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Bird watchers to flock together for the count

Brampton Guardian

December 11, 2012

By Radhika Panjwani

Each year, Brampton’s Bob Noble wakes up at the crack of dawn, to take part in an annual winter ritual known as Christmas Bird Count (CBC).


On Sunday, Dec. 16, Noble and a group of 25 people from Brampton and surrounding areas, will stop by the Claireville  and Heart Lake Conservation Areas, Professor’s Lake and other natural spaces near Brampton and Kleinburg, Ont. to collect data on bird population.

 
The bird watchers will be armed with binoculars, checklists, spotting scopes, smart phones (loaded with special apps for bird songs and ornithology books), pencil and paper as they identify and document the names and number of bird species.


Bird Studies Canada oversees Canada’s Christmas Bird Counts in collaboration with the National Audubon Society. 


Across North America, some 60,000 birders are expected to take part in the 113-year-old tradition which organizers described as  “the longest running citizen science survey in the world.”

 
In Ontario, each of the 120 groups, will be assigned a specific 24-kilometre count circle from where the census will take place over a 24-hour period. Each local count takes place on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, 2013.

 
“Bird counting shows the long-term trend and health of the population,” explained Noble who took to bird watching 15 years ago after being intrigued by the feathered visitors who stopped by the bird feeder he had installed. “The joy of discovering something prompted me to become a bird watcher. As part of the Christmas Bird Count, our group will be counting some 12,000 to 14,000 birds.”


The data collected offers researchers and conservation organizations critical information on bird population in North America.

 
Ontario Nature, a charitable organization whose mandate is to preserve and protect wild species and spaces, uses the numbers gleaned from the bird count to craft its conservation priorities.


For instance, based on the counts undertaken in the 1980s, scientists were able chart what they believed was a dramatic decline in the number of the American black ducks. This prompted organizations including Ontario Nature and others across North America to launch programs to save the ducks. Similarly, in 2009, thanks to the CBC, groups were also able to pinpoint the effect climate change has had on the bird species in North America and the spread of West Nile Virus.

 
“The Christmas Bird Count is important to ensure continued survival of birds,” said John Urquhart, Ontario Nature’s conservation science manager. “The census is a cost-effective way for conservation organizations to identify trends so that we can undertake conservation work where it’s needed most.”


These days, technology has made it easy for many people to embrace the hobby. For instance, individual apps on smart phones provides information and photographs of species, their habitat and even the bird call, he said.


Last year, some 63,000 volunteers counted more than 60 million birds, said Urquhart.


Noble has been participating in the CBC for the last 14 years. He recalled how a few years ago as a result of a particularly bad storm, half of his group couldn’t reach the count circle. Undeterred, Noble traipsed through Heart Lake Conservation Area—in knee-deep snow — for more than two hours during which he found just one bird. 
Another year, Noble and a couple of other enthusiasts were in a forest at 5:30 a.m. listening for owls when they were startled by the sound of something snapping behind them.


“It turned out to be three or four curious deers trying to figure out what we were doing out in the dark in their forest,” he said.


The CBC is a free event. For more information visit www.ontarionature.org or www.audubon.org. To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count, please click here

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