The West Coast boasts some of B.C.’s best birding opportunities and it’s now officially home to one of the province’s best young birders as well.
Toby Theriault, a 12-year-old Tofitian, received one of six Young Birder Awards bestowed by the British Columbia Field Ornithologists on Feb. 26
“I was so happy. I told everybody I could talk to. I was so excited and I’m really honoured,” an elated Theriault told the Westerly News. “I didn’t think that I had a chance really. There’s so many amazing young birders.”
The inspired, and inspiring, young West Coaster set off on her first Big Year, an annual international competition amongst birders who try to spot as many species as possible from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, in 2016. Theriault was stoked to record 217 species spotted.
“I was pretty happy. I was expecting 120 or around there so I really went over my goal and it was really fun,” she said. While her pursuit led to adventures throughout B.C. And beyond, venturing as far as Newfoundland where she spotted an Atlantic Puffin, she said her best birding was done in her hometown.
“A lot of times, I think, ‘The birding’s so cool in that other place,’ but then I look at it and, really, the only reason I’m thinking that is because there’s different birds to where we are so everything’s new for me. But, we have amazing birds everywhere. I really like the birding here,” she said.
“We have amazing birding in Tofino, like, phenomenal birding.”
As she honed her skills, she began learning how to identify birds through their songs and cited Swainson’s Thrushes as her favourite singers.
“If you just stop to listen you can find so many things,” she said.
“In the summer there’s so many Swainson’s thrushes, which have this really beautiful song.”
She added Warblers are also favoured finds and she was thrilled to finally check a Townsend Warbler off her list late in the year.
“I looked really hard and I couldn’t find it until almost the very end,” she said. “It’s a beautiful little black and yellow bird. It’s so pretty.”
She attributed her year’s success to the support she received from the West Coast’s impressive roster of experienced birders. “There’s a whole birding community in Tofino-Ucluelet,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who really helped me with my Big Year and I wouldn’t have seen half of the birds I’ve seen without them.”
She cited Adrian Dorst, Arty Ahier, Ian Cruickshank and Jacqueline Windh as solid supporters and recalled Dorst turning what would have been a disappointing day into a breathtaking experience after Theriault had traveled with a friend to Ucluelet to spot a White-winged Dove rumoured to be in the area.
“We were really disappointed because we didn’t see it and then Adrian Dorst called us and he said there was a Snowy Plover at Florencia Bay,” Theriault explained. “He told us, go to the creek, walk 50 paces southeast and set up your scope. So, we went to the creek, we walked 50 paces southeast, we set up our scope, we looked through our scope and the first thing we saw was this tiny little shorebird. It was so cool. It was right there.”
Theriault has launched a blog at birdymcbirdface.blogspot.ca that features photos and anecdotes she hopes encourage others into birding.
“It’s a whole new world of knowledge that I’ve opened myself up to and now I want others to experience,” she said.
She added her the impressive Young birder Award accolade has motivated her to push her pursuit further.
“I feel that’s just like everybody asking me to continue, really…It makes me feel like I really need to live this up,” she said. “Mom got a really nice camera for her birthday so, of course, I’ve stolen it and I’m going to take lots of pictures of birds.”