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Annual bird count lands next week

The Belleville Intelligencer,
By Tim Miller,
December 23 2015

BELLEVILLE - For many, the Monday following Christmas will either herald a return to work or the beginning of a second stretch of holidays.

For naturalist John Blaney and a few dozen others it’ll be a day spent on the lookout for feathered friends in the area.

December 28 is the date of this year’s Christmas Bird Count, an event Blaney has been involved with going on 14 years.

Numbers from the count by Blaney and crew will be compiled with numbers from thousands of other birders in hundreds of other bird counts across North America taking place the same day.

Blaney said the data generated by the yearly count is critical in helping keep track of how well we’re doing environmentally.

“Comparing the results long-term over a large area like that, they can start to see patterns where certain birds are possibly staying farther north than they used to, or a decline or increase in numbers,” he said. “It’s just one of a whole series of projects which are needed to indicate how species of birds are doing and birds are good indicators of the heath of an ecological system.”

Blaney has already participated in a few smaller counts this year and said the results have been “interesting”.

More common birds like cardinals and blue jays and chickadees are showing up less this year, Not because they’re not around, but because the warmer weather allows them to forage for more food away from the bird feeders they would normally be drawn to.

And that’s not the only aberration this year.

“The funny thing is that, despite the weather, people are reporting snowy owls,” said Blaney.

On Sunday Blaney spotted two in Prince Edward County, with someone else spotting a third on the south shore and a fourth spotted near Tweed.

“And those are just the ones I’ve heard about locally, there will be others.”

Blaney explained while climate change is a very real risk to bird migratory patterns, he doesn’t expect there will be any long-lasting affects from this year’s mild weather.

“They’ll go back to their regular habits next winter when we get snow and cold.”

While Blaney expects roughly 25 people to participate in the count this year, he does admit a rainy Monday might put a damper on those numbers.

“The weather forecast is not terribly encouraging which means numbers will be down and people will be wet,” he laughed.

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