Where we work / Audubon Americas / Canada

Developing an Appreciation for Birds

An Indigenous Land Guardian shares how his time on Hog Island led to his love of birds.
SRWA Land Guardians and Jeff Wells at Hog Island

My name is Chaz and I'm from Flin Flon, Manitoba (in Canada), but I reside in Tadoule Lake, Manitoba where I work as a Land Guardian for the Seal River Watershed Alliance. I've always been an avid fan of the land but wasn't always a user of the land until I discovered the Reserves through work, which wasn't originally Seal River.

Last year, when I found out I was going to Audubon's Seabird Institute on Hog Island I began doing some research to prepare for my trip. And I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing because "ornithology" was a pretty new term to me. However, I knew it was going to be a great educational experience because it was a topic I knew absolutely nothing about and was something that would help me in my field.

The trip to Portland, Maine alone was a blast! I've never really left Manitoba aside from seeing a bit of Saskatchewan so being in Toronto was an experience on its own. Sounds weird but it was. When we arrived in Portland, I had arguably one of the freshest and best meals of my life—you can't beat the fresh seafood in Maine, is what I've come to learn. 

I met a lot of excellent people on this trip who didn't judge me for not knowing a thing about birds, instead, they took me under their wing to teach me. In fact, I'm still in contact with a few of the people I've met, and they help me with my photography and anything birding-related, which is great because it turns out I LOVE birding and photography! Once I found my love for birding, I started sharing stories of ptarmigans since apparently, that's on everyone’s list. I see them all winter, but when we see ptarmigans that means our freezers are going to fill soon—AKA Caribou season. 

One of the last days on Hog Island, we were out on a hike, and when it was concluding I saw a black shadow in a tree. I pointed it out to another attendee and he was like "Ahh, just mold" but it turns out it was a porcupine—which we have millions of where I live—but everyone went crazy for it. I guess sometimes we take for granted what's in our own backyard. 

The biggest thing I took home with me was the skill to identify birds—male or female, juvenile or adult, and although I'm not perfect at it, it has definitely helped me very much. The trip had very minor hiccups, which every trip does. But wow, everyone made sure to go above and beyond. At first, I was really excited to go to America, but when I returned that didn't matter much. All I talked about was Hog Island and the birds. Seeing Atlantic Puffins, watching tagging, being up close and personal with birds, and learning from the best; it was truly an honor. I'll be honest though, now I think I annoy some people with how much I talk about birds.

I have been utilizing bird identification since I returned home. I use Merlin and eBird almost daily. I'm up to 114 species as of this write-up and have even seen a couple of rare birds. And I never leave my house without binoculars or a camera now.