April 12, 2018: Connecting to Nature;
A personal journey for anyone….
By Robert Alvo, M.Sc., Conservation Biologis.
Last time I promised to write about how birds connect us to nature and what we can do if we want to know more about birds than just how to identify them. Okay, let’s start from the beginning: nature. I like to distinguish between living nature (plants, animals, algae, fungi, lichens, and bacteria — virus are only quasi-alive) and non-living nature (e.g., rocks, sand, wind, sunlight.
You can connect with nature in various ways, for example chasing frogs as kids, fishing, hunting, or trapping, sitting still in a natural area and marvelling at the scenery, paddling along a river, or hiking a mountain. With all these methods, you are immersing yourself and taking in experiences. Other, more active, ways of connecting with nature include white-water rafting and zip-lining. A less active way would be to sit on the balcony of your cruise ship watching the ocean’s waves. How do you connect with nature?
I’ve always had a desire to “capture” species, and this practice has been transforming over the decades. As a young teenager in Greece, I was shooting things, including birds, but after awhile I came to feel badly and sold my pellet rifle.
I used the money to buy a pair of binoculars and a field guide to the birds of Europe, at which point I turned to identifying and photographing birds. Later, as a conservation biologist, I studied individual species, such as the Common Loon, Black Tern, and Canvasback. I went on to rank vertebrate species for their conservation concern in Quebec, then later for all of Canada, and I wrote some national species status reports. Finally I figured out the ultimate way of capturing species, and did so in a book called, Being a Bird in North America (BABINA). It’s a unique way of reaching the public regarding the importance of conservation.
BABINA combines science and humour to present the most interesting aspects of each species. It is only the second book I know that gives global distribution maps of many North American birds. Conservation status ranks are presented for each species at the global scale, and at the national scale for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. BABINA also features quotations from the days when people could write beautifully by taking full advantage of the rich English language without having to worry about limited space — the kind of writing that gave the reader memorable images. Each species page is a lesson on the species, and also a lesson on an issue. For example, the Common Loon account primarily discusses the effects of lake acidification from acid rain on loon breeding success. The book can appeal to anyone from 12 years old up to adults who wants to know how nature works, and how it has trouble working at times because of human activities — also, anyone interested in birds who wants to know more than simply how to identify species.
BABINA connects the reader to nature, and it can be purchased at Chapters and at a number of other Ottawa and other Ontario stores.
Next time we will discuss spring, which is already upon us, Ottawa’s annual cycle for birding, and my plans for future books.