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What's a GyrKite?

By Alessandra Kite and Kiah Jasper

Welcome to the GyrKite Blog!

Hello there fellow bird and photography enthusiasts! This is the first blog post that we'll publish under GyrKite Birding Tours, how exciting! We figured this would be the perfect opportunity to tell you more about ourselves and why we started this company. So sit back, grab a tea or whatever else you drink, and relax as we dive into the world of GyrKite. You can expect future posts to work a little differently... we'll mostly discuss current birding events, hot topics, best places to bird in Ontario, identification tips and analyses, and updates about our tours.

For now, lets talk about us!

Tour Guides Alessandra Kite and Kiah Jasper posing next to each other at a marsh near Isaac Lake at Sunset.

Alessandra Kite and Kiah Jasper posing together at Issac Lake (marsh) at sunset.

Here we are! Just two friendly birders who want to share our love of nature with everyone who will allow it :) We both met in 2022 while Kiah was doing a little something called a Big Year. This is a monumentous effort in which you accept a challenge to see as many species as possible during a calendar year in a specific geographical region. Well my friends, in 2022 Kiah decided to embark on a Big Year across Ontario! This set him out on an amazing adventure across the province, where he met many helpful birders and friends along the way. Alessandra just so happened to be one of those friends, and the two were an inseparable birding force for the latter half of the year.

Both of us have an extensive history in birding and environmental education, and had a dream of setting up an organization that would allow us to follow our passions! How lucky was it that we met when we did! After experiencing work in the field, academics, consulting, retail, and government, we decided that we both wanted the freedom of making our own decisions and schedule, optimize safety, and create a healthy work/life balance. And besides... we need to pay bills and some of these jobs just ain't cutting it right now, but that's a later discussion ; )

Why GyrKite?

We chose the name GyrKite for our guiding company so that we could incorporate our favourite birds! It just so happens that the Gyrfalcon and the Swallow-tailed Kite represent some of the farthest north ranges and some of the southernmost ranges of North America, respectively. These birds represent our future goals of exploring this continent, to offer easily accessible guided hikes in the less frequented northern Canadian habitats, to exploring the unique environments of Central America. For now, we are focusing on leading guided birding and photography adventures in Ontario, with the nearsighted goal of expanding to the United States and other parts of Canada if all goes well.

Who is Kiah Jasper?

Thinking back, I can't really remember a time when I wasn't interested in nature. Spawned on the Bruce Peninsula, I was fortunate enough to grow up on a 25 acre property in the middle of a vast tract of (mainly) undisturbed forest. My parents are very outdoorsy people who always encouraged me to get outside and explore, and as a young lad I have many memories of snowshoeing around frozen forests in search of raven nests, tracking down frogs and snakes around the neighbourhood and watching Black Bears lumber across my road. At the age of 6 I began my serious career of studying birds for science when I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count with my mom... Well, as serious as a 6 year old can take something that is : ) Flipping through our old Audabon Society field guide to the birds, I made new discoveries out the back window, such as Common Redpoll and Northern Shrike. After that my birding stalled for awhile as I pursued other hobbies including soccer, futsal karate and general 10 year old shenanagins. I always noticed and appreciated birds though, for example the return of the American Woodcock to the family yard, which became one of the most anticipated events in the early spring (unless any new Star Wars content was coming out that is). The spark that was needed to further ignite my interest came when I was 12, when my neighbour gave me a small Canon Point-And-Shoot camera. I started photographing everything around me, from trees to insect and birds. The birds in particular captured my interest the most, they were fast, which gave me a fun challenge to try and shoot them, and they were also extremly diverse, so every walk held the possibily of new discoveries. During the winter of 2016/2017 I saw an article in the local paper about Snowy Owls being seen all over my region, a bird that I previously thought of as near mythical, only existing in the text of my books. That was the first species that made me want to leave home and search for, so over the next few weeks my dad and I drove around the countryside of South Bruce in pursuit of the elusive white owls. I hesitate to call this my spark bird though, because it was all the things I saw along the way that really stuck with me (after missing the owl for months I finally saw one that March). Horned Larks on the roadsides, Rough-legged Hawks teetering on the tops of small trees out in windswept snowy fields, and a majestic pair of Golden Eagles sitting in a massive maple right beside the road. After those winter drives, I was hooked. That spring I connected with the Bruce Birding Club, a friendly and knowledgable crew of long time bird enthusiasts who run birding field trips around the county twice a month. With a life list of around 80, I joined my first outing with them on a bright April day and saw over 30 birds that I'd never seen before. Mind, blown. Discovering the explore feature on eBird soon after that day, I found out that nearly 270 species are seen each year in my area alone! I knew then that I had to see every one of them. Through the club, I was mentored in the art of bird identification and like a sponge I tried to soak in every possible piece of information that I could about all things bird. That summer I attented the Ontario Field Ornithologists first "Young Birders" camp in Algonquin Provinical Park, where for the first time I met other bird obsessed people my own age. The following April I led my first trip for the Bruce Birding Club, basically a year after my first outing with them. During the following years I spent as much time birding as I possibly could, learning about tricky bird identifications and exploring new areas around southern Ontario such as Rondeau, Hamilton and Lambton. I started leading more birding field trips as well, for the Ontario Field Ornithologists, Huron Fringe Birding festival and others. My passion for sharing my love of the outdoors led me to spend a few seasons working at MacGregor Point Provincial Park as an interpreter, where I broadened my knowledge as an all around naturalist and learned more leading hikes.

Tour Guide Kiah Jasper smiling with his spotting scope after scanning for waterfowl at Blenheim Lagoons.

Kiah Jasper scoping for waterfowl at Blenheim Lagoons during his Big Year in 2022.

During that OFO camp in 2017, I also heard about the concept of a "Big Year" for the first time, an intriguing adventure which involves a person spending an entire year trying to see as many birds as they possibly can in a given region. Soon after I got Kingbird Highway from the local library, in which the author Kenn Kauffman details his big year across North America when he teenager, hitching his way across the county and eating Friskies cat food for nutrition. An alluring story right?? The idea of doing a big year seemed appealing to me, however it was something that I figured I'd just read about instead of actually doing. Then a few years later I realized that I would have a year free after highschool, so I decided to take the plunge and do an Ontario big year. In 2022 I drove all over the province, from Point Pelee to Ottawa and even as far north as Attawapiskat on the coast of James Bay. Grueling days in frigid temperatures and many long drives resulted in me breaking the Ontario big year record by 13 species, with an end total of 359 birds in Ontario during 2022. Besides the record I also gained a greater familiarity and appreciation for our province, something I look forward to sharing with participants on our outings!

After meeting Alessandra I gained not only a partner to explore the natural world with, but also someone who shared my love of natural history interpretation and guiding. We decided pretty quickly that a company of our own would be the best way to achieve our goals, and thus GyrKite Tours was born!

Who is Alessandra Kite?

Hi! I'm Alessandra, aka Kite or Kiteabird. I'm the *coughcough* less famous part of this duo :) I may have flown under the birding community radar for some time, but I've been training in secrecy, and have obtained unlimited power. I began my fascination of birds when I was born essentially. Ever since I remember I have been completely enthralled with the natural world and I have always known I wanted to work with animals. My mum even has pictures of me observing bird behaviour since before I was 3 years old, so trust me, I'm a bit obsessed. I didn't grow up in the healthiest of familial environments so I relished in being out in nature, absorbed by the tranquility and energy of the natural world. It was a way for me to escape home and relax, focus on something other than my anxious and depressed thoughts. When I was in grade 6 I disctinctly remember the moment when I decided I would dedicate my life to birds. I had been sick at home for over a month and had lost the motivation to go outside or go to school. My mum, who has always encouraged me to follow my passions, got me Cornell's illustrated bird guide to North America, with audio of each bird. I would lie in bed and flip through those beautiful illustrations and think, damn I want to do this, I want to study and illustrate these birds. Not only did I dedicate more time to painting and developing my artistic skills, I spent time studying bird identification and song. Realizing that this was nothing compared to birding in the field, I joined the Hamilton Naturalist Club so that I could meet the community and bird with experts in the field. I came across another problem... being that I was incredibly shy and had no idea how to approach such knowledgeable people. I spent a year being a shadow at hikes and talks until just after I began highschool when I was invited by Peter Scholtens to come visit Ruthven Park, where Haldimand Bird Observatory was operating a banding station. From here my birding/banding career took off. I visited the bird observatory on Thanksgiving weekend and my passion was immediately noticed by the Bander in Charge, Rick Ludkin. I was able to handle birds and learn about bird migration and research that same day! So naturally, I came back every weekend since, and every day off I could get from school ;)  My first banded bird in 2014 was a Black-capped Chickadee, and they remain one of my favourite birds to this day.

Tour guide Alessandra Kite at the Long Point Bird Observatory Old Cut banding station, smiling and holding an Olive-sided Flycatcher to the camera.

Tour Guide Alessandra Kite smiling with her first banded bird in hand, a Black-capped Chickadee, at Haldimand Bird Observatory.

Alessandra in the spring of 2023 after banding an Olive-sided Flycatcher (left) vs. Alessandra in the fall of 2014 after banding her first bird, a Black-capped Chickadee (right).

I was incredibly lucky to learn under the mentorship of experienced banders and teachers such as Rick Ludkin, Nancy Furber, Bill Read, David Brewer. Since then, I have been banding for almost 9 years, I have interned with the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon in the Amazonian lowlands in Peru, I have worked for Pelee Island Bird Observatory, Scales Nature Park and Bird Studies Canada, volunteered with Long Point Bird Observatory in the south and Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education Centre in the North, and I have completed a Bachelors Degree of Science at the University of Guelph. I owe my experience, my scientific career, and the motivation to improve my skills to my mentors over the years, and to so many friends who helped me along the way, whether it was driving me, teaching me how to drive, offering me food and shelter, and just believing in me. I wanted to start a guiding business and an online educational resource so that I might be able to pass that treasured knowledge and passion to everyone that I can. I am incredibly excited to get this going, and do it all with the person I love and respect most in this world!!

The Start for GyrKite

So those are our origin stories! For the inaugural year of operation GyrKite Tours will be focusing on the Ontario region, so have a look at our upcoming trips "here" and come join us in the field. From Pelee Island to northern Ontario we plan to cover a lot of ground, so there will be plenty of opportunities to come birding with us. We're open for input from the community on new trips that birders would like to see happen, so if you have any ideas feel free to email us, or comment on this post!

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