Packing for a Birding Workshop

I just got confirmation a few weeks ago that I, along with nine others, will be attending the inaugural Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO) in Tofield, Alberta in early August.

In contrast to my Long Point Bird Observatory workshop (2012) and internship near LPBO at The Tip (2013) in Ontario, I’ll be driving to Beaverhill (which is about 90 minutes away), so I’ll be packing a little differently; here’s my packing post from 2013. Since I’ll be a Team Leader at BBO as well as a participant, I thought a packing post might be helpful for some of the young birders and anyone else who might be attending a similar birding or naturalist workshop, especially those who might not have camping experience or who might be looking for new camping gadgets and gear.

My first piece of advice is to pack light, but pack smart. There’s nothing more frustrating than overpacking and then having to haul everything, especially the unnecessary items, around. Especially if the trip is short, keep your packing list to a minimum.


Don’t bring your best clothes. Bring things that can get dirty and possibly even ripped or torn (think thorns, branches, and maybe barbed wire fences) and think layers, no matter what the season. In Alberta, even in the summer the early mornings and evenings can be cool, and extra layers are also helpful against mosquitoes and ticks. Polyester and other fast-drying tops and bottoms (including underwear and socks) are great if you need to wash anything. I’m also going to bring my microfiber towel that absorbs a lot of water but dries quickly; my mother found it on AT BBO, there’s the possibility of going on the water and maybe swimming during the workshop, so don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.

Bring some warmer layers just in case — a fleece top, heavier socks, a winter hat, a neck gaiter, and a light pair of gloves. Inexpensive nitrile garden gloves are good; they’re waterproof and give you a good grip for binoculars and cameras. My mother swears by the selection, quality, and price at Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware stores.

For rain gear, I’ve had a women’s L.L. Bean Trail Model rain jacket for the past few years. It’s made from waterproof TEK2.5 ripstop nylon with a ceramic coating and is both waterproof and breathable, which is nice when you’re in it for hours at a time. It’s also light enough to wear in the summer. It has a hood, packs down to nothing, and there are versions for women, men, and kids. Everyone in my family has one and finds them very useful on the farm. The exchange rate with the U.S. is a little better now, and while the price of L.L. Bean items can be high for Canadians without a sale, they don’t charge additional shipping fees. (Full disclosure — L.L. Bean is a recent sponsor of my segment on Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds radio show, but all of the L.L. Bean items I own were bought by my mother long before the sponsorship began.)

I like wearing baseball caps for rain and sun and have a variety from the Long Point Bird Observatory and Cornell Lab of Ornithology; besides the protection they offer, their sale supports bird conservation organizations. However, especially if you have shorter hair, ball caps don’t provide a lot of shade protection for ears or the back of the neck, so you might want a hat with more coverage.

Bonus points if your shoes or boots are waterproof or water resistant, especially if you’ll be spending any time in the mud. In addition to a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots, especially if you’re travelling by vehicle, I’d recommend tossing a pair of rubber boots in the trunk, just in case. The boots I wear almost year-round, except in the coldest winter weather, are women’s Ropers, which are leather with a forged steel shank and double-stitched seams; you can buy them at UFA farm supply stores in Alberta, or at Lammle’s western wear. They’re not waterproof though, and they can be heavy, so I ‘ve been considering a new pair of Keen hiking boots. And I will put in a plug for Smartwool or Thorlo socks.

As for bottoms, I usually wear jeans instead of shorts because of ticks, mosquitoes, thorns, and the possibility of barbed wire. However, since my 4H NWT trip last summer, I’ve become a fan of MEC ripstop nylon convertible pants — they’re light, breathable, easy to wash and fast to dry, convert to shorts when needed, fit well, and very comfortable. And lighter than jeans. You can find them made by different companies, including (I believe) Columbia, which you can find at sporting goods stores, such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and Sport Chek.


Temperatures in Alberta are cool at night even in the summer, so bring a sleeping bag that is rated for a pretty low temperature. Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable, so an air mattress or a sleeping pad makes for more restful sleep. For the NWT trip last summer, I was going to take a pad but at the last minute borrowed an old air mattress from my aunt and uncle. The mattress inflated with a pump which wasn’t that much work, but the self-inflating mattresses others had were better — lighter and much less to carry. My mother just bought a lower priced MEC reactor sleeping pad for my brothers and me to use this summer, and it seems pretty comfortable. Don’t forget a pillow and maybe a small extra blanket (preferably fleece/microfibre in case it gets wet).

Toiletries/Personal Items:

I’m not going to mention much here because everyone has particular preferences. I have fair skin and burn if I’m not careful, so sunscreen is imperative. And bug spray! Of course, soap and shampoo (and possibly conditioner), but if water access is limited, dry shampoo works very well; brands I’ve found that work well and can be found easily are Batiste, Not Your Mother’s, and Aveeno dry shampoos. Baby wipes can also come in handy for a variety of uses when water is in short supply; and a washcloth or two for when water is available (microfiber rather than cotton, so it dries quickly — if you can’t find them in the bath department, look in the household cleaning section.) Less is definitely more when it comes to toiletries. Also, try to avoid any highly scented products to help keep the mosquitoes away. Water bottles are a necessity and if you aren’t flying, bring a few extras and fill them at home before you leave.

Since we’ll be camping for a week, bring a small amount of any medicine/first aid items you’d like to have on hand: bandaids, Advil or Tylenol, Vitamin C for a sore throat, Tums, antibacterial ointment like Polysporin, tweezers for tick removal, antihistamine tablets (like Benadryl) in case of allergic reactions to plants or insects, and so on.

Camping Tech:

This will be my first time camping with a phone, and since we’ll have limited electricity, I’m bringing a car charger, our Eton BoostTurbine Portable Charger with a hand crank, and a solar charger.

At Long Point we woke before sunrise to set up the mist nests and in retrospect, a headlight instead of just a flashlight would have been very helpful. My youngest brother swears by headlamps for chores in the winter; he has a Fenix HP 300 as well as a Boruit (5000 lumens). The Boruit is fairly inexpensive and available from Decide how much light you need or want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

I would also recommend at least a pocket knife, or a Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, or similar multi-tool.

A small backpack for day trips is useful, especially if you’ve packed everything else in a larger pack.


Binoculars are a must, but if you don’t have a pair, ask around and you may be able to borrow some from a friend or acquaintance. If you’re searching for any items, consider posting to your local birding listserv as many members are willing to help young birders.

If you have a spotting scope, it can be a great piece of equipment to bring. While it can be bulky, the views of far-off birds are all worth the weight. If you don’t have a scope, though, don’t worry. Most bird observatories have one and will lend it out to the young birders attending the workshop or camp.

Notebooks are an easy way to keep track of your notes, observations, and sketches — I learned at Long Point that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t count! Bring pens, pencils (small Ikea pencils are great!), coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener (or penknife), erasers, and notebooks. BBO will supply notebooks (Long Point did as well), but if you like Rite-In-The-Rain notebooks, you can find them at Peavey Marts in Alberta.

Decide before you start to pack if you really want to carry your camera around everywhere, and whether you’re going to take lots of photographs or just the occasional snap. This will affect what you pack. If you are bringing anything that needs batteries, bring extra batteries and/or make sure that your batteries are fully charged before leaving home. Also bring enough, or extra, empty SD (memory) cards. You might also want to bring a new clean plastic bag for your camera and/or scope in case you’re out all day in the rain.

This might sound counter-intuitive for a stay at a bird observatory, but I suggest not bringing a field guide, since they’re usually heavy and most observatories have a shelf of field guides available to use. You might also want to consider some field guide/birding apps, which you can download to your mobile device before you get to the workshop. I recommend the eBird Mobile app (free iTunes and Google Play), Birdseye North American (free), Merlin Bird ID (free), Bird Codes (free), and the Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America ($19.99). For more about birding apps and birding with your phone, here’s a post I wrote earlier this month.


I’d also suggest a variety of plastic bags, from smaller Ziploc bags for toiletries to larger garbage bags (the clear kind are good for scopes) for your backpack, scope, sleeping bag, and delicate electronics that should be kept dry.

Some stores my family and I like where we’ve had good luck finding sturdy and waterproof clothing and equipment, for birding, camping, farm chores, and country living:

MEC (Canada)

Peavey Mart/Main Street Hardware (Canada)

L.L. Bean (US)

Cabela’s (Canada)


If I’ve missed anything, or you’ve found something to be very useful for birding/nature camps or workshops, please leave a comment below.


A Yellow Warbler we banded at LPBO ,and I imagine that we’ll be banding many of them at BBO too!

Interview with Mya-Rose Craig

I’m pleased to present this interview with Mya-Rose Craig, a young British birder. I emailed May-Rose my questions, and she graciously sent her replies, which I hope you enjoy reading.

* * * * *

Prairie Birder: Tell me a little bit about yourself, please.

all photographs copyright Oliver Edwards

All photographs copyright Oliver Edwards

Mya-Rose: My name is Mya-Rose Craig, I am 13 years old and live in Somerset, UK. I love birding and banding and feel strongly about conservation and environmental issues. I go birding locally around my local patch, Chew Valley Lake, where I also go banding. I have been banding for 4 years. I also love world birding and love getting to know the birds in a new country. I write a blog called birdgirl, write articles (I have a column in my local paper), give talks about my birding and conservation, and most of all want to be an activist.

PB: How and when did you first become interested in birding?

Mya-Rose: I have been birding all my life. My parents are birders and by the time I was born, my older sister Ayesha was 12 years old and was a birder too. I just got taken along everywhere they went and as I got a bit older, I loved doing everything that my cool teenage sister liked. Then when I was old enough to decide for myself, at about four or five years old, I decided that nature and birding were what I wanted to do too.

PB: You often go twitching with your family. What is twitching for anyone not familiar with it? And what was your first twitch?

Mya-Rose: I think people sometimes make the difference between twitching and birding into a really big one. At times, one merges into another. Birding is when you go out a place just to see what you see there, which might include knowing that it is good for a certain type of bird at that time of year, which you might see.

Twitching is when you travel (sometimes a very long way) to see a specific bird that is lost and out of its range. So for example, in the UK that might be a bird from America or from Russia. Three American birds that I have seen this spring, that were new on my British list, were Great Blue Heron, Hudsonian Godwit, and Hudsonian Whimbrel. Twitching is very exciting as you do not know if the bird will still be there when you got there. I am very lucky because my parents will take me to see a bird that is new for me even if they have already seen one in Britain. My British list is now 499! Because of the size of my British list, we only go twitching about once a month.

My first twitch was to the Isles of Scilly (islands off the southwest tip of England) for a Lesser Kestrel when I was only nine days old. That was when I was introduced to all of Britain’s top twitchers, as they like to remind me whenever they see me. Obviously, I can’t count that. Mum had a Caesarean and had only been out of hospital three days when we did the trip. She couldn’t even walk and had to get a cab to the bird.

Then when I was just over one [year old], we went to see a Black Lark in North Wales. It was the first time one had been seen in the UK but when we got there the bird was quite tame. This is usually because the bird is from somewhere so remote it doesn’t know to be scared of humans. As the bird came close to my pram, I pointed at it and shouted, a little bit too loudly, “Birdie!” That was my fourth ever word.

All photographs copyright Oliver Edwards

All photographs copyright Oliver Edwards

PB: What have some of your birding highlights been?

Mya-Rose: In 2009, when I was only six years old, I decided to join my mum and dad in doing a Big Year in the UK. I had a brilliant year, seeing 324 bird species and most of all, my birding skills really improved just from being out in the field every weekend.

The most amazing birding event of that year and probably of my life was when in the summer we decided to go to a coastal headland to look for seabirds flying past. We were hoping for a Cory’s Shearwater (which I still need). It was pouring with rain and was a miserable morning. Then suddenly, someone called “Albatross”. He said it so calmly, he could have been calling “gull”. I don’t know about in Canada and North America, but here Albatrosses are incredibly rare and seeing one fly past is a one in a million event. After a few seconds, we realised that it wasn’t a joke and we all tried to find the bird. Luckily, it did a circle giving me great views through my telescope. There were only 14 of us who saw the bird then and it is a day I will never forget, even though I was only seven years old.

I had my year list on a website called Surfbirds but someone had it taken down as they didn’t believe that a seven-year-old could have seen an albatross. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you are a young birder in Britain.

Then the BBC wanted to include me in a programme, so they followed us about for 10 days and made Twitchers: A Very British Obsession. I really enjoyed being filmed for the programme but was a little silly sometimes, as you can’t be good all the time when you are seven years old.

PB: Have you found some advantages and disadvantages to being a young birder?

Mya-Rose: The downside first, I have been subject to cyberbullying from British birders (adults and people in their late teens/early twenties). This is really upsetting and has had an impact on me.

After I was in the 2010 BBC documentary, a large number of birders made judgments about me based on adult behaviour rather than that of a seven-year-old child. There were lots of comments posted on a website called “Birdforum”. People think it’s ok to be mean about you on the internet and don’t see you as a real person.

One big female Norfolk UK blogger thought it was ok for her to be mean and take the p*** out of a seven-year-old which had nothing to do with Norfolk birding. I found the comments last year, but when Mum told her how upset I was, and asked her to post that she was wrong about me not being interested in birds (because I was still birding five years later), she refused.

The advantages of being a young birder is that you have time to do lots of birding and get lots of experience before other people have even started. Also, your eyesight and hearing are much better than an adult’s. I pick birds up really quickly. I think that as you get older, you have more and more facts jammed into your head. Without that, there is lots of space for birding information. There are always some birders who are interested in you and want a chat.

PB: Out of all the species on your very impressive Life List, do you have a favourite?

Mya-Rose: My favourite bird in the world is the Southern Cassowary, which you get in Queensland, Australia and which I saw in 2013. It grows to about six feet tall and is closely related to a dinosaur. The male looks after the chicks. One kick from one and you are dead.

PB: You’ve traveled to many different countries for birding; where is one place you’d like to visit that you haven’t been to already? And to where would you like to return to spend more time?

Mya-Rose: I would really like to go birding in Brazil, where I haven’t been at all. We were meant to be going next summer but with the Olympics, we might have to wait a year or two. I’d love to go to the Pantanal and see Jaguar, go to the Amazon from Manaus and bird in the Atlantic rainforest.

I would really like to go back to Australia. We spent a summer camper-vanning around Queensland but I would like to go back and go to Top End (Darwin) and the rest of Australia, but I think it would take ages. It would be amazing to drive inland too. I have lots of species still to see in Australia.

PB: Do you have a “nemesis bird” that you are hoping to see this year?

Mya-Rose: Here, that’s called a bogey bird. My most common British bird that I still haven’t seen is Little Auk, which is a sea bird. The problem is that you can only see them in certain wind conditions during November on the east coast of Britain and I live on the west side of the country. I really hope to pin one down this autumn.

Mya baby photos birding

PB: Do you have any ideas for getting other young birders and naturalists interested in birding and nature conservation programs?

Mya-Rose: Yes, this is actually something that I have been working really hard on. I have written articles on tips for getting children into nature and birds, including this one.

I think that it is important for children to be taught about nature and conservation in school in Science and Geography lessons and in practical sessions outside school at Guides and Scouts.

I have done workshops in Scouts and Guides and taken Scouts out birding to see Nightjar. Young people have been really engaged in these sessions.

I think it is essential that young people learn about these issues and so I have contacted teaching unions, to see if I can speak at their Annual Conferences as well at the Annual Conferences for the main [political] parties.

In June I also organised a camp for young birders and tried to get non-birding ethnic minority teenagers to attend as well. This went really well, with six out of 14 teenagers being from an ethnic minority. I am also carrying out research into diversity in nature.

PB: Who are some of the people you look up to in the birding community?

Mya-Rose: The top birder I look up to is Phoebe Snetsinger. She raised the bar in world birding and also kept really amazing records.

Other people who inspire me are Sir Peter Scott, and David Attenborough and Steve Backshall, who both appear on nature television.

PB: Are you looking to building a career around birds in your future?

Mya-Rose: I would like to be a wildlife TV presenter. I plan to get a degree in Zoology, then go on expeditions to remote places, trying to find new species or find out more about rare species and be filmed along the way.

The Warbler Guide App, and a Giveaway


I’m very excited to be a part of The Warbler Guide App blog tour in partnership with Princeton University Press, to promote the new Warbler Guide app, which will be released soon. And please be sure to head over there to see the other blogs participating in the tour.

Some of the exciting features of the new app include 3D models of birds in all plumages; under-tail views; and the ability to find birds by filtering by colour, alphabetical order, song type, and taxonomic order.

Now for the giveaway!

Below are five photos of unidentified warblers, all taken by me at the Long Point Bird Observatory, Long Point, Ontario, in 2012 and 2013. The photos are labelled #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7.

To enter the contest, just leave a comment in this post with your bird ID for each number. The person who correctly guesses the most species wins a copy of both The Warbler Guide book (print edition) and the new app as well!

Thanks to Jessica at Princeton University Press for providing me with the book and app.

The deadline to enter the contest is December 24th, and I’ll announce the winners on Christmas Day.

Good luck everyone!















Feathers on Friday

If you would like to join me for my Feathers on Friday meme, please put the link to your blog post in the comments and I’ll add the link to my post.

A Gray-cheeked Thrush I banded at the Long Point Bird Observatory this summer,


More Feathers on Friday:

:: From Josiah at Birds in Your Backyard: Feathers on Friday

:: From babsje at Great Blue HeronsPlucky Great Blue Heron’s Happy Ending

Book Review: The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book

448naturecoverI’m so happy to be part of The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book blog tour! Thank you very much to authors Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer for including me at the last minute. I have to mention that my mother had already bought the book for the Snow Goose Chase’s Young Naturalists’ Corner, and I had decided to review it here, before I got in touch with Stacy and Ken (although Ken is sending along some bookmarks for us to give away!). I’m excited to be part of the blog tour with Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman (April 5th), James at 10,000 Birds (James, April 9th), Birdfreak (April 17th), and Birdchick (Sharon, on April 23rd).

In connection with my work setting up the Young Naturalists’ Corner at the Tofield, Alberta, Snow Goose Chase on Saturday, April 27th, I’ve been looking for great kids’ nature books to display on the table, for kids and their parents to learn about (so they can add them to their reading lists) and also to give away at the end of the day as part of a draw.

When my mother decided to buy some kids’ nature books to donate, she asked me for some ideas. I had just read about The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up on the ABA Young Birders Facebook page, so I mentioned it to my mother. She was excited to see that it’s brand new (published on April 2nd by Falcon Guides, part of Globe Pequot), and looked great from what we could see with’s “Look Inside the Book” feature.

Especially if your family isn’t like mine, living on a farm where we get to be (have to be!) outdoors year-round in all kinds of weather, this is a great book to help you get your kids outdoors and in to nature. And even if we didn’t live on a farm and didn’t home school (a lot of home schoolers seem to be very keen on nature study), I know my parents would have made sure to get my brothers and me outside. But if you’re not naturally the outdoors type, puns intended, or think the only place to go is the playground, this new book will give you 448 great ideas of what do in the great outdoors. As naturalist David Mizejewksi of the National Wildlife Federation writes in his foreword, “The nature of childhood has changed, and the sad reality is that there’s not much nature left in it.” He adds,

Technology isn’t inherently bad, but most would agree that it’s dominance in the lives of today’s children — at the expense of outdoor time — is way out of a healthy balance. Similarly, modern parents’ obsession with scheduling every second of their kids’ time in structured activities has resulted in burned out kids who never get to just run around and be kids.

And just as importantly, as David says, “we know the old saying ‘you only protect what you love, and you only love what you know’ is true.”

One of the features of the book you immediately notice are the beautiful illustrations by Rachel Riordan, which are so colorful and fun! (By the way, Rachel is Canadian and her husband Paul Riss is a birder who’s making a movie about his Big Year.) The book is divided into four main sections: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and each season has 50 checklist items (“run barefoot on the beach”, “wake up before the birds”, “celebrate Earth Day”), 50 challenge items as part of each checklist (“catch a cricket”, “make sand art”), three projects, three destinations, three recipes from the garden, and three outdoor games. There are so many great ideas in this book, including recipes, outdoor activities, games, destinations, and craft ideas. This is a wonderful book and perfect if you want to get your kids outside, or if you need more ideas to spark your imagination. It would be hard to run out of ideas with this book!

Because I’m a birder, I’m going to highlight some of the bird activities and projects the book has to offer:

Idea #49: Watch a Bird-Banding Demonstration: I didn’t get to witness my first bird banding and band my first birds until last August at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop. It was so neat to band a Hooded Warbler, Common Grackle, House Wren, and other species. I found that watching the people who came to watch the bird banding was one of the most entertaining parts — their faces would just light up to be shown a bird close up, so this is a perfect activity to take your kids to. I’m positive they’d love it.


Kids love crafts, I know I still do, and these pinecone feeders are a perfect craft to make with even very young kids. I’m going to make this project later this fall, to supplement my commercial feeders:


Ken and Stacy have a great website and blog with lots of extras for kids and their families: check out their Projects page (for projects inspired by nature, like the Mosaic Handprint project and gift), Outdoor Fun activities page (such as a DIY flower shelf), and Destinations page for fun family travel ideas. There’s even a Food page with recipes, and also a Videos section, with videos from Stacy and Ken with different projects, from winter hikes to forcing bulbs.

By the way, Stacy Tornio is the editor of Birds & Blooms magazine, which was my great-grandmother’s favorite. Since she died about 10 years ago, my parents have been giving an annual gift subscription of B&B to our library in her name. Stacy also wrote the recent book Project Garden: A Month-by-Month Guide to Planting, Growing, and Enjoying ALL Your Backyard Has to Offer (January 2012), a monthly guide filled with activities to keep kids and their families gardening through the entire year.

Ken Keffer is a naturalist, and has had some amazing experiences, from researching flying squirrels in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska, to monitoring Bactrian camels in Mongolia’s Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area. He has also worked as an environmental educator throughout the U.S. Best of all, Ken is a birder and a bander (and a curler!), and he’s doing a Big Year this year!


My 10 Best/Favorite Photos of 2012

2012 was filled with very memorable, fun, and exciting moments, and my trip to Long Point this August will be my most cherished memory!

At the end of last year, I wrote a post on “My 10 Favorite Birds of 2011“. I wanted this year’s year-end post to be different from that, so here are my 10 best and favorite photos of 2012.

One of the most exciting birds I saw at my feeders this year was a Northern Shrike in March,


Holding a Burrowing Owl at the Tofield Snow Goose Chase in April,


One of the Gray Catbirds I counted during the local May species bird count,


At the Bird Studies Canada Headquarters in August during the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop,


A banded Canada Warbler at Long Point in August,


My friend Katie holding an Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle at Long Point during the YOW,


A young Turkey Vulture after being banded in late August,


A Northern Harrier in September,


A Long-tailed Weasel at my grandparents’ yard in November,


A Pine Grosbeak at my grandparents’ yard in December,