Gaelen Schnare fishing at Cottonwood Lake near Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Gaelen Schnare fishing at Cottonwood Lake near Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Eagle eyes: Gaelen Schnare’s passion for birding

The 14 year old has earned respect from a community of bird watchers

Gaelen Schnare keeps his binoculars and camera handy while he’s being interviewed at the Nelson waterfront about his life as a birder.

Even when he’s thoughtfully answering questions, he’s always finely attuned to his surroundings. The 14 year old notices even the most faint or distant bird call.

“I started looking at birds when I was about three or four,” he says before interrupting himself mid-thought to point out a nearby bird. “Hey, there’s a kildeer right there.”

Even though Gaelen has been interested in birds as long as he can remember, he didn’t get it from his parents, who were not birders before he started teaching them. Now his notebooks contain observations of about 700 birds from three countries, and for the third year in a row he is one of the presenters at this year’s Creston Valley Bird Fest on May 7, 8, and 9.

“I got my first camera for Christmas when I was eight. And that’s when I really started doing a lot more birding, like intentionally going out and finding birds. There’s a yellow-rumped warbler right above us here.”

Much of his attention during his school day is taken up with planning for birding or his other passion, fishing.

“That’s what I think about a lot during the week. Where am I going to go this weekend? Or even, where am I going to go after school today? That’s a bufflehead, that one that just flew. I think, maybe I could get out to Taghum or head down to the waterfront.”

He’s the only kid he knows who is interested in birds.

“I’ve never really met another kid who thinks birding is like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool.’ I just kind of wish that there was more younger birders because it’s a great way to spend my free time. There’s an American pipit! Well, not my free time, because this is a little bit more than just a hobby.”

Gaelen documents his birding photos and stories on his website, Kootenaybirdkid.com.

Gaelen Schnare is an accomplished bird photographer. Here’s his photo of a long-billed dowicher. Photo: Gaelen Schnare

Gaelen Schnare is an accomplished bird photographer. Here’s his photo of a long-billed dowicher. Photo: Gaelen Schnare

His mother, Deirdre Collier, says she is constantly learning more about birds from her son.

“He’s very patient with me and his dad,” she says.

“It’s a magical journey. It’s a deep blessing. It keeps me on my toes all the time. I’m constantly learning. He’s so connected to his passion.”

Nelson expert birder Paul Prappas has known Gaelen for several years and often goes birding with him.

“He really has the gift for birding,” Prappas says, “but more importantly, has the love for it. I mean, he is completely passionate about it, so entrepreneurial, and so mature. When we talk to him about it, we just talk to him as if he’s another adult.”

Asked about his most memorable birding experience, Gaelan describes a trip to Ecuador and also his sighting of a fieldfare, a bird normally seen in Russia and northern Europe that was reported in the Salmon Arm area over a period of several months, attracting birders from afar, as reported sightings of rare birds often do.

He and his parents drove to Salmon Arm in January to look for the fieldfare.

“It landed right in front of me on a branch and I got a beautiful photo of it,” Gaelen says. “And it’s really exciting because it’s a beautiful bird. It was incredible.”

His favourite bird is the Bohemian waxwing, which he remembers viewing in mountain ash trees in the winter when he was a child.

“They arrive here in large flocks in the winter, up to 2,000 birds, and it’s really a spectacular sight to see them. I also really like warblers and sparrows and gulls. I really like shore birds like killdeers and that kind of thing.”

While Gaelen is hyper-alert to the small details of the habits and songs of birds, he also has a big-picture view of ecosystem health. He has noticed the effects of climate change in just the few years he’s been birding.

“You can see the effects every year, there’s less and less shorebirds,” he says. “I’ve been seeing a lot of places that were once excellent birding go to just being like a mud pit that doesn’t have any birds.”

Kootenay Casting

Gaelen is also passionate about fishing and runs Kootenay Casting, a YouTube channel documenting his fishing trips made throughout the year with his friend Elias Lussier.

The two young men are intensely focused on fishing.

“In the summer we were fishing like crazy, like, six out of seven days a week we were going fishing somewhere,” Gaelen says. “And when we weren’t fishing we were watching fishing videos.”

Gaelen only keeps the fish he intends to eat, and he eats no meat other than the fish he catches. For him, this is an ethical and environmental principle mostly related to climate change.

“There’s a lot of pollution caused by the meat industry,” he says, “and there’s a lot of cruelty to animals, especially in factory farming, so I didn’t want to support that, so I decided I’m just going to eat my own meat that I’ve caught myself.”

His favourite fish is rainbow trout.

“I love rainbow. They’re hard fighters and there’s lots of them around. They taste great and they make a great meal. They come in every size you can imagine, from tiny little two-inch minnows to big 20-pound Gerrards.”

But Gaelen’s most immediate project is the upcoming bird festival, which will take place mostly on Zoom. To see the schedule and purchase tickets, go to https://www.crestonvalleybirds.ca/registration.html.

Festival co-ordinator Ulrike Sliworsky says Gaelen hears and identifies birds quicker than she can, and she’s been birding since the 1980s.

She says he will take festival participant groups on a birding expedition at the Creston Valley Wildlife Centre on Zoom.

“He has a powerpoint presentation with bird sounds, his photos are incredible, and he is very entertaining” she says, adding that Gaelen has often made presentations to school classes as well.

“The students love him. They get excited that he’s someone so young and so knowledgeable.”

Gaelen gave his first presentation to Creston elementary school classes when he was nine, and until the pandemic he had done this a couple of times per year.

“It’s exciting to share my passion with other people my age or maybe even a little bit younger,” he says. “It was incredible how many kids, after watching my presentations, expressed interest in birds and started telling me all their stories about birds in their yard.”

Meanwhile, Gaelen is keeping his binoculars by his side because one of his priorities is to see an American bittern.

“I haven’t seen one in ages, it’s been years,” he says.



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Gaelen Schnare checking out birds on the shore of Kootenay Lake. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Gaelen Schnare checking out birds on the shore of Kootenay Lake. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Gaelen Schnare checking out birds on the shore of Kootenay Lake. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Gaelen Schnare checking out birds on the shore of Kootenay Lake. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Just Posted

Accused drug trafficker to plead to federal, provincial charges in June

Matthew Straume said he’d missed his last court date because he was ill

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks sex crimes trial adjourned until summer

The trial was set to begin at the city courthouse Wednesday, May 5

Photo: Kathleen Saylors
Grand Forks city council votes down motion to support Penticton in paramountcy battle

Coun. Neil Krog insisted Penticton’s issue with Victoria is about city bylaws, not homelessness

The burnt-out remains of a fifth-wheel trailer stand at Highway 3, near the Kettleside RV Park Wednesday, May 5. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks fire department investigating fifth-wheel blaze

Two people in the trailer escaped without injury, according to Dep. Fire Chief Stephane Dionne

Bob Keating was CBC’s Kootenays correspondent for 21 years. He retired last month to start a podcasting company. Photo: Tyler Harper
The voice of the Kootenays: CBC correspondent Bob Keating retires

Keating had reported out of Nelson since 2000

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Most Read