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Something Social: Delta Naturalists Casual Birding


The first thing I realize as I reach the windswept shores of Centennial Beach on Boundary Bay is that I’ve made the classic mistake of not dressing for the weather.

A relentlessly cold wind whips across my face and hands as I snap photographs of birds, to the point where Angelika Hedley takes pity on me and gives me her leopard-patterned gloves to wear.

Angelika is one of 29 other people silly enough to be on a beach in March, a group which calls itself the Delta Nats Casual Birding, dedicated to seeking out and identifying migratory birds.

Their president, who tends to make deadpan jokes which make everybody laugh despite their suffering, has been doing this, or something very nearly like it, since 1989 back in Ottawa, Ontario.

“I found out I was doing nothing but sleeping in Sunday mornings,” says Tom Bearss with a straight face, once again evoking laughter because few things sound more sensible than sleeping in on a Sunday morning.

Tom had always been into nature, however he was more interested in watching shows about larger animals.

“I wasn’t much of a birder. Then I met a nice group, a whole bunch of people that were like-minded,” he recalls.

When he retired and moved to Delta in 2006, Tom joined the Delta Naturalists Society and it didn’t take long for his exuberant attitude to infect others.

“They conned me in, after a short period, to being president and I decided to lead these little bird outings, which I found fun.”

Today is called “Birds on The Bay”, a quarterly outing consisting of 2.5 hours of “ambling” along Boundary Bay to look at the mallards and sparrows and blackbirds and dozens of other species.

Although one can bird watch anywhere, few places are better for a birdwatcher than Delta. The Fraser River Delta is recognized as a Ramsar Site of international significance and by the United Nations as a “Wetland of International Importance.”

The short answer: There’s an insane number of birds around here.

Tom says 80,000 Dunlin winter in Boundary Bay eating the “snot” (as he puts it), or algae that grows on the rocks here. Then there are the famous Wrangel Island snow geese that arrive in the hundreds of thousands on their Arctic migration. And if you’re really lucky, you can even see some Snowy owls.

The Big Year film (2011) with Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin was even shot here in Delta for that very reason. If you’re going to have a “Big Year” in birding (which means spotting the most species you can in one calendar year) you’ll probably do well to come here.

But for Tom and most of the birders here, the outings are just as the name implies. Casual.

“We can talk, we can get chatting, but we learn a lot, we see a lot, and we enjoy it a lot,” he says.
Indeed, much of the fun comes when a rare bird is seen, or heard, and the group begins buzzing about the feathery delight. Even the eagles, which are a common sight for any local, get folks smiling and snapping photos.

The best part of this group is that it seems to attract people from all walks of life, both sexes and a diversity of age groups. Birds just have that universal appeal. Local bird author Anne Murray has even brought her little granddaughter, Emma, to have a gander at the geese.

When it’s all over, the hungry birders return to Cammidge House for some snacks.

“It is a social outing for sure. And then sometimes on our regular outings, every Tuesday, we often go for lunch afterward and chat some more, solve the problems of the world.”

For more information about the Delta Nats Casual Birders visit

2 thoughts on “Something Social: Delta Naturalists Casual Birding”

  1. Glen Bodie says:

    I was there. Adrian captured it well. It’s always a great day to go bird watching.

  2. Ursula Easterbrook says:

    Thanks for a good report – almost as tongue -in-cheek as Tom himself! just a couple of points: Snow Geese are never more than 125,000. Now-adays there aren’t just 2 sexes!

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