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Member Spotlight Jared Clarke

by Elaine Ehman

Jared’s earliest memory of Nature Regina is of attending a May bird count. He was in Trevor Herriot’s group along with his mom.  They did the south side of Wascana Park and walked all the way from the legislative building and down the boardwalk to the display ponds in front of the University of Regina.  “I just remembered having so much fun,” he recalls.  Although Jared would have been 11 or 12 at the time, he’d actually started bird watching at the age of 5.  His family had a bird feeder in their backyard and Jared saw an unusual little bird.  It was just sitting there under the window, scratching at the ground and he asked his parents what it was.  They were not bird watchers but that day his mom took him to get a bird book and they figured out it was a rufus coloured towhee (now a spotted towhee). Armed with his new bird book, Jared went on to learn his backyard birds. 

With his mom as his driver, Jared started participating in May and Christmas bird counts. He recalls a particular (I’m guessing) Christmas Bird Count with Trevor at Craven. Their morning had gone really well.  In the afternoon they were following someone in their group down a little dirt road covered in snow when his mom slid? off the tracks and got stuck.  As any young boy would be, Jared was so embarrassed (“just dying”) and so was his mom.  In retrospect, Jared feels he may have overreacted that day, so “sorry mom”.   When Jared turned 16 and could drive himself to the Nature Regina field trips, all these birding opportunities opened up.  

Most of the time Jared was the sole young person.  At that time there was a Yahoo email group called Sask Birds and the only other young person into birds was Ryan Dudragne from Swift Current.  Occasionally Trevor’s daughter Kate would come along.  Although it was usually just Jared and people who were his grandparents’ age, Jared didn’t mind being the only young person and still had fun.  However, when he   sees young people now going bird watching with a group friends, he’s excited. There’s this new generation of birders coming up and they have more support within their age group, which Jared thinks is awesome (although he does admit to being a little envious).  

 

In 2005, thanks to an introduction by Trevor Herriot, Jared met Stuart Houston and from there started his career as a bander.  Jared went up to Stuart’s place in the Kindersley area to do a ferruginous hawk weekend and the plan was that Jared would only observe.  Stuart had some other banders who worked with him, but the two people who were supposed to join him didn’t show up so it was just Stuart and Jared.  Stuart climbed the first tree and Jared followed him up. Stuart showed Jared how to band the ferruginous hawks and then for the rest of the weekend, Jared banded all of the hawks.  Trial by fire but Jared absolutely loved it!  

Stuart was pleased so Jared went back with him a few weekends later to do Swainson’s hawks and that winter Stuart arranged that Jared could get a sub-permit under him and band on his own around Regina.  In 2006, Jared started banding  saw-whet owls by Edenwold. Stuart had sent him a string of 100 bands thinking he wasn’t likely to catch any more than that, but Jared caught 126 that year. He also banded great horned owls, ferruginous hawks and Swainson’s hawks.  According to Jared, it spiraled out of control and led to his own master’s permit in 2009.  

Growing up, Jared always wanted to be an ornithologist, but his first degree was in biology. One of his distractions at university was that spring migration would correspond with finals and Jared would go birdwatching instead of studying.  He was a full-time year-round park naturalist for Wascana Centre Authority from 2009 -2013 and prior to that he was a seasonal naturalist for three summers.   It was around February 2010 that Jared started the Wascana Young Naturalist program. Aimed at 9 to 13-year-olds, the 8 or 10-week program ran twice a week. There was a late winter/spring session and a fall session, always on an evening after school from 6:30 to 8:30.  In the winter when it was dark, they used the overwinter structure as their home base and did indoor stuff. A little later in the session, when the days were longer, they would spend more time outside doing all sorts of activities: pond dipping, building bird houses, learning about bats, and of course, birding.   

One year Nature Regina bought birding books for all the participants. Jared structured his birding for beginner courses to be less about identifying a specific bird in the field and more about how to use a field guide so you could identify important features of any bird you saw, go back to your book and actually figure it out.  

When he was growing up, Jared’s family often went to visit family in Calgary and Jared would sit in the back seat of the car, studying his bird book front to back. Nature Regina provided Sibley’s guides for the Young Naturalists, and it was Jared’s hope that the kids would study them as he had.  And some of them did.  

In all, Jared spent 8 years working for the Wascana Centre Authority (WCA), and the Wascana Young Naturalists program continues to this day.  While working at the WCA, Jared had been doing environmental education with kids. He had school classes coming down to the park and did pond dipping and interpreting the wildlife conservation habitat with them. He realized that he loved it.  Being a teacher seemed like a good idea, so in 2013 he began his after degree in Education.  

Although he studied to be a high school biology teacher, Jared’s first teaching job offer was a 6/7-year elementary class at Lakeview School.  Nature has always come into his classes in a big way, which is why Jared likes elementary school.  In his eight years as an elementary teacher, Jared has taken nature and woven it through Arts Education, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.  How he describes it is, “We have this theme. We go outside and go for a walk.  We can sit down and write some poetry or we can sketch some stuff and in high school we don’t have that flexibility.”  

Every year Jared has taught his students to identify 60 birds and yes, they will be on the test. He does it for marks but is pretty lenient, as long as they try. As he says, it’s not making or breaking their grade 6 science mark, but some of the kids just excel at it.  His timeline had the students learning the birds early in spring, followed by field trips in May and June (camping, Dallas Valley, etc.). What was amazing to the kids was that the 60 birds they’d learn would be the 60 birds they’d likely see on these adventures.  “While walking through Wascana we’d hear chickadees and there’s a white-breasted nuthatch, a downy woodpecker is calling.  And it’s the continual touchpoint of these birds that we’ve been learning and what I loved was that kids would come back from lunch, and they’d say, ‘Mr. Clarke, I saw a red-winged blackbird on the walk back from school today!’” And Mr. Clarke would think, “Ha ha, I’ve hooked you!”  

Jared would tell his students that he didn’t feel bad about making them learn 60 birds because he’d likely be the only teacher in their school career that would present this perspective for them. We know it’s had an effect on the kids as some of his former Lakeview students invited Jared to their grade 8 leaving ceremony and learning 60 birds made it into their speeches!  

As parents of twin 11-year-old girls, Jared and his wife Kristen Martin (also a biologist) have had their own kids birding since literally before they were born.  Both Jared and Kristen were regional coordinators for the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas (SBBA) from 2017 to 2021 and most of their summer holidays were planned around atlassing.  When the SBBA project finished, their girls had already spent half their lives involved in birding.  

For the Breeding Bird Atlas to be a success, the coordinators recognized very early on that they needed more birders and that they needed to put a lot more energy into bringing people into the bird watching fold. And the coordinators wanted to increase the birders already involved knowledge base so they could become more proficient birders.  The idea being that let’s get people interested in birds and then we’ll attach at the end, you can tag along with us, and you can atlas.  Already giving beginning birding classes through the library, Jared was one of the many volunteers who taught birding classes for the atlas project. And as with his Young Naturalists, Jared still stresses the importance of studying your bird book! 

Jared credits his many mentors for leading him throughout the years. Apart from Trevor Herriot, his first field trip leader, and Stuart Houston, his banding mentor, Jared fondly remembers Steve Davis for banding song birds, Bob Lutterbach [for sharing his birding wisdom and knowledge with Jared, and Lorne Scott, for the hours of time they spent bird banding together and for his urging to get involved in politics.  He also recalls the support from Bob Ewart who he worked with at Wascana Centre. Bob made sure that Jared applied for their first student grant. They worked together for years, and they did a lot of birding together.  

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