Today, I’m happy to share my interview with Steven. Thank you, Steven, for agreeing to do this interview, during what I know is a very busy time of year between presidential duties and spring migration.
Please consider donating to Steven’s Birdathon as all the money raised contributes to bird conservation in Canada. You can find his Great Canadian Birdathon page here; his Birdathon goal is $10,000.
Prairie Birder: Please tell us about yourself.
Steven: I’m a biologist who’s become a conservationist, having worked over 30 years now in the nonprofit environmental sector in Canada. Trained in ecology and evolution, I enjoy birds as a hobby. This led me to apply for the president’s job at Bird Studies Canada in the summer of 2014 – and they hired me!
PB: What are some of the changes you’re hoping to bring to Bird Studies Canada as the new president? What are some of your plans to raise public awareness of the need for bird conservation?
Steven: Mostly, I hope to keep BSC as the productive, science-based organization that it is, working across Canada and on all groups of birds. Globally, we are part of the BirdLife network, with representatives in dozens of countries worldwide. I hope to help BSC focus on urgent and important goals for research, awareness, and conservation, which are the three elements of our mission. Regarding public awareness, we plan to grow the number of volunteers who serve as “Citizen Scientists”, helping out with various bird and natural history surveys of all kinds.
PB: What would you tell Canadian birders in 2015 who want to know what BSC can offer them? And what would you tell Canadians who are not birders?
Steven: Bird Studies Canada is the country’s only national, science-based, nonprofit organization devoted entirely to understanding, appreciating, and conserving birds. We are modest in size and immodest in pride about our role in bird conservation. To those who do not call themselves birders, I suggest you join a nature walk near where you live and watch a new hobby develop right before your eyes! It’s healthy, fun, inexpensive, and inspiring.
PB: This year’s Birdathon has a name change, from the Baillie Birdathon to the Great Canadian Birdathon. What do you hope the name change will do for the Birdathon?
Steven: I have a great attachment to the memory of James L. Baillie. BSC will maintain his memory by keeping the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund. My earliest work with birds involved charting the birds he’d seen and noted in his diaries, stored in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. Most of his birding was in southern Ontario. Now, under the name Great Canadian Birdathon, we are encouraging Canadians to have some fun with family and friends birding anywhere in the country!
PB: Where and when is your own Great Canadian Birdathon taking place? Will you be birding as an individual or with other birders, and if so, with whom?
Steven: I look forward to my own Birdathon on May 29 in the Greater Toronto Area. Urban areas are often close to rivers, lakes, or oceans, offering a tremendous diversity of bird habitats and birds, even amidst considerable development. I’ll be birding with keen BSC staff in the Toronto area, and I hope to attract Rick Mercer!
PB: Do you have a target number of species you’re hoping to see during your Birdathon?
Steven: Well, keen birders like me always hope to top 100, somewhat of an arbitrary number, but an achievable one on a good day in May in southern Ontario. More importantly, we are urging people to not be hindered by the friendly competition for high species numbers, as the Birdathon is more about getting out, enjoying yourself, learning more about birds, and raising funds to conserve them.
PB: For people who aren’t able to donate to the birdathon, what is the next best thing they can do?
Steven: Everyone can donate through the Birdathon, and thereby support the cause. They can also examine their bird-friendliness in the backyard, at the cottage, on the farm, and at work: keep domestic cats indoors, reduce or eliminate pesticide use, and treat windows to reduce collisions.
PB: Where are some of your favourite places, in Canada and outside of Canada, to go birding?
Steven: I always enjoy familiar places, like my local ravine and family cottage in southern Ontario. But travelling to Long Point and Point Pelee in Ontario, or the Riefel Refuge or Okanagan in B.C., or the Prairies, or Maritime beaches – it’s all so beautiful and exciting for a birder. Outside of Canada, I’d say Costa Rica, Mexico, and Cuba have been favourite places of mine to visit and bird.
PB: Lastly, Canadian Geographic is looking for a species to represent the country as Canada’s national bird. Out of all the candidates, which species has your vote and why?
Steven: This is a tough choice, but I like the Gray Jay, as it’s national in distribution and a good symbol of connecting people to nature, given how it can be so fearless around cabins, cottages, and campfires. This familiarity is what gave it the nickname, “Whiskey Jack”. The Gray Jay is not, however, regularly seen in urban areas, where most Canadians now live. But perhaps it is still appropriate as a draw to encourage people to get out and see natural areas.
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Thank you, Steven, for the opportunity to interview you and good luck on your Great Canadian Birdathon!