TIMMINS -- Bird-watching is a 10-year passion hobby for Roxane Filion.

As she whips out her binoculars to spot a Swallow flying by, she says Porcupine Lake in Timmins contains a unique ecosystem with more than 180 species of birds.

Filion said people living in the area are lucky to have an expansive outdoor environment to explore and should take advantage of that during the COVID-19 crisis.

For her, birding is an especially good activity to take up right now.

“It is the ideal hobby to do during the pandemic because you can do it while physical distancing,” Filion said. “It’s really good for the mental health side of things, to be outside and enjoy nature. It’s good to keep fit.”

It’s also good for documenting the vast variety of bird species in the area, she said. Filion contributes data to a public-submitted database managed by Cornell University and is one of the Cochrane District’s top contributors.

Filion is also part of a local online community of birders, with more than 600 residents posting photos of their latest feathered finds, and noting when and where they see a particular species.

One of the regulars is avid nature photographer Melanie Palik. She said the community now knows her as the ‘Bird Nerd’ due to her personal interest in bird biology in the last several years.

hummingbird Melanie Palik says waiting for this ruby-throated hummingbird to fly to the right spot could take hours. And then you need to be quick enough to snap the photo. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Palik)

It can take hours to snap right shot, she said, and the process isn’t always glamorous. But when it comes to connecting with nature, Palik said there’s nothing more therapeutic, especially in a time like this.

“Just being outside, listening to the air blowing through the leaves or even ... seeing the ducks and seeing all the different birds, all your bad feelings disappear,” she said.

blue_heronPalik sometimes sells her photos in the form of calendars. One of her favourites is this one of a blue heron. (Photo courtesy Melanie Palik)

Studies suggest exposure to natural settings can have measurable health benefits. Some claim time outdoors can improve one’s mood, boost the immune system and reduce stress.

Palik wishes she could dedicate more time to photography, but as a family activity, she says bird- and nature-watching can be fun and educational.

“There’s actually so many beautiful things in this city, but you don’t see it if you’re not looking for it.”