Tumbler Ridge to host Ornithologist AGM this year

Trent Ernst, Editor

Once a year, the BC Field Ornithologists gather for their annual convention in June. This year, the gathering will be held in Tumbler Ridge.

This is the second time the conference has been held in Tumbler Ridge, says Mike McGrenere, president of the group. “We hold the AGM around province to provide learning opportunities for members,” says McGrenere. “We look for a place where there is a good selection of field trips and where we can rely on local knowledge. We have found a gem of a person in Charles Helm.”

The last time it was held here was in 2004. While the AGM travels about the province to give birders a chance to experience the different species of birds the province has to offer, McGrenere says the Tumbler Ridge area is unique, even with the variety of species that are found elsewhere. “It’s an area of the province that provides quite a different selection of birds as you’d find on the west coast,” he says. “Different areas of the province offer different opportunities. Meeting in Tofino, for instance, we can focus on shore birds and sea birds. The Okanagan is a dry habitat, and you find different type of birds. In Tumbler Ridge, you’re on the east side of Rockies so there’s a whole bunch of birds that you don’t see farther west. That’s one of the attractions of moving the meeting around.

“But one of the benefits of Tumbler Ridge is the palaeontology side of it. If we can get that type of experience, we try and incorporate that as well.”

Part of that experience will be local paleontologist Lisa Buckley, who will be giving a presentation on paleo-ornithology. And many of the field trips will combine both palaeontology and ornithology.

Charles Helm will also be speaking, telling visiting ornithologists about the Tumbler Ridge Geopark. Locals are welcome to attend, but need to be members of the Field Ornithologists. McGrenere says it might sound like they are a bunch of high end biologists, but members come from all walks of life, bound together by their mutual love of birds. “Experts who are extremely knowledgeable will be along for people to ask questions of,” he says.

McGrenere says the first time you spot a species of bird that wasn’t on your list before, it’s called a lifer. “When we were there in 2004, my list expanded, and I suspect there will be lots of people picking up lifers when they come to Tumbler Ridge, whether it be eastern migrating birds or ptarmigans up on Mt Spieker.”

While there are members from across the province, most are from Vancouver and Vancouver Island, so this will be a new experience for many of them.

Tumbler Ridge is on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, and many of the birds here are Eastern birds. However, the town is close enough to the spine of the Rockies that there is plenty of overlap between eastern and western species of birds, leading to Tumbler Ridge’s moniker of “where East meets West.” It was here where Darren Irwin, a Zoology professor from UBC did his research on the Winter Wren, discovering that this was the only known place where the eastern species and the western species overlapped.

While details of the conference are still being finalized, McGrenere expects there will be at least one trip up to Mount Spieker. “That was a highlight of the last time,” he says. “It’s up hard. In most places, it’s hard to get up so high, but at Mount Speiker, you’re already up there, so it’s relatively easy to find birds like ptarmigan there. I’m really looking forward to it.”

And for those people who just can’t get enough, there will be extension trips before and possibly after the conference to explore more areas around the region.