Nature Canada
Photo by Tofino Photography

IBA Caretakers: People Protecting Birds Across Canada – Vancouver Island

Photo of Josie Osborne

Photo by Mike Farrow

Vancouver Island is well-known for its giant conifers, abundant wildlife and rugged coastline. First time visitors are easily blown away by the magnitude of nature – there’s no better place to feel the strength and beauty of the natural world than at the foot of a towering Douglas fir. On the west coast of the island you’ll find another stunning gem – mudflats. Big ones.Tofino Mudflats Important Bird Area covers the largest set of tidal flats on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

It’s also where you’ll find Josie Osborne taking young nature enthusiasts on their first birding outing.Josie, a marine biologist and staff member at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, has cared for the Tofino Mudflats IBA for nearly six years. After living with a self-professed ‘bird block’ for many years, Josie found the Important Bird Area Caretaker program to be a natural fit with her educational and interpretative work in her previous position with the Raincoast Education Society.

“I like to tell people that birding is like tennis, you learn tennis best when you play with someone just a little better than you,” said Josie, “If you go out with someone who knows their birds just a bit better, you can pretty quickly reach their level. And then you are both learning together.”

Once a month in winter, Josie leads a group of people of all ages on to the mudflats where they practice their newly acquired bird identification skills. Expert birders from the area will often come out to help beginner birders learn the ropes. Josie helps coordinate a program, “Learning Better Bird Skills”, which makes birding accessible and brings people together around a love for nature.

“The program is as much about birding as it is about bringing people together out in nature on a regular basis,” said Josie, “In a recent survey, we learned that the number one reason people came birding was for the social aspect.”

Image of adult with two kids birdingAn ardent advocate for nature, Josie sits on the advisory committee for Tofino Mudflats IBA which meets twice a year to discuss issues affecting the mudflats. As a committee member, she liaises with representatives from government and environmental groups to ensure the IBA is protected and remains a haven for wildlife.

For amateur birders hoping to hone their birding skills, Tofino Mudflats Important Bird Area provides no shortage of tidal pools and rocky out-croppings to explore. Covering 32 square kilometers, it includes six mudflats and serves as a critical stop-over site for migrating birds.

Locals and tourists are treated to quite a sight when tens of thousands of Western Sandpipers pass through on their biannual migrations. It’s such a spectacular event that organizers of Tofino’s Annual Shorebird Festival have timed the festivities around the spring migration. If you happen to be in Tofino in May, why not stop by and take part in fun, family-friendly activities? Bird watching will be part of the mix, but so will other events, including an art show!

Tofino Mudflats IBA is one of nearly six hundred Important Bird Areas in Canada. The Canadian IBA Program is a cornerstone in science-based, site-specific conservation for birds and biodiversity which has been co-delivered by Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada since 1996. Acting with regional conservation partners, both organizations have built an exhaustive IBA database, finalized almost one hundred site conservation plans and helped communities implement more than 150 local projects.

Important Bird Area Caretakers like Josie are caring for over two hundred IBAs across the country, playing a pivotal role in ensuring birds and their habitat are protected. The IBA Caretakers Network was launched in 2006 by BC Nature in British Columbia with financial assistance from Nature Canada’s Communities in Action Fund, and is supported by national sponsor TransCanada Corporation. In 2009, TransCanada Corporation committed $1 million over the next five years to support Nature Canada’s bird conservation efforts.

Are you a member of a naturalist club in your community? If you are actively involved in conserving and protecting natural spaces in your area, joining the IBA Caretaker Network could give you the support and guidance to do more!

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