Avid birders descended on Cattle Point to observe dozens of diverse bird species under the wing of a local aficionado.
Vancouverite Geoffrey Newell, in collaboration with the Friends of Uplands Park Society (FoUP), resumed his monthly bird walks July 31 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. following a pause amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over three dozen people attended, binoculars and cameras in hand, including FoUP president Margaret Lidkea and vice-president Wylie Thomas. With fall migration in its early days, Newell’s father David, mother Brigitte and younger brother Jean all came to help run the event, during which a total of 52 bird species were spotted.
Newell, 25, started the walk by pointing out some oystercatchers, describing them as large crows smoking a carrot. He then differentiated between a clutter of seagulls, noting one to be a Heermann’s gull migrating all the way from Baja, California.
After identifying rock pigeons to the right and rhinoceros aukletts out near the Chatham Islands, he lamented the consolidation of the northwestern crow and American crow species. Leading the group into Uplands Park, a bird-heavy area for its berries, Newell quickly spotted yellow warblers, oriental goldfinches and western tanagers and used his sharp ears to identify the hoot of a barred owl.
“He’s taken (bird watching) to another level,” said David Newell, pointing out his son can spot 10 birds by the time he sees just one.
“He’s got a phenomenal ability – it’s absolutely wonderful and so lucky.”
Newell began birding 17 years ago – when he was “the height of a sandhill crane” – and has since observed 344 of the 420 bird species in Greater Victoria. David Newell, who teaches biology at Mount Douglas Secondary School, recalled his son being fascinated by dinosaurs as a child.
“Then he learned that birds are (descendants of) dinosaurs – and you could actually go out and see them.”
Newell has led public bird walks with FoUP for years and said the Cattle Point and Uplands Park area is prime bird-watching territory on Vancouver Island, with about 245 species recorded. He also leads the Oak Bay Christmas Bird Count and annual CRD Hawk Watch at East Sooke Park.
Newell’s recent discovery at Panama Flats of a wood sandpiper, a Eurasian species rarely found in North America beyond Alaska, attracted birders from across B.C. This was the first recorded sighting of the species on the Island and the third in the province.
Another notable find was a ruddy turnstone he saw in a group of 90 black turnstones at McMicking Point.
Newell, who is also a national champion and Pan-American silver medalist in karate, locally runs Karate Brothers with Jean and said both karate and bird watching require immense focus.
“I love sharing my passion with others,” he said. “I think it’s great to keep the public informed and aware of wildlife for the next generations.”
To learn more about FoUP, visit friendsofuplandspark.org.
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