Enjoying the flights of fancy

OK BLUE JAY: Kids don’t need to go any further than their own backyards to experience nature first hand as there are colourful and interesting birds all around us.

Bird watching is a great way to get your kids outside and interested in nature

Spending quality time with our feathered friends is not just for the birds.

It’s also an inexpensive way for families to connect with nature and learn about the ecology that exists in the city.

And for Toronto Ornithological Club president Kevin Seymour, that’s something to crow about.

“I would say to young families that you don’t have to force your kids to be hardcore about birding, you just need to expose them to it,” he said. “And by having them see it, know that it’s normal and not nerdy, but interesting.”

Simple exposure for Seymour includes having a field guide in the house or even a birdfeeder or bath in the yard as being more than enough for a child to spread their learning wings.

Bob Carswell, a resident of the Yonge and St. Clair area, has been birding for almost 60 years. For him, it’s something more than just a pastime.

“It’s an addiction rather than a hobby,” he said with a laugh.

Originally a member of a Montréal-area bird club, he moved to Toronto in 2000 and faster than a falcon in chase he joined the ornithological club.

The reason?

“I just like being outdoors with friends,” he said. “You’ve got the combination of the intellectual stimulation — because it’s not as easy to identify the birds, you’ve got to apply your mind to that — but at the same time you’re having fun with friends.

“It really is a very nice combination.”

The ornithological club — founded in 1934 — is for the “hardcore birder”, Seymour said, but there are options for more casual admirers of birds.

Seymour suggested the Toronto Field Naturalists, which is looking to re-launch its junior club.

“We would love to be running a junior field naturalist program because kids get it, they’re enthusiastic, they love to be outside, and they’ve got bright eyes and bright minds,” said Pinky Franklin, past president and spokesperson.

The naturalist group has even received recognition for its environmental awareness by original kids’ group alumnus and artist Robert Bateman.

“He has credited us for starting his love of nature and his career in natural art,” she said.

The field naturalists, flying high for 86 years, offer families at least eight walks a month throughout the year to some of the city’s natural landscapes, including High Park, the Leslie Street Spit and Ashbridge’s Bay, along with monthly lectures at the University of Toronto.

Dependent on volunteer donations, the group also gets involved with projects like the Brick Works and advocating for the preservation of the Leslie Spit.

“It’s neglected but it’s wonderful, and that’s why all the animals and birds and coyotes and deer love it,” Franklin said.

Still, the naturalists encourage families to go on walks. But Franklin requested they leave pets at home because they often chase the wildlife away.

As for Seymour, his interest in birds has an academic slant to it: he’s a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum. Studying birds helps him understand the theory that they are descendants of dinosaurs.

“Those little insights, those little light bulbs going on are what’s part, for me, of the fun,” he said. “It keeps my mind active and it keeps me interested in trying to understand the world around me.”

A small childhood anecdote — one his mother shares to this day, — still sticks with him: While he and his family were passing through Saskatchewan, he went on a walk with his mom. A bird popped out of the bushes right in front of them.

“We both sort of stopped in our tracks and I said, ‘Oh, it’s a Rufus-sided Towhee’,” Seymour remembered. “And my mom looked at me — I was probably 10 at the time — and said, ‘What?’

“It was the first time she looked at me like I was a Martian.”

And it was all because his parents had exposed him to nature.

“Just having a book in the house,” Seymour said. “Somewhere along the lines I just flipped through it and some of it just stuck.”

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