Gus Yaki, 1932-2020 – Birds Calgary

Gus Yaki

Gus Yaki, 1932-2020 – Birds Calgary

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Gus Yaki, the famend Calgary birder and naturalist, handed away on August 10th on the age of 87. Gus was the face of Calgary birding for the previous 27 years, and his ardour for nature and conservation had been an inspiration to 1000’s of Calgarians. He spent numerous hours main birding and botany area journeys and giving displays, and he helped to boost many 1000’s of {dollars} for conservation organizations. He was buddy and mentor to me and to many others, together with fairly a number of individuals who have gone on to have careers as skilled biologists.

Gus Yaki
Gus Yaki. Notice the dragonfly that has landed on his coat.

Gus was born on August 19, 1932. His household was dwelling in Sandwith, Saskatchewan, close to North Battleford, on the time. Gus could have been born in Sandwith, or probably within the North Battleford hospital. He turned inquisitive about birds on his twice-daily five-kilometer walks between his household’s farm and his college. He would see a chook on the best way to high school, and attempt to discover out its identification utilizing a chook ebook that his instructor had. Then on the best way house, he would discover the chook once more to verify the identification. Earlier than lengthy, Gus’s pursuits expanded to incorporate mammals, crops, and all different facets of nature.

Gus as soon as instructed me a narrative that I believe illustrates the inquisitiveness and perseverance he had at the same time as a baby. He had examine a research finished on Northern Glints. A nesting feminine normally lays one egg a day till the clutch of about eight is full. However researchers discovered that in the event that they eliminated the egg day by day, the feminine would proceed laying one egg a day for a really very long time – over sixty straight days – offered she had enough vitamin. Gus and his brother determined to repeat this experiment, and climbed a tree day by day to take away the egg from the nest cavity of a Northern Flicker. They continued this for thirty-seven days, and the chook laid a brand new egg every day. (Don’t do this at house.)

Gus was an avid birder as a younger man and he continued his self-education as a naturalist. In 1951 he started serving with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was skilled in Regina, after which the RCMP despatched him to Toronto, the place he joined the Toronto Subject Naturalists. Earlier than lengthy he was stationed on the Six Nations Reserve in Ohswekan, Ontario.

Gus Yaki
Gus with a stray Budgerigar that he cared for in 1953 when he was with the RCMP.
Gus Yaki
Gus’s time within the RCMP was vital to him. He saved a photograph album of his RCMP days for over 65 years.

On the time, a brand new Mountie needed to be within the drive for 5 years earlier than he might marry. After assembly the sister of one in every of his Mountie pals, he didn’t need to wait 5 years. He left the drive after about two years in order that he might marry his first spouse, Rae Yaki.

Within the early 1960’s he lived in Lindsay, Ontario, the place he was President of the native Nature Membership for 2 years. In 1966, he was one of many founding members and first president of the Niagara Falls Nature Membership, which was devoted to talking up on environmental points and to educating folks in regards to the nature round them. These could be the widespread themes of his work for the remainder of his life. Inside a yr of its founding the Niagara Falls Nature Membership had over 4 hundred members, which led to Gus getting a place on the board of administrators of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON). He was on the board once they voted to create a land conservation group, which turned the Nature Conservancy of Canada. He was concerned within the institution of the Bruce Path, a 900-km climbing path that runs alongside the Niagara escarpment in Ontario. It’s the oldest and longest marked climbing path in Canada.

Considered one of Gus’s duties for the FON was to run their out of doors journeys program. Gus’s imaginative and prescient was to construct a loyal following of repeat prospects. Ultimately he was impressed to begin his personal eco-tour firm, Ontario Nature Excursions, in 1972. He was decided to supply this service to shoppers whether or not each journey was worthwhile or not – feeling, as at all times, that educating and provoking folks and giving them a optimistic expertise in nature was a very powerful factor (and that this strategy would result in profitability in the long term). After a few years he expanded the service outdoors of Ontario and renamed the corporate Nature Journey Service (NTS). NTS provided guided journeys to locations everywhere in the world, with Gus main a lot of the journeys himself as a chook and nature information. He ran this enterprise for twenty years, throughout which era he personally travelled to seventy-six political entities and all seven continents. Gus by no means saved a chook life checklist, however he estimated that he had seen about half of all of the chook species on this planet, or about 5,000 species. To be able to organize and information these journeys, he needed to educate himself on the birds, mammals, crops, and geography of the locations.

In 1991 Gus offered NTS and in 1993 he moved to Calgary and married Aileen Pelzer (that they had met on one of many NTS excursions). Gus instantly started to discover town and area, and have become energetic in native conservation organizations. He was a long-time editor of Nature Calgary’s publication PICA, and was the sphere journey coordinator for a few years. He personally led dozens of area journeys yearly for Nature Calgary and different organizations, all of the whereas giving displays to native colleges and different teams, organizing bio-blitzes, and nonetheless sometimes main excursions professionally for Nature Journey Service till 2003.

Shortly after arriving in Calgary Gus did a stroll along with his spouse Aileen Pelzer from their home on Brunswick Avenue to the Glenmore Dam. Thereafter, this 3.5-kilometer hike turned a month-to-month Nature Calgary area journey, the Elbow River Hen Survey. It has been held constantly on the primary day of every month for 27 years.

Gus had a knack for arising with particular area journey concepts that turned annual highlights on the Nature Calgary schedule. In 2000 he led a visit on the Victoria Day Vacation, billed as an try to seek out 100 species of birds throughout the Calgary metropolis limits in someday. The group was out from 7 am to five pm, and succeeded find 116 species! Gus led this for a number of years earlier than passing it off to different leaders. I’ve helped lead this journey a number of occasions lately and it’s a very fashionable outing.

Gus used to do a post-sunset journey into the Weaselhead in late February to hear for Northern Noticed-whet Owls. Once I first attended this stroll in 2008 we occurred to see a Northern Flying-Squirrel glide in to the chook feeders effectively after darkish. Thereafter, this turned an annual Northern Noticed-whet Owl/Northern Flying Squirrel journey, one which Dan Arndt and I’ve now led for a number of years.

By far the preferred area journey that Gus led yearly was the Daybreak Refrain, which began at 3:30 am on the second Saturday in June. A gaggle of as much as forty-five avid birders would comply with Gus by means of the Weaselhead till 7 am. Gus sported a big paper pinned to a chunk of cardboard on a string round his neck, and on this he recorded the time that each chook and mammal species was first heard or seen. As much as seventy-five species had been recorded.

Gus Yaki
Gus and buddy. Photograph by Dan Arndt.

For the yr 2000 Gus proposed to Nature Calgary that they maintain a year-long competitors to see who might discover probably the most chook species throughout the metropolis limits throughout the calendar yr. This generated a number of curiosity, and the concept was repeated in 2005 utilizing the 80-km diameter circle used for the Could Species Depend. In 2010 Gus once more led the annual competitors throughout the metropolis limits; in 2015 we had one other within the massive circle; and now we have continued the custom this yr with the Calgary 2020 Huge Yr Birding Problem.

Considered one of Gus’s biggest contributions began slowly in 2005 when he started main weekly area journeys for the Pals of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society (FFCPPS), billed as a birding course. Gus would exit each Saturday morning with the identical group of ten individuals to a unique pure space within the metropolis, instructing them about birds and pure historical past. Via phrase of mouth the demand for this grew, so Gus added one other weekly session for ten extra individuals, then one other, and one other. Gus had so as to add extra leaders, then needed to practice new leaders, and by 2019 there have been three 12-week periods of the birding course, with as much as fourteen teams going out every week, and a complete of over 240 individuals each week. Gus at all times mentioned that there was a number of curiosity in nature, and we simply needed to discover methods to interact folks. The FFCPPS birding programs have proved this. I believe this has been a mannequin of the way to construct a naturalist group, as lots of the individuals who started attending the course as uncooked freshmen (together with myself) went on to develop into leaders themselves and to develop into concerned in key positions in Nature Calgary and different conservation organizations within the metropolis.

Gus Yaki
Birding within the winter with a FFCPPS group. Inclement climate didn’t gradual Gus down. The birds had been round, you simply needed to discover them.

Gus additionally ran a well-liked botany course with the identical precept. The teams exit as soon as every week from early spring to late fall to whichever pure space within the metropolis has blooming wildflowers at the moment. There are additionally some out of city journeys to seek out uncommon crops or to see fungi and lichens.

One other initiative lately was to rearrange for teams of individuals to exit each morning within the spring to see Sharp-tailed Grouse on a lek from a blind arrange close by. For these journeys, as for the botany course, Gus solely requested individuals to make a donation to a conservation group, if they may afford it.

I first met Gus in early January 2008, shortly after I started birding critically. I used to be in Fish Creek Park getting ready to go on a Nature Calgary area journey. One other attendee, recognizing that I used to be new to the outings, had requested me how I obtained inquisitive about birding. I defined that I had just lately learn the ebook Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher. The ebook was a document of their ninety-day, 30,000-km journey round North America in 1953. They visited lots of the wildest locations left, and noticed nearly 600 chook species. This ebook impressed me to develop into severe about birding after years as a yard birder. Gus, who was close by, getting ready for a FFCPPS outing, overheard me and instructed me that he had led an analogous journey round North America, and that there was a ebook about it. He had an additional copy if I used to be . Every week later I picked up the ebook and he signed it for me.

Gus’s journey was with NTS in 1983. He had additionally tremendously loved Wild America, and he determined to recreate the journey on its 30th anniversary. Among the many individuals was the author Lyn Hancock, who wrote a ebook about it known as Trying For The Wild. The acclaimed wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Roger Tory Peterson himself joined the group for the Alaskan portion of the tour.

Looking For the Wild

After that I continued to attend Nature Calgary area journeys and started going to their Hen Research Group talks, the place I might at all times see Gus and Aileen sitting close to the entrance of the room. I made a particular effort to attend any area journey that Gus was main. He was at all times extremely informative about all facets of nature. He had a really entertaining and efficient manner of instructing us to acknowledge the important options of birds, crops, and animals, so we might put a reputation to what we noticed. However he additionally taught in depth, revealing the interconnectedness of dwelling issues by means of his deep understanding of ecology.

I quickly signed up for the FFCPPS birding course and attended weekly area journeys with Gus. After the autumn session, he requested me if I might help him in main the outings within the winter session. He mentioned his listening to was not that good anymore and he wanted somebody with youthful ears to assist him discover the birds. I used to be very nervous about main at first however I quickly got here to actually get pleasure from these outings and serving to to show the opposite individuals.

The FFCPPS course was quickly increasing then, and Gus requested me if would lead a brand new group myself. I used to be very uncertain at first if I used to be prepared. My buddy Dan Arndt was additionally in our group on the time so I requested Gus if Dan and I could lead on collectively, and he agreed. So Dan and I each turned leaders and we each discovered it to be a enjoyable, rewarding, and academic expertise.

In 2009 Gus determined to repeat the yr 2000 competitors to see who might discover probably the most species within the metropolis in a yr. He requested for suggestions and after I provided a few concepts he invited me to sit down on the organizing committee. We would have liked to do publicity and to have a approach to talk with the individuals, so Pat Bumstead (who was additionally on the committee) began a weblog known as Birds Calgary 2010. I volunteered to assist with it, and have been writing for it ever since (after the 2010 competitors it was renamed Birds Calgary and have become a general-interest birding weblog).

Once I began birding I used to be solely inquisitive about seeing extra birds and studying extra about them; I by no means had any intention of main area journeys, organizing competitions, writing weblog posts, or doing displays. Not like Gus, I’m an introverted individual, however Gus had a manner of drawing folks in and convincing them that they may and must be leaders.

Subject journeys with Gus had been at all times entertaining. He had a big repertoire of jokes and puns. “Have you learnt how one can acknowledge a Dogwood Tree? –By its bark.” I heard a few of them dozens of occasions however they at all times obtained amusing, particularly from new individuals. He additionally usually got here up with some very humorous spontaneous wordplay. As soon as he mentioned he heard a Noticed Sandpiper from up the river. One of many birders skilled her binoculars on the banks however didn’t see it. “Gus, did you notice that sandpiper?” she requested after some time. “No,” he replied, “It was already Noticed.” (I had the chance to re-use that one as soon as myself.) Gus would be certain that to speak to every participant sooner or later, to be taught their identify and one thing private about them. He had a manner of creating everybody really feel vital.

He was additionally very beneficiant. When he arrived for a area journey, he usually had publications or posters behind his automotive to provide to anybody who was . Within the fall, he would give away produce from his backyard. He invited folks to return and take crops from his yard each spring.

Gus Yaki
Birding within the winter.

Because of his participating character and his experience, his area journeys had been normally well-attended. Within the Could Species Depend and the Christmas Hen Counts, he at all times had the largest group. Considered one of his Christmas counts was alongside the Elbow River close to his home. He began a Nature Calgary journey in order that anybody who wished to might be part of him the week previous to scout the world, after which the entire group would go to his home for a scorching meal.

I’ve many nice recollections of area journeys with Gus. On the primary Elbow River Hen Survey I attended, close to the tip of the three-and-a-half-hour stroll, he requested me what number of chook species we had seen. I mentioned I didn’t know, possibly sixteen? Gus mentioned, “Twenty-four.” Then he astonished me by shortly rattling them off in taxonomic order from reminiscence. Subsequent he gave the numbers of every species seen. He by no means wrote down the data throughout a visit since he was busy instructing your entire time. (With observe I discovered that I might do a good job of remembering what was seen, however I a lot choose utilizing eBird to maintain monitor as I am going.)

On one journey a big “V” of Canada Geese flew over, and as Gus instructed the group in regards to the aerodynamic causes for the form, I counted the birds. Then after the geese had been out of sight I requested “What number of geese do you assume had been in that flock?” Gus had the opposite individuals guess first, and so they gave broadly various solutions. Then Gus mentioned it was about 75. I had counted 74. A lesson adopted on the way to estimate the numbers of birds in flocks of assorted sizes. Then he requested a more moderen participant the inevitable riddle – why is one arm of the “V” at all times longer than the opposite? (As a result of there are extra birds in that arm.)

Gus Yaki
Gus with injured Gull. Photograph by Bob Lefebvre

As proven within the photograph above, we as soon as discovered a sick or injured immature gull by the Bow River. This led to an extended dialogue of mortality charges in numerous species of birds at totally different ages, the inevitability of excessive mortality charges amongst wild animals, wildlife rehabilitation, gull molting patterns, and different subjects. Moments like this that present the mental depth of birding are what draw us deep into it as a lifetime ardour.

I recall a crisp winter morning when Gus launched a area journey by giving a historical past of your entire universe from the Huge Bang, by means of star formation, the origin of our photo voltaic system, and the evolution of life on earth, all resulting in that precise second in time and area the place we had been getting ready to exit and admire no matter we noticed.

One other memorable day was a winter area journey in Carburn Park. In driving snow and chilly temperatures I used to be the one one to indicate up. Gus was there to guide, and he mentioned, “Since I’m right here, I going for a stroll.” So we did the entire two-hour journey across the park, simply the 2 of us, and though the circumstances weren’t ultimate for birding, I used to be capable of ask him dozens of questions, which he patiently answered.

There have been many extra journeys – to see tracks within the snow, to see the Douglas-Firs of Calgary, to see Whooping Cranes on the Calgary Zoo Ranch.

A number of years in the past Gus’s buddy Robert Bateman launched him at an occasion by calling him “Probably the most achieved naturalist in North America.” Calgarians had been very fortunate to have him as a information for therefore lengthy.

Gus Yaki
Gus (third from proper) on a visit in SE Alberta. Photograph by Dan Arndt.

Gus was a giant supporter of Birds & Beers, the social get-togethers now we have held month-to-month right here in Calgary for a number of years. Dan Arndt had the concept of making an attempt it right here after if had been finished efficiently in different cities. Gus and Aileen and lots of others actually loved this chance to go to with and join with different birders, however Gus mentioned we might draw extra folks to those occasions if we had quick displays on the finish, and he provided to do the primary one. It was well-received, and after that, attendance was at all times larger after we had displays at Birds & Beers. We began to have talks nearly each month, and when Gus spoke, we had as much as 110 folks attending. Gus additionally inspired a variety of different folks to talk at these occasions. He even persuaded Dan Arndt and I to start talking in public, which neither of us was in any respect snug with at first.

Gus at all times inspired folks to maintain cautious data of their birding outings and to incorporate the variety of folks, the space travelled, and the climate. He at all times posted his lists on the Albertabird dialogue web site in order that the observations could be a part of a everlasting document out there to anybody. Naturally, when eBird turned broadly used he was inquisitive about it, and he hoped to finally switch all of his paper journey data to eBird. I spent a winter instructing him to make use of eBird and serving to him to enter all his private birding data from 1943 to 1963. He later added extra data up till August 2019.

Gus additionally favored the iNaturalist platform since one might document all dwelling issues reasonably than simply birds. When Matthew Wallace, the city ecologist from Calgary, approached Gus in regards to the thought of getting Calgary participate within the Metropolis Nature Problem utilizing iNaturalist in 2019, Gus instantly scheduled many outings for the occasion by means of Nature Calgary, and he made his yard out there for anybody who wished to document birds, crops, and bugs there over the four-day occasion.

Some of the outstanding initiatives Gus undertook lately was his stroll throughout Southern Alberta from Saskatchewan to Waterton Park in 2017, to have a good time Canada’s 150th birthday. Many individuals joined him for all of a part of this journey, noticed a number of birds, crops, and mammals, and raised cash for conservation organizations. I wasn’t capable of attend, however Dave Russum did, and he has since adopted Gus’s lead and organized extra journeys to this a part of the province.

Gus was very involved in regards to the many severe threats to the atmosphere. He was satisfied that exposing folks to the pure world and educating them about these threats was the trail to bettering our world. He was fully devoted to this. Gus was probably the most targeted individual I’ve ever met. His complete life revolved round pure historical past and conservation causes. He didn’t watch TV or know something about well-liked tradition. Within the 13 years I knew him, he led as much as a dozen area journeys each week, gave many talks and displays, and he spent 5 to 6 hours each single day coping with his huge electronic mail correspondence. He had actually 1000’s of contacts, who he saved knowledgeable about conservation points, birding occasions, and social justice petitions and actions. As well as he generously answered all questions and shared nature pictures and movies with everybody.

Gus saved in good well being into his eighties by strolling lots and being very constant in his habits. He didn’t drink alcohol, was a vegetarian, and by no means ate outdoors of standard meals. He additionally set an instance by recycling and reusing, driving a hybrid automotive, and at all times choosing up rubbish on the paths throughout area journeys.

Gus obtained many awards and accolades through the years for his conservation efforts. He obtained seven honours in late 2019 alone, together with being named one in every of Calgary’s “Prime 7 Over 70” years outdated and being awarded the Governor Basic’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

Gus receiving the Loren Goulden Award from Nature Alberta President Ted Hindmarch.
April 14, 2012.

It’s not usually that you just assume somebody is gone manner too quickly on the age of 87. However Gus was nonetheless very energetic till his closing sickness. Till December 2019 he was nonetheless main FFCPPS area journeys and he took half in a number of Christmas Hen Counts. He had many initiatives that he sometime hoped to finish throughout his “retirement” – if he ever reached it. He was engaged on a ebook in regards to the vascular crops of Calgary. He had 1000’s of pictures of Calgary-area birds that he wished to make use of in lots of future displays. He wished to enter all the Nature Journey Service birding data, twenty years of journeys from everywhere in the world, into eBird. Personally, I used to be actually trying ahead to my retirement and the chance to spend extra time within the area with Gus.

Gus Yaki
Gus on a botany outing close to Calgary.

In January 2020 Gus was identified with pancreatic most cancers. Gus and Aileen offered the home on Brunswick Avenue and moved right into a senior’s residence.

At one level when he was very in poor health Gus turned fairly pessimistic about his legacy, feeling that he would quickly be forgotten. His pals and colleagues know that this might not be farther from the reality. He has achieved a lot, and has been a mentor and inspiration to so many individuals through the years. Individuals like Yousif Attia (now of Birds Canada) who grew up birding with Gus and who considers Gus to be his main mentor. Individuals like Dan Arndt, now an expert biologist, who was impressed by Gus’s instructing and encouragement. A brand new era of achieved younger birders like Ethan Denton and Gavin Mckinnon are actually additionally following Gus’s instance.

Many people will proceed to hold the torch for Gus. His ebook on vascular crops might be accomplished as a collaboration. His pictures might be distributed in order that different folks can do displays about them, utilizing Gus’s notes. Dave Russum will lead extra walks in southern Alberta. David Mitchell has taken over working the Pals of Fish Creek birding course, with the assistance of many leaders who had been skilled by Gus. Ron Ostrander is main the Elbow River Hen Survey each month, with assist from Diane Stinson and Jim St. Laurent. Karel Bergmann will proceed the botany course. Lots of the area journeys he initiated and as soon as led will proceed to be provided and to be loved by future generations of Calgary birders. And sometime, probably throughout my very own retirement, I’ll enter Gus’s birding data from his NTS journeys into eBird.

Gus spent the final two weeks or so of his life within the Rockyview hospital, the place, from his seventh-floor window, he had an exquisite view of the Glenmore Reservoir. There have been binoculars and a recognizing scope within the room, and Gus had loved seeing birds over the water. Gus mentioned that he had had life, spouse in Aileen, and had enjoyable whereas it lasted, however he was able to go. He requested for Medical Help in Dying (MAID) which was scheduled for August 10th, just some days earlier than his 88th birthday.

I used to be capable of go to Gus two days earlier than his demise. Because of Covid I hadn’t seen him since his prognosis. He was weak and skinny, however mentally simply as sharp as ever. He mentioned he was able to go. He additionally saved his sense of humour to the tip. Matthew Wallace visited him the following day, someday earlier than his scheduled MAID. Close to the tip of their go to, Matthew requested Gus if he had any recommendation for him. Gus seemed off into the space and was silent for a really very long time. Lastly, he spoke. “No,” he mentioned. “Do you might have any recommendation for me?” – which left everybody within the room laughing and crying on the identical time.

After my go to, I went to 420 Brunswick Avenue. Gus and Aileen had organized with the brand new house owners that their pals might come and take whichever crops they wished from the yard. I hadn’t made it over there earlier, and was nonetheless hoping to get a number of issues. However the home which had held Gus’s huge library and was a meeting-place for Calgary birders was gone. The yard, previously stuffed with native crops and the place Gus had recorded over 150 chook species, was empty, stripped of its topsoil and with solely 4 timber remaining on the again. I took a handful of soil from the sting of the lot – it’s certain to be stuffed with native plant seeds, so I plan to water it and see what grows.

It’s laborious to see a spot like that go, and it’s very laborious to lose somebody like Gus. However simply as Gus’s library has discovered new properties throughout Calgary, and descendents of his crops thrive in gardens all throughout town, so has Gus’s data of pure historical past been distributed to 1000’s of individuals through the years, and might be handed on to future generations.

Gus Yaki was a outstanding man, top-of-the-line and most fascinating folks I’ve ever met. He made an incredible contribution to the birding group and to conservation causes right here and throughout Canada. He did what he might to make the world a greater place. Gus might be tremendously missed and at all times remembered.

On behalf of Birds Calgary, my condolences exit Gus’s fantastic spouse Aileen Pelzer, and to his complete prolonged household; and particular because of Gus’s son David Yaki for every part he has finished for Gus, Aileen, and their pals over the previous a number of months, and for offering a few of the biographical particulars about Gus’s early years.

Anybody who want to keep in mind Gus Yaki’s legacy could make a donation to the Nature Conservancy of Canada or the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Sources and hyperlinks:

Click here for an interview with Gus that Matthew Sim posted on the weblog in 2012.

Gus Yaki obituary within the Calgary Herald.

Alberta Wilderness Association article.

Tribute article on the CBC Information web site.

Here’s a video about Gus exhibiting him main a area journey, from CTV Information.

A nice tribute by Matthew Wallace on Instagram.

Dan Arndt’s inspiring words, with many feedback from individuals who knew Gus.

Notice: A few of the pictures listed below are uncredited – I saved them from emails through the years with out recording who they had been from. I apologize for that. Let me know if any of the pictures are yours and I’ll credit score you. -Bob

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