up by mountains!


Remember I said this was a BIG update? Well, right after we move (specifically, the day after) Pete and I are flying to England for a family wedding. Both my Mum and her two sisters are birders, so birding is on the agenda along with sightseeing and family events. We will mostly be in the New Forest area, but will also be spending 2 nights in Bath and 1 night in London. Thanks to my many amazing UK followers on Twitter, I am armed full of birding tips for the trip. The biggest challenge will be lack of time and managing competing priorities. 

On the way back from England, Pete and I are stopping in Newfoundland. It will be both of our first times visiting the rock and I hope for Puffins and other nesting seabirds. Jared at Bird the Rock has been really helpful for itinerary planning. 

After Newfoundland, we will be spending 3 ish weeks in Ottawa seeing friends, birding and gathering our summer belongings before heading back to Fernie. My main birding target is to finally see a Cerulean Warbler! I have a trip planned to their breeding territory south of Ottawa. I also can’t wait to do some birding at my former local patch Mud Lake. I used to bird there almost every day and I’ve been missing it. 

The one downside of all this travelling is I will be missing warbler migration (again). Next year it must happen!

Ethical Owl Photos

In addition to my main Instagram account @theafternoonbirder, I run a second account @ethicalowlphotos that features ethical owl photographers. Since I will be away for a month, I decided to hand the account over to Brian @neogonzo to cover for me. Brian is passionate about ethics and I know he will do a great job. Please support him during the month by liking and commenting on his features. 


The links to books in the following sections go to Amazon. If you choose to purchase items from the links, I will earn a small Amazon credit at no extra cost to you. I use these credits to buy books and other birding/photography products to make this blog better!

Last month I organized a book giveaway as part of the Big Year of Bird Reading. Congratulations to the 5 winners and thanks to everyone who entered. I have 1-2 more book giveaways in the works for later in the year! If you haven’t signed up for the mailing list to keep updated about giveaways and other reading challenge updates, you can do so here. 

So far for the reading challenge, I’ve read the following 5 books:

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder 

Kenn Kaufman’s account of his 1973 big year hitchhiking around North America seeing as many bird species as he could.

The Genius of Birds 

Jennifer Ackerman does a survey of bird research over the last two decades about avian intelligence. Although it’s science based I found it easy to read and accessible to all. Fascinating!

Searching for Pekpek: Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea Rainforest 

Biologist Andrew Mack tells his story of moving to Papua New Guinea and setting up a research station to study Cassoowary dung. He and his wife face sickness, tribal violence and a whole number of other obstacles. It’s the type of adventure I enjoyed reading from my couch, rather than living it myself!

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year 

Neil Hayward tells his story of ‘accidentally’ finding himself on a big year after suffering from mental health issues. Deeply personal and moving, I couldn’t put this book down. My fastest read yet.

The Life List of Adrian Mandrick – Chris White

This book wasn’t on my original list of 12, but I wanted to read it before agreeing to do the giveaway. The main character Adrian is a drug addict and an obsessive bird lister. The book raises some interesting questions about fanatical birders, as well as about the environment and declining or extinct species like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Read the Q&A I did with the author here. 

It’s not to late to join the reading challenge. Find out the details here.

The Year of the Sparrow

Last year I focused on improving my shorebird ID skills. This year, I’m taking on Sparrow ID! A friend of mine challenged me to it and I agreed. I’ve ordered the following two books to start studying:

Sparrows of the United States and Canada: The Photographic Guide

A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada

When I return in June, I’ll come up with a plan for seeing and identifying as many sparrows as I can and compile it into a blog post. Follow along and improve your own Sparrow ID skills! If you have any tips for me, please share them! Little Brown Jobs are not my forte. 

Casual Birder Podcast

My last update is that I was interviewed this week for an episode of the Casual Birder Podcast. My episode will air in three weeks, but please do check-out the podcast before then. Suzy and I talked about a range of topics, including how I got into birding and my dizziness condition. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about it!

Happy May migration birding everyone. I hope to see some of you out there next year during migration. I can’t imagine missing it a third year in a row!


-The Afternoon Birder

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AB Update April 2018


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