By James Casey, Fraser Estuary Specialist, Bird Studies Canada
A couple of years ago, Karen Devitt (a colleague here at Bird Studies Canada at the time) dreamed up the idea of a Birdwatching Kit that could be lent to those that don’t have access to binoculars or bird books. The goal was to allow more people to enjoy the intimate relationship with nature that birdwatching brings. She was able to pull together some funds thanks to the generosity of Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Vancouver, and Vortex Optics to purchase an initial set of kits. Bird Studies Canada’s Delta, BC office now lends these kits to people participating in our guided bird walks or doing Christmas Bird Counts.
After acquiring the first kits, we wondered if it would be possible to extend this opportunity to even more people by sharing kits with local libraries. At first, we didn’t have enough kits to make that feasible. However, the Stewardship Center for BC later offered to support this initiative through the Bird Stewardship Roundtable they were organizing for August 2018. The roundtable brought together over 150 people to share ideas and commit to actions to conserve birds and bird habitat across BC. With the support of roundtable participants, we were able to purchase four Budding Birder Backpacks to share with the Thompson-Nicola Regional Library in an initial pilot. BC Nature helped to launch these backpacks in February of 2019, and they have been signed out every single day since.
In attendance at the roundtable were some staff from the City of Delta. Located on the Fraser Delta along the Pacific Flyway, the City of Delta has been a leader in nurturing an appreciation for birds. The City thought the kits sounded like a great way to connect more people with the diversity of birds found in the community, and offered to support four kits that could be distributed though the local library.
We learned that the library branch in Delta was actually part of a network known as the Fraser Valley Regional Library (FVRL). Upon connecting with the regional library office, we were excited to discover that Birdwatching Backpacks were a perfect fit with the FVRL’S a Playground program aimed at providing library patrons with free access to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) -related activities. Before we knew it, the four kits from Delta grew to be 56 backpacks distributed across 25 libraries.
This program was announced July 13th at the Ladner Pioneer Library in Delta and the celebration was a great opportunity to reconnect with the many people and organizations that made this possible. As part of the launch event, the FVRL produced a video in which birders explain the importance of birding and how they envision the Birdwatching Backpacks helping people experience this joy for the first time. We are positive that these kits will reach hundreds of new birders and we look forward to the new opportunities that will arise from these relationships.
If ever I’m feeling down about the state of Canada’s birds, I recall that all you need to enable change is a few people with a shared passion and bit of persistence. Just get started – when it comes to birds, you’ll find a whole community ready to help. Do you want to take action for Canada’s birds? Visit birdscanada.org to explore opportunities and connect with us.