Monday, 28 January 2013

Photo Book is Done

We have finally finished the photo book - you can view it at:  A free pdf version of the book can be downloaded at:  Note - this is a 72 MB file so the download might take a while.  When viewing the file, under the View menu -> page display, check "two page view" and "show cover in two page view".

Since posting the final draft version, we have found a surprisingly large number of errors; hopefully there aren't too many in our final version.

As mentioned previously, we made the book for ourselves but anyone can purchase a copy from Blurb.  The FIN2012 promo code with a 15% discount expires today (Jan. 28) but KBWINTER with a 10% discount is good through the end of February.

Good birding


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Fur and Feathers 500 Photo Book

After working on our book for what seems like forever, we are almost finished.  You can view the book at: 
The book was prepared using Lightroom and then uploaded directly to Blurb.  I did the layout work and Ray and Phil did the proofing.  The price is the same as what we pay (no markup).  There are often promo codes that can save some money - FIN2012 is good until Jan. 28th for a 15% discount.  I also plan to have a pdf version that you can download for free (from a site to be determined – not from 

Thanks again for your comments throughout the year.  In a recent comment, someone asked if we would be doing a presentation and the answer is yes – Wed. April 3 to the Bird Study Group of Nature Calgary.  Details will appear on the Nature Calgary website in March.

Good birding and mammaling!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Looking Back on a Great Year!

Brian’s recent posts have provided an excellent summary of our Fur and Feathers 500 adventures in 2012, including some thoughtful advice for those who might wish to undertake a Canada Big Year of their own one day. He quite rightly offered thanks to the many people across Canada who were so happy to help us along the way and I would like to add my own thanks. We would never have been successful without their assistance but more than that, they made the whole experience a better one!

Our collective and individual goals for this Canada Big Year were set out in our early posts. A central theme was to meet our team target of 500 species and visit all 13 provinces and territories while doing so! For me, the geographic reach of our travels was equal in importance to our species target. I’m delighted we were able to accomplish both!  

People often ask us about highlights of the year. Which bird or mammal sighting was the most special? Which part of the country did we enjoy the most? I usually answer that it was the totality of the adventure that mattered more than anything else. Every trip had its special moments and collectively they have left us with a thousand good memories.  It’s true however that one or two experiences inevitably come up more often that the rest when talking to family and friends about our travels.

For me, quietly gliding through the fragmented pack ice in Repulse Bay, Nunavut, was an experience I will never forget and the close up encounter with a Polar Bear on that trip was the icing on the cake! I had travelled extensively in Canada even before this Big Year but I had never been to the Magdalene Islands or Haida Gwaii. Both are magnificent places and I encourage any reader who hasn’t been to these unique Canadian places to make the effort. You won’t be disappointed! Maybe you’ll even see a Rustic Bunting as we did while on Haida Gwaii – not by any means a particularly splendid looking bird but probably one of my most memorable sightings of the year if only because a) it’s very rare and b) I actually got a decent photo of it! 

I have always enjoyed seabirds and we did quite a bit of pelagic birding during the course of the year.  Indeed, we spent a lot more time on boats than any of us expected. Phil kept count of our various boat trips and I can’t recall the final count but it must have been close to 50!  We made several trips out of Brier Island, NS into the Bay of Fundy and here again is a place I would highly recommend to our readers. Not only is the pelagic birding rewarding but so is the whaling!  

One of my personal goals last year was to bring my Canada Bird Life List up to a more respectable 425 species. I’m delighted to report that I soared above this target, reaching 442 by year end! Maybe I can edge that up to 450 during the coming year? Another goal was to become a bit more knowledgeable about Canadian mammals during the course of the year. I enjoyed the mammaling but I’d have to say that all our mammal chasing really taught me was just how appallingly little I know about them! Like Brian however, I’m hoping to bring my tally of Canadian mammals seen up to a nice round 100 eventually.

This will be my final posting on this site so what better time than now to thank Brian, Mike and Phil for a splendid year of good fellowship and shared adventures all across this great country. We set out to do this Big Year as a team and that's exactly what we did! May we have many more birding experiences together in the years to come!

And finally – a big thank you to my wife Agnes.  Agnes supported my participation in this Canada Big Year 100% - right from the start!  Whenever asked, Agnes declares with considerable energy that she is most certainly NOT a “Birder”.  She does however admit to being a “Birder’s Companion”. In 2013 we’re hoping to do some international travelling together and while such travels never focus exclusively on birding I’m sure that at one point or another, she will once again be this Birder’s Companion!  I'm a lucky birder indeed!
Good birding everyone!

Final thoughts from Phil

Brian has posted excellent summaries of Fur and Feathers 500, and there is not much more to be said about our great adventure. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t add my own thanks to those who made it possible.

First, to the many birders across the country who gave willingly of their time to help us find regional specialties. Your companionship made for an extra dimension to the year which was unexpected and highly appreciated. One moment among many stands out: Anne Hughes perching precariously on the cliff top at Cape St. Mary to find us Thick-billed Murres among the many seabirds nesting on the cliffs, and the fog lifting just in time.
Secondly, to my fellow fur and featherers, Brian, Mike and Ray. Most Big Years are conceived as solo efforts. Ours was different, a team event, which made for a year which was full of fun, both the long hours in the field and the brief periods of relaxation. Eating chocolate-coated almonds to celebrate a success, mid-afternoon ice cream cones as a pick-me up, and tasting local beers from across the country became important rituals for our tribe. We ended the year having enriched our friendship, with absolutely no friction along the way – remarkable!

To the readers of this blog, your interest was a great source of inspiration. Writing the blog was not always the first thing we wanted to work on late in the evening, but the discipline of keeping our readers up-to-date meant that we documented our journey as we went along and provided us with a valuable record. It was also a great showcase for many of Brian and Ray’s wonderful photos, and one of mine, which I never stopped talking about!
Finally, to my wife Rae and our family, my heartfelt thanks for your love and support for my participation in Fur and Feathers 500. It was a very eventful year for our family, and I will never forget your generosity in allowing me to head off on all those trips, sometimes at very difficult times.

A Happy New Year to everyone: I hope you will be able to realize your own dreams.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Thanks to all for a great year

Our big year ended last Monday with a New Year’s Eve dinner with our wives and a get-together at Phil’s to bring in the new year.  I observed carefully but still no wild humans to add to the list!
Our team celebrating the year - back: Brian, Phil, Mike, Ray  front: Jo, Barb, Rae, Agnes
The big year was a major undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without a lot of help.  First and foremost on the list is our wives who put up with our many absences and looked after the household while we were away.  My wife Barb said to me afterwards, “I’m glad you did it but I don’t want you ever to do it again!”
Our wives sporting their Fur & Feathers tshirts - Agnes (Ray), Barb (Brian), Rae (Phil) and Jo (Mike)
The four of us worked well as a team – I took the lead in planning, Ray made most of the contacts with other birders, Phil handled travel logistics and Mike chipped in with his extensive knowledge and experience.

Planning was a big task and we used as many resources as we could.  J. Cam Finlay’s 2000 revised edition, “A Bird-Finding Guide to Canada” helped in the initial planning stages and we also used it occasionally on the road.  One or more of us belonged to 9 different provincial internet groups – these were a great source of information about rarities in the areas we would be visiting.  Thanks to all of the contributors for making these groups a success.  In particular, I’d like to thank a couple of professionals whose regular contributions over the years were very helpful in the planning process – Bruce Mactavish in Newfoundland and Chris Charlesworth in the BC interior.  Russ Cannings’s BC Bird Alert and his personal blogs were also very helpful and Russ also provided us with a fair bit of BC bird finding info in person and by email.
The four of us are competent birders but we found it very helpful to enlist the help of experienced local birders whenever we could.  James Hirtle in Nova Scotia, Anne Hughes in Newfoundland, Dick Cannings and Rick Schortinghuis in BC all went out with us on multiple days and helped find almost all of our target birds – thanks a lot, guys.  We also had some help from Rob Woods, Dorothy Poole and Johnny Nickerson in NS, Cameron Eckert in the Yukon, Ron Jensen in SK, the two Jeremys – Gatten and Kimm – on our west coast pelagic and the Masset gang – Margot Hearn, Peter Hamel and Martin Williams – on Haida Gwaii.  Along the way, we met many other friendly birders who also were very helpful.  In the Calgary area, our friends were aware of our big year and passed along useful sighting information – thanks Bob, Ray, Dan, Bob, Malcolm and Joan.  We’ve had a lot of help from a lot of birders so my apologies if I’ve missed a name or two.

I’d also like to thank the many feeder watchers across the country that made their yards accessible to us and other birders.  There are too many to list but some of our best birds like Dickcissel, Yellow-throated Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Costa’s Hummingbird, Acorn Woodpecker and Northern Wheatear were seen in people’s yards.
Hepatic Tanager - Wadena, SK
Blogging was new to us and turned out to be a lot of fun.  Your comments made us feel connected with our readers.  We even experienced 30 seconds of fame when we were recognized in Point Pelee by a nice group of ladies from Calgary (who teased us with their American Marten sighting – we finally saw one a few weeks ago for our final mammal species of the year).

The blogging stats gave us some idea of how many people were looking at the blog and how they found us.  Our 36,000 page views pales somewhat in comparison to the "eagle snatching a kid" video but it was never our objective to go viral.  Thanks to all fellow bloggers had links to our site (I was somewhat remiss in not posting reciprocal links); some of the main traffic sources were Bob Lefebvre’s Calgary Birding blog:, the Prairie Birder, Charlotte Wasylik: and Josh Vandermeulen in Ontario (congratulations Josh on setting the Ontario big year record):
In August of 2011, I announced our big year intentions as well as a number of personal goals.  I’m happy to say that all but one were achieved.  With 507 species, our team surpassed our goal of 500 bird and mammal species in Canada (revised upward from an initial 450 objective).  We did get to all 13 provinces and territories and saw some special places along the way.  My favourite places – places I’d like to take my wife – were les Iles de la Madeleine (thanks for suggesting it, Blake), the Dempster highway in YT, the Arctic (of which Repulse Bay was a great example) and Haida Gwaii.
Coastline near Old Harry, les Iles de la Madeleine
Cruising through the ice near Repulse Bay
Queen Charlotte City, Haida Gwaii
I think we were successful in doing a “relaxed” big year (if one ignores the crazy 20 hour overnight trip to SK for the Hepatic Tanager!).  We all have remained happily married though our points balance is in need of replenishing.

My Canada bird list now stands at 460, 10 ahead of my 450 target.  I photographed 470 species or 93% of the species we saw which surpassed my target of 90%.  My missed target – the Yellow Rail was only heard, not seen … maybe this year.  Although not a goal, we had some fun with ATPAT (all territories and provinces added together).  ATPAT provided a secondary focus when there weren’t many new species around and Ray, Phil and I all surpassed the old record for Canada “ticks” in a year.

We are in the final stages of preparing a photo book of our big year.  This is not a commercial endeavour but just for our own memories.  However, when it is ready, I will post a link to the book so that you can browse through it.
Where to from here?  This will be my last post to this blog (other than posting the photo book link); the others may post their reflections on the big year.  I have started up my own blog:  Fur and Feathers 5000 so perhaps some of you will follow my new adventures.  Check it out at:

Thanks again to all of you who have supported us and good birding.