A New Era For BC Young Birders

A New Era for Young Birders in BC

Young Birders at Boundary Bay - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We are all getting older and so are the young birders. I founded the young birder field program in 2014. I saw all these young birders that were birding alone locally in Metro Vancouver and wanted to bring them together. The program took off with a bang. It attracted many youth and we started taking field trips in the city and outside of it. The goal was to show the youth birds they don't normally get a chance to see at home. I wanted to show them as much of BC and its birds as possible. We were quite successful at this.  

Hiking together in Whistler BC - Photo: Alice Sun

In 2016, British Columbia Field Ornithologists aka BCFO (through George Clulow and Carlo Giovanella) asked me to bring my program and run it under their organization. I happily did so.  We would combine the young birder award program they designed with my field trip program.This worked very well. They helped subsidize the gas and car rental fees by 20%. I used to pay it all out of my own pocket before BCFO helped me. So I was very grateful.

You were all so little when I first started this program - my how time flies! - Photos: Melissa Hafting

BCFO also helped me to connect with young birders across the province. The Young birder program now has over 20 members from as far away as Nelson and Fort St. James, Vancouver Island, Pender Island, Kelowna and Kamloops, just to name a few.

I loved connecting youth from not only the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley but across the province. I took the youth on field trips in the Southern Interior, Vancouver island and overnight trips and pelagics. 

Young birder Virginia feeding a Canada Jay on Blackcomb - Photo: Melissa Hafting

So many hiking trips allowed us to see beautiful British Columbia together - Photo: Ian Harland

We had the time of our lives. We learned so much from each other. I feel I learned way more from them than they did from me. They made me laugh, gave me joy in my life and became my friends and family.

However, many are now aged out of the program. They are attending university now, as the program ends at age 18. Locally, there are only 3 kids that are in the correct age group. The other youth are scattered across the province and can only do about one trip a year with me due to travel costs. Therefore, I've decided to step down from the position of the young birder program leader at this time. I will take this break, as it's been a tremendous joy but a lot of work; that is just not feasible for such low numbers.

The sun may be setting on my time as leader of the young birder program but our memories live on 

I want to thank all the volunteers who helped me so much in this program especially to Ilya Povalyaev who helped me on many field trips. I also want to thank other parents and volunteers who have helped me on field trips: Cathy Reader and Warren Lee, Quentin Brown, Rob Lyske, Jeremiah Kennedy, Peter Candido, Ren Ferguson, Dick Cannings and John Reynolds. 
 All of your time and energy and kindness and knowledge shared with the youth meant a lot to them and to myself. I want to also thank Krista De Groot and Michelle Lamberson for providing kind and gracious financial donations.

I also want to thank Rob Butler, Bob Elner and Krista De Groot for getting the youth involved in the International Ornithological Congress in 2018. I want to thank Monica Nugent and many others who have come out and supported young birder events when I've put out the call. I also would like to thank Cameron Eckert, Liana and Monica Nugent, John Gordon, Alan Moat, Guy Pambrun and Michael Ashbee who have donated books, binoculars, optics, games and more to the young birder program. Thanks to Mike Fung and Josh Inman for the treasury work they provided.

I want to thank all the parents who have allowed their kids to take part in this program. I want to thank the parents for all their words of thanks and support and for driving to meet me on early weekend mornings and for their financial support to help make these events happen. The youth are blessed to have you in their lives. Thank you for trusting me with your children. It's meant so much to me.

The moment we found the holy grail (Ptarmigan!) on Illal Peak  - Photos: Melissa Hafting

I also want to make a special thanks to George Clulow who has been available to help and guide me through any problem that has occurred. His advice and guidance has been so appreciated. Thank you George for so deeply supporting the young birders in BC.

I want to also thank Carlo Giovanella for being another champion and supporter of young birders in BC and for praising me for the work I've done with the youth. I want to thank him for his work with the young birder award program and for promoting youth across BC with it.

Young Birder Award recipients (Virginia and Bridget) - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I want to thank Larry Cowan for making the young birder hats. I also want to thank him for taking the time and expense to make the checklists for my program. He just is always there when I need him for such things and his kindness has meant so much to me. The hats have really made the youth feel part of a club/community and we love them.

I want to also give a special thanks to Clive Keen. Clive has posted all the trip reports I've sent and all the art, poems, stories and photos of the young birders in the Birding Magazine. Clive has showed such interest and support of young birders by promoting their achievements and creativity. He's made the youth really feel part of the magazine and BCFO birding community where some felt distant before. So thank you sir. The inclusion the young birders have felt from you has made a world of difference.

Most of all I want to thank the young birders of BC. All of you are special to me. All of you make me proud and all of you have and are going to make BC and this world a better place.You care so much about the environment and birds and are so intelligent. I watch the older ones of you mentor the younger ones in the program and I can tell you are going to be great leaders.

I will miss doing field trips as a group with you. However, many of you know before the young birder program began I took many of you out separately and during the program I continued that and after I leave, that won't change. I will be there for you whenever you need me. Many of you call me up with id questions, personal problems or just to chat and go birding and I'll always be that person for you. The joy and purpose you have added to my life has been immeasurable. I remember finding 44 grouse one day of 4 different species with Liron, finding Bridget's lifer Flam Owl and Boreal Chickadee, finding Josh's lifer Ruffed Grouse and the list goes on for memorable one on one adventures.

The bonds we have formed will never disappear - Photo: Bridget Spencer

As many of you now prepare for careers in ornithology, biology and environmental science and even other non related fields I have full confidence you are bringing much needed hope to a difficult world and society. I am so proud of the accomplishments you have made already in your young lives.

Thank you again for being part of the young birder program for the past five years. I've watched many of you grow up and many are now not only taller than me but have now become more skilled birders than the adult who once taught them. I always saw you as my equals from day one though to be clear and hope I always made you feel that way.

The youth are aware I've ended my role this year and the cards, gifts and heartfelt words and photos that they have sent me have reduced me to tears. I'm so touched by the gratitude and love. I did all of this work for you and you were worth every minute of it. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. The lifers we shared together and all the moments and trips you wrote to me about are burned on my brain and heart forever. Finding our White-tailed Ptarmigan is just one special event in a list of many. The thought provoking discussion on climate change, politics, and bullying issues at school and all the laughs and togetherness have taught me so much. You all have inspired me and will continue to inspire me every day of my life. It has been an honour being a mentor and teacher to you all.

Young Birders at the Sooke Hawk Watch - Photo: Ren Ferguson

I will never forget how much fun we had feeding Canada Jays at Manning Park - Photos: Melissa Hafting

It's not easy to say goodbye and step down but the time is right. I hope that the program will continue one day and start spreading in satellite programs across BC. It's so important to mentor youth and promote them in our hobby. No longer is our hobby dominated by only older Caucasian men. Our youth shows us we have many upcoming racially diverse women as well. In addition our program has youth of all sexual orientations and genders as well.

I will never forget the memories we shared... like this trip to Sooke (top) and Whistler (below) - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We are an all inclusive community and program, which I'm so proud of and want it to always remain so. The youth told me my program was an escape for some of them and a safe place where many developed lifelong friends and that right there is what I was striving for.

I'm proud of the program I founded and started and know the youth of BC will ensure that sense of community and pride continues. Many of the youth will be featured with me in a new TV birding documentary coming out next year on CBC. I am so happy that the wonderful and deserving youth in this province are being showcased.

It sure is not easy for me to say goodbye to you guys! (Young Birders pelagic in Ucluelet) - Photo: Warren Lee

Best wishes to you all and I'll see you out there very soon on our next birding adventure.
Thank you for everything but especially for enriching my life.

I will see you all at our last event - The Christmas Bird Count for Youth on Dec 29th! Full info and how to register for that is HERE

 ~Melissa Hafting


  1. Thanks Melissa for all your work. I think it is great to show young people the beauty of birds and nature that's surrounding us. If I were younger, I would have jumped to the opportunity :-)
    I am surprised there is so little interest in this program, but then again I could be 'blinded'... Enjoy your 'new' free time.

    1. Thank you dear Iwan sorry for my late reply as I'm
      Currently away. Really appreciate your kindness :)

  2. Congratulations on all your work in creating the program. Great to see all these young people enjoying birding and nature. You created an amazing program all by yourself!

    1. Thank you so much it really is so kind of you I'm touched!

  3. This is such a heartfelt summary and tribute for your program and the lives you touched--and for those whose lives touched you too.

    1. Thank you so much Bryony for your kind words it truly means so much!

  4. The smiles on the faces of the young birders says it all. Congratulations on running such a successful program!

  5. Thank you Mel for everything you've done for young birders and the entire BC birding community! You're a truly inspiring person and also one of the most knowledgeable birders I know. Hope you're having a fantastic trip!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words you have touched my heart. I'm so proud of all you have accomplished and it was an
      Honour to work with you! You and the other young birders have inspired me to no end thank you for everything !


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