A Field Guide to the Birders of Southern Ontario

Text and photography by Robert Catto

The Limestone Islands in Georgian Bay, near where I grew up in Canada, are an official nature reserve; you need a permit to visit them - unless you're accompanied by someone who's been appointed a steward of the reserve.

These are my parents.  They're birdwatchers.

They've travelled the world doing this together, for over fifty years, and they've covered the globe from pole to pole - well, the Arctic to the Antarctic - and most stops in between.  Their hats, bags & jackets are dotted with souvenirs of their travels, and their bookshelves bursting with field guides to various countries.  

Their life list of species they've seen is long, but never full; and even at our cottage, where they spend every summer, there's always the chance of a new species extending its usual range (in 2006, there was a pelican!); and a moral responsibility to document this year's hatch, for long term trending of which species are moving in, or moving out of their familiar territory.  All as volunteers, of course.

When I was a child, these expeditions seemed interminable; but now, living on the other side of the world, I miss them.  Picking our way through the reefs to find a spot to land the boat, tossing an anchor over the back, making sure it's got a hook on a rock, then dashing to the front before we clip the shore.  The gentle back-and-forth as my parents debate something they've caught a glimpse of or heard in the bushes; Dad taking dictation into a portable recorder, Mum jotting things down in one of her many notebooks in birding code.  It's never-ending -  but in a different way to me, now.

Somehow, I now find I have a pair of binoculars, and a field guide to Australian birds - not for my own life list, mind you, but so I can at least accurately report on what I've seen recently - and so, it begins...

Robert Catto

I'm a Canadian-Kiwi photographer in Sydney Australia, specialising in performing arts, live events, editorial and corporate / commercial work.