Clustered on the corner of West Cordova and Jervis streets, a set of unlikely peeping Toms stands beneath a glass building. Fifteen birders are training their binoculars on a stranger’s balcony, where six finches are perched on a dead tree. “This is where it gets kind of creepy,” says group leader and biologist Christopher Di Corrado, as the driver of a black Mercedes SUV slows, confused by the commotion.
As a birdwatching destination, Vancouver is unique. To the north is Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre wood that’s home to a heronry, bald eagle nests, and more than 230 bird species. South of the city is Richmond, which sees millions of birds pass through because of its location on the migratory Pacific Flyway. Then there’s the suburb of Ladner, home to 850 acres of bird sanctuary and wetlands where 75,000 or so snow geese settle before they fly north to Siberia in the spring. Delta, across the Fraser River, is one of the most bird-rich areas in the country, and home to a group lobbying hard for the title of Birding Capital of Canada.
That morning, Di Corrado’s birders began wandering the city’s waterfront for prized sightings at 6:20 a.m., fanning out across the grass in Coal Harbour Park. “Maybe today will be our day for a peregrine falcon,” he says, holding up two crossed fingers. “That’s my nemesis bird,” says Hannah Stockford, a 17-year-old birder who has flown in from Ontario for the 27th International Ornithological Congress (also known as the Olympics of birdwatching) and the Vancouver International Bird Festival. Someone squeals “Hummingbird! Hummingbird!” and Stockford takes off running with the rest of the pack.