subscribe: Posts | Comments

In Memorial: Claire Bourret


Claire Bourret (1951 – 2023)

Claire Bourret was the treasurer of the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation (RMERF) for over 20 years and was a highly competent and effective steward of the Foundation’s finances. Her annual financial reports were always on time and straightforward, and Claire worked hard to raise funds for observation and research activities. She made sure the charity casinos were always well staffed, and even when in hospital in early 2023, Claire still recruited volunteers for the next upcoming RMERF casino. But Claire did so much more:

Although she was not a field person and rarely went to the observation site at Hay Meadow, she was fascinated by the migrating eagles and raptors. Her enthusiasm was infectious and made her an outstanding educator and outreach coordinator. Claire made sure the RMERF had a well-equipped and volunteer-staffed RMERF booth at various events around the Calgary area, such as the Calgary Mayor’s Environment Expo at City Hall, Provincial Park Days, the Canmore Folk Festival and the Open House at the Barrier Lake Field Station. To make these events hands-on, she assembled educational materials, such as handouts, teaching games for kids, and a giant map of North America to show the routes of the migrating eagles. The satellite-tracked eagle “Elaine” was a special favourite of hers and Claire related so well to kids and passed on her enthusiasm for the eagles and for nature in general.

Claire also made sure that we celebrated the RMERF’s ongoing success. She organized and managed well attended 20th and 30th anniversary celebrations which included interesting speakers, field trips, delicious food, and a lot of socializing. She understood very well that field observations and research activities alone do not make a community but that it was the social events, such as the Annual RMERF BBQ (and cricket game) that brought people together. She made sure there was plenty of food and drinks available, and whatever the event, including the board meetings, Claire brought some home baked goodies, usually delicious muffins. She was usually assisted by her patient and loving husband Joe.

“She always gave 100 precent, sometimes even more” as a founding member of the RMERF said, and the RMERF is deeply grateful to Claire for her hard work and the many contributions she made to the Foundation and its objectives.

May she soar with the eagles.

In Memorial: Pat Farley


We are sorry to have to announce and greatly lament the untimely passing of our friend and fellow observer, Pat Farley.

He was a very special person, loving and gentle, one of the rare breed of men who truly cared about others and the world around him. He was a strong advocate of environmental conservation and justice.

I had the good fortune of having Pat as my assistant during many days of the count and the pleasure of spending some time with Patricia, his wife, another wonderful person who loves the outdoors and wildlife just as much as he did. Our long hours of work passed rapidly as we marveled at the beauty of the valley and commented on everything that we saw during the day.

In addition to being a hard worker and a great observer, Pat was very creative and went out of his way to make sure that everything was taken care of, always finding an opportunity to help whenever it was needed.

To quote Heinz Unger:

Pat has been such an important addition to the group – actually I should say, family – of observers and I can only imagine how much they’ll miss and how the RMERF will be able to replace him – BUT we’ll always remember him.

Pat will be greatly missed by us, and everyone who had the luck of knowing him.

Alberta Big Year


By Ethan Denton

For those amongst us who have yet to see the famed movie, The Big Year, my 2021 would likely make little sense. I spent countless hours driving, waking well before dawn, and hiking many kilometres through varied terrain. I rushed out of family gatherings, paused my work, and skipped a few too many classes, chasing recklessly across the province after whatever avian vagrant materialized. Efforts which – even amongst the hardcore birding community – are fairly intense. Sure, the end goal was to beat the provincial Big Year record of 324 species, but a Big Year is about more than just the numbers, it’s about the memories, the places, the people, and, of course, the birds. Though there are so many great days to pick from, a few moments stand out above the rest. Lying in the sand on the shores of Lake Newell, with Red Knots, Black-bellied Plovers, and Ruddy Turnstones foraging mere metres away was the earliest of these moments. The Knots were particularly interesting to me, their russet undersides and immaculately scalloped backs doing little to belie the fact that these arctic breeders were midway through a harrowing 9,000 kilometre spring migration. Two weeks later, the enthralling performances put forth by boreal breeding warblers entranced myself and my friends, as we tallied over 120 species in two days in the birding mecca of Cold Lake. By the end of May I was cruising at 282 birds, and when I became the fastest person to ever hit 300 Albertan species in a year with my sighting of Black Swifts on June 16th, I was convinced I had a shot at the record.

Apart from painfully missing a Sagebrush Sparrow in my home county, the summer passed relatively quietly until the 26th of July, when reports came in of a pair of Sage Thrashers in the far southeast. As I was without a car at that point, I spent the night in a mall parking lot, waiting to be picked up in the morning by someone equally dedicated. Departing Calgary at 3am, moods were high, albeit a bit sleepy on my part. An hour out from our destination, however, a small flock of grouse burst out from the ditch and our car screeched to a halt. We exchanged looks, each confident that one of the grouse had been different. Sure enough, when we tracked down the flock once more, one stood taller than it’s companions – a female Greater Sage-Grouse! This species is struggling in Canada, and their sparse population makes them very hard to track down. The day didn’t end there. After successfully locating the Thrashers, we met up with another friend in Calgary, and by pure chance the three of us happened upon one of the rarest birds of the year, an adult Least Tern! Only the second occurrence of this tiny tern in Albertan history, and the bird was very accommodating, granting people great views all day.

Hard work through the fall was largely unsuccessful, as I added only a few species. Most of these were clean up species I had missed when they passed through in the Spring, such as Greater White-fronted Goose, or uncommon migrants like Brant and Red-throated Loon. With two months left to go, and the weather turning sour, the total sat at 322 and prospects for findable additions weren’t looking good. Fortunately for me, the birding deities dropped two big rarities close to home within a week of each other, and the additions of Pine Warbler and Eastern Towhee to my list meant I was now tied with the all-time record. The only reasonable thing to do now is sit back and be happy, right? No. Instead, I decided to drive my beat up Nissan down Northern logging roads through driving snow in search of the last possible species, a secretive gamebird of the north called the Willow Ptarmigan. Eventually I found myself following a tip down some logging roads near Grande Prairie, and after following tracks for a few hours, a dart of movement alerted myself and my companion to the presence of three snow white ptarmigan! For a few minutes, freezing fingers and empty stomachs were forgotten as we watched the charismatic little guys, before a passing truck flushed them into the forest. With this final addition to the list, I edged past the previous record of 324, and pushed my all-time Alberta number to 347. Success! Nonetheless, there is little doubt in my mind that as the years wear on and my memory weakens, it will be the sun-kissed hours spent simply observing, photographing, and interacting with the birds that will remain, not the numbers.

In Memorial: Joel Duncan


We of the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation (RMERF) have very sadly lost another staunch and long time member of our organization and observer cadre.  Joel Duncan was tragically taken from our midst on 14 September 2021.  He was a “Charter Member” of RMERF, a capable and enthusiastic observer in the field and a good friend.  As a token of appreciation for his long time and helpful support, he was awarded a RMERF “Certificate of Appreciation” in February, 2020.  We will always remember his desire to participate in RMERF activities and always with a smile.  Joel, we miss you already.”

Passing of Terry Waters


Terry (Terence William) Waters          (January 10, 1940 – December 27, 2020)

Terence William Waters, .P Eng, and valued Member and Principle Observer for the Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation (RMERF), passed away on Sunday, December 27, 2020.  Details of his life are available at link obituary.

I first met Terry and his wife Nancy in 2005 when they appeared at RMERF functions as members.  He then began to assist us in the field during our Spring 2010 Lorette Raptor Count.  There he demonstrated the knowledge and willingness to take on the challenge of Principle Observer.  That fall he put that skill to use and faithfully volunteered his time and expertise, and that of some of his family members to our field counts until health issues intervened on the 2017 Spring Count.  Terry’s presence is best described in the words of Heinz Unger, a fellow observer:


Terry Waters


It was a cold and windy day – as usual for hay Meadow – but as I approached the count site I could see the Principal Observer, a towering, stoic figure untouched by the lousy weather. It’s always a concern when one first meets a new fellow observer but I realized I had lucked out with Terry, a fellow P.Eng., engaging to talk with, but he could also be quiet, especially when the migration was busy or the day got rather long. I very much enjoyed being paired up with him. So I was also happy to support Terry when he ran for a seat on the Council of APEGA, the professional engineers association of Alberta, especially as not enough good and knowledgeable people volunteer for such boards. And Terry surprised me once more when I ran into him at a performance of Opera Calgary at the Jubilee. After the usual quick review of the opera, we slipped into talking about brewing beer and some related engineering aspects. In summary, Terry Waters, was a renaissance man, a birder who spotted and aged golden eagles, attended classic opera performances, got into brewing beer, and was a true engineering professional – he’ll be missed in many places.


Heinz Unger, January 2021


We in RMERF will miss Terry who, in addition to his contributions to the field counts, was always a welcome and active participant in RMERF social functions.   It is there we have a number of photo records.  Several taken at our annual summer BBQs are attached.

Terry and Nancy Waters (1939-2011) discuss world affairs with Margo Hansen at the RMERF annual BBQ (18 Aug 2007).

Terry Waters again discussing world affairs with Margo Hansen at the RMERF annual BBQ (27 Aug 2016).

Terry Waters, Gus Yaki (1932-2020) and Aileen Pelzer on BBQ duty at the RMERF annual BBQ (27 Aug 2016).

Terry Waters and Rosemary Power on BBQ duty at the RMERF annual BBQ (24 Aug 2019).


Passing of Gus Yaki


We are sad to share the recent passing of Gus Yaki.  He was a real friend of RMERF and in addition to participating in our annual social, he contributed by using his means to further our raptor study.  We need more Gus Yakis.  Gus deserves a big “THANK-YOU” for his contribution to our RMERF Citizen Science project. Below is an obituary by his son.

Gustave Joseph (Gus) Yaki, born Sandwith, Saskatchewan (near North Battleford) on August 19, 1932, received MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) to die peacefully in Calgary on August 10, 2020. He was predeceased by his first wife Rae Jeannine Yaki (Venner), his sisters Mary Anne Grant and Dorothy Pauline Gasper, his grandson Philip, and great grandson Lincoln. He is survived by his wife A‎ileen Pelzer, his brother Stanley John Yaki, his sister Margaret Rose Weger, as well as his children Donald, James (Jim), David, Robyn Fortier, Barbara (Barb), Patricia (Tricia) Bartone, and Jonathon Neville, as well as their spouses, descendants and extended families.

Gus became interested in nature as a child walking back and forth to school and eventually made a living as a nature tour operator. After retiring, he continued volunteering his time as a naturalist. In 2005 he started birding classes with the Friends of Fish Creek which attract hundreds of participants. In 2017, at the age of 84, he organized and led a hike across southern Alberta to celebrate Canada 150 in support of bird study and habitat conservation. In 2019, he was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by the Governor General of Canada, and was recognized as one of Calgary’s “Top 7 over 70”.

Donations in lieu of gifts may be made to Nature Conservancy of Canada, 245 Eglinton Ave East, Suite 410, Toronto, Ontario M4P 3J1, and/or to Alberta Wilderness Association, 455 – 12 St NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1Y9. (Receipts for tax credit will be issued.)

Memories to be shared at a future memorial service and/or tribute webpage can be sent to

« Previous Entries