On the Road with IBA Caretakers

Ted Cheskey, our manager of bird conservation, is out on Canada’s west coast meeting volunteer Caretakers who are part of the Important Bird Areas Program. On a visit to the Sidney Channel IBA in North Sidney B.C., Ted had a chance to speak with James Finley, IBA Caretaker, about marine IBAs, being a Caretaker, and his love for the beautiful Bufflehead:

Sidney Channel is a 4 km wide body of water that lies along the extreme southeast shore of Vancouver Island between James Island (and the larger Saanich Peninsula) and Sidney Island.

The Sidney Channel IBA is a terrific place to birdwatch. In one short boat excursion, Ted saw Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Herrmann’s Gull, Bald Eagle, Brant Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Common Loon, Pacific Loon, and Harlequin Duck, as well as Harbour Seals and Harbour Porpoises. Of particular significance at this site are the large concentrations of Brandts Cormorants during fall migration (just over 1% of the worlds estimated population), and Mew Gulls and Brant during spring migration.

As a Caretaker, James is the eyes, ears and feet on the ground at his IBA. Like other Caretakers, James has been matched to his specific IBA to monitor birds, assess habitats, and conduct conservation activities. He works with local communities, scientists, governments and nature groups to promote Important Bird Areas and to ensure that local conservation ideas are put into action. Hands-on volunteer work from people like James helps build healthier bird communities and more sustainable environments for future generations.

BC Nature, with financial assistance from Nature Canada’s Communities in Action Fund, launched the first Caretaker Network in Canada. In 2009, TransCanada Corporation committed $1 million over five years as a national sponsor of the Canadian IBA Caretakers Network, so that today, volunteer Caretakers are in all ten provinces.

BirdLife International began the IBA program in Europe in the 1980s in order to identify, conserve and monitor a network of sites that provides essential habitat for bird populations. Since that time, BirdLife partners in more than 178 countries and territories have joined together to build the global IBA network. Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada co-deliver BirdLife’s IBA Program in this country.

Bufflehead, photo by Vladmir Morozov

This weekend, James and many of his neighbours in Sidney will be celebrating the return of that community’s adoptive bird, the Bufflehead. According to James, who has been observing these birds at Sidney Channel Important Bird Area (IBA) for many years, Buffleheads arrive there and at Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Vancouver Island on the 298th solar day of the year, every year. This timing equates to the 15th day of October (except in Leap Years), and October 15 has come to be known as All Buffleheads Day in recognition of the annual migratory event.

So this weekend, take a moment to consider the Bufflehead and the special place it holds in Canada’s natural history. If you happen to be in Sidney, British Columbia, join the celebrations for All Bufflehead Day and the 80th anniversary of the Shoal Migratory Bird Sanctuary at Lillian Hoffar Park.