Bird count sneak beak

·5 min read

While the winter might send some birds flapping, little can deter avid birders like Onawa K. Jacobs.

“Although the weather conditions are less than ideal, the simple joys of birds and our natural world is more than enough to keep you warm,” said Jacobs, who is the Environment Protection general manager at Kahnawake’s Environment Protection Office (KEPO).

Fuelled by her passion for birding, Jacobs had signed up to be among the two groups of volunteers who led the Bird Protection Quebec (BPQ) annual Christmas Bird Count for Kahnawake on December 18.

“It’s important to know which bird species are wintering here and look at the trends over the 86 years this event has taken place (in the Montreal circle),” said Jacobs. “The information collected only further enhances our understanding of the environment and how we can help protect these vital spaces.”

Though the count for the Montreal circle that includes Kahnawake began less than 90 years ago, the initiative itself has been held annually across the Western Hemisphere for 122 years now.

Spearheaded by Birds Canada, the Christmas Bird Count takes place in over 2,000 locations throughout Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America every year, between December 14 and January 5.

From year-to-year, counts are carried out within a 24-KM diameter circle that remains the same throughout the years.

Sheldon Harvey has been the BPQ coordinator for the Montreal circle for over a decade.

While the 74 species recorded this year in the area fall within the range typically observed, the sighting of birds like the green heron and the white-crowned sparrow suggest the continued warming of winters.

“If you take the average temperature from year-to-year, you can see that it’s going up in the winter – not by much, but by enough for it to be recorded,” said Harvey. “That’s the indication that there is global warming happening.”

With almost 1,500 Canada geese counted for Montreal, the coordinator explained that the high numbers of ducks and geese further indicate that weather wasn’t yet cold enough to freeze.

Accounting for a third of that total, Kahnawake’s inland and seaway team counted 249 and 250 Canada geese, respectively.

The importance of the numbers collected during the annual event wasn’t missed by first-time participant and Environmental Education liaison at KEPO, Julie Delisle.

“A lot of bird species are facing extinction due to habitat loss and climate change impacts,” said Delisle. “The bird conservation field is very important (because) we depend on birds for many things including pest control, environmental indicators, pollination, seed dispersal, and much more.”

When Brandon Rice took part in the count for the first time last December, he sought to expand the knowledge he had built as a Support Project technician for the environment office.

“I did some work over the summer throughout the years on conservation in our area, especially for protecting our wetlands, which birds are a huge part of,” he said. “It was interesting to learn about the birds the area holds, what species stay in the winter and what we can look forward to in the future.”

As a keen hunter growing up in Kanesatake, Rice said he was left open-mouthed when a wild turkey appeared on the paved road where the old Kahnawake Survival School stood along Highway 132.

“We were all very surprised to see a turkey!” he exclaimed, letting out a laugh. “There’s such an abundant population in Kanesatake, but I never actually successfully hunted one here because they’re so hard to find.”

For his part, Cole Delisle was taken aback at the number of American robins his team spotted along the North Wall.

“As the morning went on and the wind quieted down, we started seeing more and more birds,” recounted KEPO’s Environmental Projects coordinator for terrestrial habitats. “There’s some I wouldn’t think we would see a lot in the winter like robins – and then came big flocks of them with maybe 50 birds.”

Indeed, the seaway team he was a part of counted 450 American robins, a stark contrast with the inland team, which recorded a mere 56.

Meanwhile, the group responsible for the count within the interior of the territory notably saw two bald eagles and 35 dark-eyed juncos, along with a number of ring-billed gulls, pileated woodpeckers and blue jays.

Overall, the Montreal circle counted a total of 17,016 birds; with 2,432 found in Kahnawake, the community recorded 32 differ- ent species during this year’s count.

On the seaway team, Jacobs was particularly pleased to see two hooded mergansers and one bar- row’s goldeneye as she had never seen them before.

“Birders refer to this as a ‘lifer,’ meaning a bird that you have seen for the first time in your life,” she explained.

As with every year, the data compiled will be submitted to the National Audubon Society to be used in multiple research projects like the State of the Birds and the Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report.

“It’s the oldest citizen science project with amateur bird-watchers going out to gather data for professionals to analyze,” said Harvey. “It’s a one-day count that gives us a snapshot of what’s going on out there over time.”

As one of thousands of volunteers involved, Jacobs emphasized the value of each effort to care for the feathered creatures.

“There is so much bird diversity in our community – along with other plants and wildlife. Kahnawake has many uniquely pristine ecosystems in comparison to the municipalities surrounding us,” she said. “This beauty is free for us to enjoy. It’s of great importance for us and future generations to honour and preserve.”

laurence.b.dubreuil@gmail.com

Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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