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Bird-watchers to brave the snow storm for the count

By Radhika Panjwani

Brampton Guardian

December 14, 2013

PEEL— This group of individuals can best be described as birds of the same feather.

While the weatherman has forecasted a nasty snow storm in Brampton and nearby areas, a group of intrepid bird-watchers are planning to shrug-off the discomfort of inclement weather to undertake an important assignment.

The group—belonging to the South Peel Naturalist Club — will be participating in the 49th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), Saturday, Dec. 14.

The CBC, introduced by American ornithologist Frank Chapman in 1900 is a one-day bird census. Volunteers are assigned fixed geographic areas or plots from where they spot and record different species of birds.

The counts are organized locally by birding and nature clubs and the data collected will be used to monitor the status of resident and migratory birds across Western hemisphere, explained Anne Bell, director of conservation and education at Ontario Nature.

“The Christmas Bird Count is fun and informative,” she said. “Experts are out there counting alongside novice birders, all committed to seeing as much as possible, regardless of the weather. You know you’re contributing to important scientific research and are spurred on by the hope that a rare bird might show up.”

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife census and a crucial part of Canada’s biodiversity monitoring database, said Bell adding that between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. There will be more than 60 bird counts taking place across the province.

The birders or citizen scientists are a brave lot who, armed with spotting scopes, smart phones (loaded with special apps), checklist, pencil, paper and a map trudge through deep snow and freezing weather conditions.

Last year, some 4,200 people participated in 110 Christmas Bird Counts to document 185 species and 1,516,553 individual birds.

The Peel-Halton count recorded six warbler species: Orange-crowned, Nashville, Cape May, yellow-rumped, pine and the common yellow- throat, whose presence was attributed to a warm fall.

The CBC also helps ornithologists understand long-term trend, health and behaviour of bird species. For instance, the northern hawk owls and great grey owls are showing-up in higher than normal numbers this time of the year and the barred owls—which were rarely spotted before — now appear to be more widespread in some areas of southwestern Ontario. Also, last year, birders recorded some 205 bald eagles in Thunder Bay alone.

The annual bird counts help Ontario Nature—a group whose mandate is to protect wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement— to study and introduce preservation programs, if needed.

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