Creative Retirement

By Vernice Shostal

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Nanoose Bay resident Mike Yip believes everything in life is interconnected and each species destroyed is another nail in the coffin for planet earth.

"Part of the reason we don't care much about our environment is that we are not aware of what's out there," says the retired teacher, author, photographer and birder. "Few people realize there have been over 400 species of birds recorded for Vancouver Island."

Mike wasn't always interested in birds. During his teaching career, his main interest was sports. Retirement from teaching meant moving from the classroom to the golf course until, one beautiful February morning, he drove by a swamp in Wall Beach where he spotted some weird-looking ducks frolicking in a secluded marsh. "It was like an epiphany," he says.

The ducks were the size of mallards with wide bills. Mike stopped to watch their activity, quietly trying to view them through a tangle of willows and reeds, not realizing an hour had passed before he went to get his camera to take some photographs. Next, he bought a guidebook on birds and found that the strange birds were called Northern Shoveler Ducks.

"Those weird ducks were responsible for getting me interested in birds and photography and connecting me with nature," says Mike. Those "weird" ducks were also responsible for ending his golf career.

When Mike got his bird photos back from the lab, "they were terrible," he says. In response, he overextended his financial resources in order to invest in a new camera and equipment. "Experience became my teacher," says the multi-talented birder. "I've been learning one mistake at a time."

Within a year, Mike had taken some good shots he wanted to share with others. The result was an online magazine (, featuring photographs that celebrate the birds of Vancouver Island. About once a week, Mike tries to update the website with a new "journal," a photographic record of the birds he sees and some often humorous commentary. The website is not interactive, although Mike does receive e-mails from visitors.

After starting the site, he wondered if there was another way he could share his bird photos. He decided to develop a book. Mike talked to a publisher who offered to assign an editor and hire a designer.

"But that's where all the fun is," Mike replied. He decided to publish the book himself. Vancouver Island Birds I, now out of print, was published in 2005 followed by Vancouver Island Birds II in 2007.

"I can spend way too much time birdwatching," says Mike. "If the weather is nice and there are lots of birds around, I'll go out every day. Sometimes my wife goes with me when she's not busy."

Mike does his birding wherever he hears there are birds. If someone reports a rare bird in Port Renfrew, he's down there. He can't count the number of times he's been to Victoria - an excellent place for birding.

Many birds are migratory and only stay here for a certain amount of time, Mike explains. The Bonaparte's gull, for example, comes in with the herring season. They stay for a few weeks and then they're off to their breeding grounds. On the other hand, most of the ducks, loons and grebes stay all winter, but they, too, leave during nesting season. Warblers are gone all winter and come back for the summer. As one group leaves, another group comes in. "It's quite dynamic," says Mike.

Born and raised near Duncan, Mike has spent most of his life on the Island. After receiving a teaching degree at UBC, he taught at various schools in British Columbia, and then took a six-year posting in Inuvik, where he published his first book, Inuvik (1974), a black-and-white picture book of Inuvik culture. His last 25 teaching years were in Parksville.

Mike has infinite patience, which he says is a product of desire. To get his best Long-tailed duck photos, he drove to Deep Bay (102 km return trip) at least a dozen times to catch the morning sun and find a time when the ducks were close enough to shore for decent shots.

Public speaking has never been one of Mike's fortes, but his presentations are well received and he feels good about educating others about the Island's birds. He considers the past four years as some of the best years of his life. Still a relative novice in birding, he wants to learn more. Knowing and understanding birds is a life-long process, and he started late. Mike feels people shouldn't be afraid to pour all their energies and resources into any passions or dreams they might have, regardless of age.

"If you don't do it now, tomorrow might be too late."

Like his first book, Vancouver Island Birds II is geared toward the interest of the public. The old saying, "A picture is worth a 1,000 words," is a good fit for this coffee-table-type book, which includes an introduction by the author and 127 pages of beautifully photographed birds with commentary.

Vancouver Island Birds II ($34.95) can be purchased at most bookstores throughout the Island and at Graham's Jewellers in Courtenay.

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