Good day, gentle readers. In my inaugural post for Bird Canada, I thought I’d start with a proper introduction and brief biography of my experiences in my relatively newfound hobby. I’ve given some thought to an introduction in the past, and as my photos have been highlighted on this blog before in this post, as well as on Birding is Fun, I’ve got a bit of a head start.
My name is Daniel Arndt, and I was born in Calgary, Alberta. I’m one of the few around these parts that was born and raised in this area, so I’ve spent almost my entire life with the birds native to this magical corridor between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. I’ve been a co-leader of the Friends of Fish Creek Birding courses for just over a year now, and have been blogging for the Birds Calgary blog for just a little longer than that. My background is in Natural Science (focused on vertebrate palaeontology) and Geology, with a Bachelor of Science in each from the University of Calgary, and my first real exposure to birding was the hard science of ornithology in my vertebrate anatomy and ornithology classes in 2005 and 2006. My passion then was for the ancestors and cousins of our feathered friends, the dinosaurs, and for me, they still retain the same fascination and allure that they did when I was a five-year old boy. That may have been an early spark for me to learn and truly understand the link between dinosaurs and birds (or, for you pedants, avialan and non-avialan dinosaurs), but I didn’t truly understand the rabbit hole I was on the brink of falling into.
While many of the birders writing for this blog have years, or even decades of experience, mine is a little more modest. My Spark Bird would have to be this Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, which I photographed on my first real vacation in 2008, when I visited Varadero, Cuba. On reviewing my photos of this vacation when I returned home, taken with a little Sony DSC-W55 point-and-shoot camera, I realized that I needed to work on my photography skills. I needed the ability to adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO rating, along with the flexibility to manually focus.
And so it began.
After returning home, I upgraded to a Sony DSC-H50, which I fell in love with, and headed to Huatulco, Mexico in December of that same year. In what can only be explained as a matter of incredible coincidence, the resort I stayed at offered birding walks three days a week, and it all went downhill from there.
Over the next few months, practiced my photography skills back home at the Calgary Zoo, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, and Fish Creek Provincial Park. I shot captive birds, wild birds, and everything else in between for the next few years.
And so things went for a couple of years, until two major events in 2011. First, I discovered the Birdchick Podcast. Irreverent, funny, and simultaneously educational, I listened to a few episodes of this podcast on a road trip down to Lethbridge in the spring of 2011. On the trip down there, I took these photos of a group of swans on their northward migration near Pincher Creek, Alberta, and sent them in (to fellow Bird Canada writer Bob Lefebvre) for an ID. As we emailed back and forth regarding the finer points of Swan identification, and my passion for birding grew each day, I looked for other, better ways to get out and find birds. This involved still more visits to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary as the spring and summer wore on, taking part in some of the Nature Calgary Birding walks, and finally signing up for my first Friends of Fish Creek Birding course.
As the summer wore on, and I became enamored with quite possibly one of the most colorful and enigmatic of the shorebirds resident here in our brief but hot summers: the White-faced Ibis. I spent numerous weekends trying to get better and better photos of them, all the while trying to identify the various shorebirds and nearby residents of the wetlands, researching the various plumages, and just increasing my own breadth of knowledge bit by bit.
I was hooked. I spent as much time as I could that fall birding as many times as I could manage. Any road trips, visits to family, or appointments outside the city would include a brief stop or two at various birding locations. I attended each week of the Friends of Fish Creek Birding course with expectation and enthusiasm for each new bird that I could tick on to my life list, and it was suggested that I start keeping track of the birds I’d seen, and put together an actual “Life List”. I started off with spreadsheets, but soon decided I needed a better system. That’s when I discovered eBird. If you don’t already use eBird, I cannot emphasize just how incredible it is at tracking data, and the citizen science aspect of it is one of my favorite reasons to promote it.
As the fall progressed, I was asked by the organizers to assist with the birding course come January, and it was around the same time that Bob Lefebvre asked me if I would mind writing for the Birds Calgary blog. I was incredibly honored at both requests, and while I still had a lot to learn, I was more than happy to volunteer the time that I already would spend birding anyhow, in the education and introduction of many new birders to the incredible diversity and range that Calgary holds.
As 2011 turned to 2012, I made a New Year’s resolution to use eBird to track all of my birding excursions, and that I would make it my goal to see 200 species within the Calgary region, traditionally measured as an 80km circle around the city, centered on the Centre Street bridge. That goal of 200 turned into my own Big Year, which gave me a grand total of 236 species for the year. Hardly a contender for the record of 260 species in that circle, but quite the accomplishment for my first full year of seriously birding!
(And for those of you wondering, I still need to get a decent photo of a Cuban Emerald Hummingbird!)