Nature Canada
Purple Martins pair at bird house complex

Nature Canada shines at the Latornell Symposium

Image of Ted Cheskey

Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager

The Latornell Conservation Symposium is one of Ontario’s premier annual events for conservation practitioners, policy makers, environmental NGOs, and academics. The Ontario government, Conservation Ontario, the University of Guelph and many other organizations sponsor the symposium. It provides a unique forum to share work, research, and ideas with others working in the same or a similar field including those who interpret and enforce the policies that protect nature. This year’s symposium in late November explored the succession of science, knowledge, policy and organizations and the nature of this change on the environment.

Nature Canada’s Ted Cheskey and Megan MacIntosh participated in Wednesday’s proceedings, and presented Nature Canada’s work to protect and recover the rapidly declining Purple Martin and Threatened aerial insectivores as part of a session called “On a wing and a prayer: the plight of our birds.” The three-hour session featured a screening of the full-length documentary “The Messenger,” introduced by film Director Sue Rynard and Producer Joanne Jackson, followed by presentations from Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, author of Silence of the Songbirds and member of Nature Canada’s Women for Nature, Dr. Doug Tozer from our BirdLife Canada partner Bird Studies Canada, and us.

Image of group at Latornell Conservation Symposium

From left to right: Doug Tozer, Bridget Stutchbury, Sue Rynard, Megan MacIntosh and Ted Cheskey holding Maple Syrup bottle gifts from the conference that look suspiciously like bottles of contraband.

Despite the length of our session, and our position as last speakers, we were able to hold the attention of over 60 attendees, who engaged us with many questions. Our presentation described our stewardship work focused on housing management with the Ontario Purple Martin Association and our applied research with Dr. Kevin Fraser of the University of Manitoba. Both project components are supported by many local partners and volunteers. Nature Canada receives financial support from the Habitat Stewardship Program of Environment and Climate Change Canada as well as the Ontario Ministry of Nature Resources Species at Risk Stewardship Fund to do this work.

We were able to present some of our findings from recovering data tags that provide insights into the incredible migration route and timing of Martins. This was our moment to share the extraordinary news from this work that members of this species that breed thousands of kilometres apart, gather on the same islands at the same time in the Amazon River basin of Brazil.

Image of Megan MacIntosh presenting

Megan MacIntosh presents to a captivated audience the results of her field work.

Another key finding with significant conservation implications is with regard to post breeding, and pre-migratory roost sites. This summer, Megan and her crew located several of these giant, multi-swallow species roosts, some with over 20,000 individuals, which would qualify them, on their own, as Important Bird Areas. Roosts are poorly understood, and difficult to monitor, and even locate, though they can house tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of birds for several weeks prior to their southward departures. These roosts are largely located in wetlands along the southern Great Lakes and St. Lawrence. The concentration of birds at single roosts renders them vulnerable to different types of human activity, which may be a contributing factor to the declines. Our goal was to put up a flag for roost site protection in the conservation and resource management community. Judging from the response after our presentation, we have made our first good steps.

We were thrilled to share the stage with Sue, Joanne, Dr. Stutchbury and Dr. Tozer and speak proudly about Nature Canada’s work, which we hope to continue at some level in 2018.

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