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

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

 

Gaelen Schnare on the shore of Kootenay Lake. He says he first started watching birds when he was three or four. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Gaelen Schnare on the shore of Kootenay Lake. He says he first started watching birds when he was three or four. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

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

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

Just Posted

Vaccinations taking place. File photo
Interior Health officials urge COVID-19 vaccine registration as eligibility opens up

Over 365,000 vaccine doeses have been administered throughout the Interior Health region

New Border Bruins owner Dr. Mark Szynkaruk reps team colours with his young sons and wife Tracey. Photo courtesy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins
KIJHL’s Border Bruins sold to Grand Forks doctor

The league announced the sale Friday, May 14

File photo
Paramedic training returning to Castlegar

Emergency Medical Responder and Primary Care Paramedic training to take place in Castlegar

Emerson Potter, a Grade 3 student at Blewett Elementary, advocated for changes to help him use his wheelchair on the school grounds. He’s seen here with his parents Lindsay Thompson and Keith Potter, and Blewett principal Tim Mushumanski (right). Photo: Tyler Harper
‘Pretty awesome’: Nelson-area student advocates for school to improve outdoor accessibility

Emerson Potter, who lives with cerebral palsy, had trouble moving around Blewett Elementary’s grounds

Doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine are seen being prepared on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Decatur, Ga. Hundreds of children, ages 12 to 15, received the Pfizer vaccine at the DeKalb Pediatric Center, just days after it was approved for use within their age group. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
One death, 60 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The death is connected to the outbreak at Spring Valley long-term care in Kelowna

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Steven Shearer, <em>Untitled. </em>(Dennis Ha/Courtesy of Steven Shearer)
Vancouver photographer’s billboards taken down after complaints about being ‘disturbing’

‘Context is everything’ when it comes to understanding these images, says visual art professor Catherine Heard

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

Trina Hunt's remains were found in the Hope area on March 29. Her family is asking the public to think back to the weekend prior to when she went missing. (Photo courtesy of IHIT.)
Cousin of missing woman found in Hope says she won’t have closure until death is solved

Trina Hunt’s family urges Hope residents to check dashcam, photos to help find her killer

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Police are at Ecole Mount Prevost Elementary but the students have been evacuated. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Gardener finds buried explosives, sparking evacuation of Cowichan school

Students removed from school in an ‘abundance of caution’

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen outside a hospital in Jammu, India, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP/Channi Anand)
B.C. donates $500K to Red Cross COVID-19 relief efforts in India

The money will provide oxygen cylinders and ambulances for patients in communities grappling with the virus

Most Read