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First Person - More than a hobby

Local birder Michael Thompson keeps an eye out for our feathered friends

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The growing importance of bird watching is not lost on Whistler’s Michael Thompson.

Just as canaries were used to alert miners to the presence of gas, and eagle populations alerted people to the dangers of the pesticide DDT, Whistler birds have a story to tell.

To know that story, you first have to get to know the birds – what species live here, and in what numbers? Where do they live? And how do they fit into our ecology, whether they’re visitors to the valley on their seasonal migrations or residents?

Once a month Thompson co-ordinates a bird walk for the Whistler Naturalists, inviting expert birders like Karl Ricker, Nancy Ricker and Heather Baines to lead tours along Whistler’s lakes. Sometimes Thompson leads the group himself, but mostly he goes along as an extra set of eyes.

During those walks around Alta Lake and Green Lake, Thompson helps to compile a list of birds spotted. Over time those lists will be used to show what varieties of birds call Whistler home and when; where those birds live; and, given enough years, those lists will also show change, for better or for worse.

For his contributions to the Whistler Naturalists, and his dedication to the monthly bird walk, Thompson was presented with the society’s Naturalist of the Year award at the group’s general meeting on Nov. 13.

A homeowner in Whistler since 1981, Thompson was an active member of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment in its early years, and helped to found the Whistler Naturalists almost five years ago with four others.

The goal was to create a nature group in Whistler that was not founded on advocacy and environmental politics like AWARE, but rather on education – building an awareness and appreciation of the natural world.

Pique sat down with Michael Thompson to discuss nature, birds and the future of naturalism in Whistler.

Pique : When you were presented with the Naturalist of the Year award, (fellow Whistler Naturalist founder) Bob Brett referred to you as the reluctant bird expert…

MT: The word expert shouldn’t enter into the discussion in any way. I’m not an expert. I don’t hold a candle to Karl Ricker or Nancy Ricker or Heather Baines or Max Götz – they’re the real experts here. I’ve learned so much from them over the years.

Pique: What’s your background? And how did you get into birding?

MT: I grew up in Montreal, and we had a country place in the Laurentians. In the winter we’d go up on the weekends skiing and in the summer it was the lakes, and we had a little cabin there. We were three kids in the family, and the shoes would come off in June and went on again in September.

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