A Bird in the Hand (Is an Amazing Experience)

It’s time to focus on the birds that stick around with us for the winter, and remember the special moments when birds help to make your day more than ordinary.

Yukon birder Shyloh van Delft is doing both – really well.

Based in Tagish, the 17-year-old has a passion for birds and likes to write about her bird encounters in her year-old blog beakingoff.

“I write about my everyday experiences. They might be common birds, but still a special moment. Anything that is really cool.”

She started a series about Yukon species, and recently wrote about the mountain chickadee. Featuring a white eyebrow line that runs beneath a black cap and a black eye-line, it’s the rarest of the three species of chickadees that live year-round in our forests and neighbourhoods.

Tagish, a laid-back retirement community, is a hotspot for migratory birds. Each spring thousands of ducks and swans pass through the area, heading north.

“When we first moved here six years ago (from Whitehorse) there was an elderly lady here who was really into birds. She got me interested. Almost everybody in Tagish loves birds.”

She has also had help from mentors like Cameron Eckert, a well-known Whitehorse-based biologist she emailed four years ago looking for information about what she thought was a hawk’s nest.

“It turned out it was a squirrel’s nest, but sometimes hawks do nest in them, too.”

Her pieces cover everything from counting owls at night (owl sounds) to watching shore birds and ducks at California Beach. It’s one of her favourite places to take a spotting scope.

For the last two years she has volunteered at the bird observatories (bird banding stations), located in Teslin and Watson Lake and has even helped band birds on occasion. Handling birds up close has helped her learn minor differences in hard-to-identify species like flycatchers.

It’s also given her a thrill to be able to listen to a bird’s heartbeat.

“It’s incredible – you lift them up to your ear and the heart beats so fast, it’s a hum almost.”

Shyloh’s blogs are fact-filled and well-written. They often include wonderful photos. Her work has been published on The Eyrie (it means eagle nest), the young birders’ website of the American Birders Association.

She’ll add details and links to other birding resources, such as recommended sites for birdhouse building plans.

“It’s so cool the way just one little bird can leave a lasting impression or a wonderful memory.”

This spring Shyloh wrote about an evening owl count she took part in. She learned how to “call in” owls using recordings and was keen to see a boreal owl, her favourite species.

When one finally showed up in her yard she called out her younger siblings to have a look. They are starting to be young birders, too.

Encouraging her community to help record species in the area, she started the first Tagish Christmas bird count two years ago. Last year she was the Yukon Bird Club’s feature (poster) birder for the club’s annual Birdathon (the annual fundraiser for bird conservation and awareness programs).

Her dream career is an ornithologist—studying owls.

“Boreal owls – they’re nocturnal, they make different sounds, and they have physical features that are so different from most birds.”

Home-schooled for the last seven years, Shyloh plans to go to Yukon College next year and pursue her dreams.

Go birding with Shyloh sometime. You can find her blog at http://beakingoff.wordpress.com/

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