Langley birdwatcher John Gordon said his avocation is a good choice for seniors that allows them to socialize while maintaining safe distances (John Gordon/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Birdwatching may be the perfect sport for seniors during the pandemic

Social distancing? Check. Socializing with like-minded people? Check. Fun? You bet.

When word got out recently that a rarely-seen Brown Pelican had been spotted at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, Langley’s John Gordon hopped in his car and headed for Delta.

“The bird was seen at 5 [in the afternoon] on a dusty, smoggy afternoon,” Gordon recalled.

He estimated about a dozen birdwatchers from various Lower Mainland communities made the trip, all intent on adding the species to their personal tally for the year.

So far this season, Gordon, a retired newspaper photographer, has recorded 244 different types of birds in the Lower Mainland (which is defined as 264th Street west to the water), tying his total for the previous year.

READ ALSO: Despite reports of decline, birds flocking to national parks in Canadian Rockies

Now, with less than three months to go, he is hoping to improve that to 250 – a tall order because the remaining species are just not that common.

He has company in his quest.

“About a dozen of us [locally] are chasing this magical number of 250,” Gordon related.

Gordon, 67, had been what he calls a “casual” birdwatcher until his retirement, after which he began to devote more time to what he refers to as a “pastime.”

Okay, maybe a little more than just that.

“It’s a passion, which is all-involving,” Gordon commented.

He now has a not-for-profit blog, “listening to birds,” that is devoted to birdwatching, and features his many photos, at

“I volunteer my time and expertise in photography, and my growing expertise in birdwatching,” Gordon said.

He likes the way birdwatching can lead participants into interesting tangents, specializing in particular areas.

“I’m interested in what birds are eating, the name of the tree they’re in, their habitat, and migration,” Gordon summarized.

He enjoys the amazed look in the face of novice birdwatchers when he has taken them to see mass migrations, like a recent arrival in Delta.

“Thousands and thousands and thousands of sandpipers migrating to South America through the Lower Mainland,” Gordon described.

It is about as ideal an avocation as one could hope for in a time of social distancing brought on by the pandemic, he maintains – especially for seniors.

Gordon recently took a group to Derby Reach Regional Park near Fort Langley, and found maintaining a safe distance was not a problem – though showing the images he shot using the back display screen of his digital camera proved somewhat challenging.

For fellow seniors, he recommends birdwatching as a way to get around the isolation that COVID has imposed on older, more vulnerable people, and experience social interactions with like-minded souls.

“All you need is a pair of good binoculars and a field guide.”

While there is a bit of good-natured competition between birdwatchers wanting to spot rare species, vying for numbers is not the point, he stressed.

“The thing about it is the camaraderie,” Gordon related. “Just go with the journey.”

For instance, one of his goals post-retirement was to visit every park in Metro Vancouver, and birdwatching helped him achieve that goal.

“This gets you out to places you wouldn’t normally go.”

READ ALSO: Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

One high-tech aid Gordon recommends obtaining is the free E Bird app, which links amateur birdwatchers to an online database of bird observations, operated by Cornell University – which provides scientists, researchers, and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.

It has provided him with the experience of being a “citizen scientist” working with the university, and during a trip to Mexico, using the app, Gordon was easily able to tally more than 200 bird sightings.

Gordon says the best way to get introduced to birdwatching is to join a local naturalist club, with such groups available in Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver.

In Langley and Aldergrove, that would be the Langley Field Naturalists (LFN), who can be contacted online or emailed at

Bob Puls of the LFN has devoted considerable hours to birdwatching, but it isn’t his primary interest.

“I don’t consider myself a specialist. I consider myself a naturalist,” Puls elaborated.

“We take an interest in all forms of nature.”

Puls enjoys birdwatching, but he is careful to stress that he is not as passionately committed to the extent that John Gordon is.

“We taught John everything he knows, and now he’s teaching us,” Puls laughed.

Participating in a non-profit organization that aims to promote enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of the natural environment, the Puls said it offers a way for newcomers to find out what “clicks” and what doesn’t.

For example, now that the fall rains have begun, Puls will be looking for mushrooms.

“You can look at all sorts of fungi.”

By becoming a member of LFN, one also become a member of BC Nature, the provincial body, Puls said.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Drier weather produces larger numbers for 120th annual bird count in Langley

LFN members also takes part in the annual bird count and are currently involved in doing a bio-inventory of a parcel of Township land that is not open to the public.

As for the Brown Pelican that Gordon was pursuing, despite the less-than ideal conditions, he was able to spot it and even got a photo.

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


Langley birdwatcher John Gordon had a close encounter with one of his subjects (John Gordon/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Langley birdwatcher and photographer John Gordon took this picture of a Townsend’s Warbler. (John Gordon/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Just Posted

Voters in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission and Langley may head back to polls in 2021

Election of local politicians in BC vote would trigger by-elections in several Fraser Valley cities

Coast Spas in Langley was ordered closed by the Fraser Health Authority after 12 staff came down with COVID-19 (undated Google Street View image)
COVID-19 outbreak closes Langley spa manufacturer

Fraser Health reports 12 employees have tested positive

Ferdinand Bredenholler played the last post at the Fort Langley Remembrance Day service in 2019, when a crowd of 6,500 attended. This year, due to the pandemic, organizers are asking the public to follow the ceremonies online rather than attending. (Langley Advance Times file)
A stay-at-home Remembrance Day planned for Fort Langley

Organizers take the annual ceremony online

Pastor Brad Sumner is inviting Halloween trick-or-treaters to visit the Jericho Ridge Community Church for a COVID-compliant celebration. (Courtesy Jericho Ridge Community Church)
VIDEO: A drive-in Halloween at the Jericho Ridge Community Church

A COVID-compliant event for kids on the Langley-Surrey border

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Mounties looking for teen boy ‘unlawfully at large’ from Riverview psychiatric hospital

Nolan Godron left the hospital, located at 2721 Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam, without consent on Saturday

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read