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Nature Canada launches Purple Martin Project
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Nature Canada launches Purple Martin Project

"PUMA":  Don't worry, Nature Canada is not about to sell athletic clothing or wrestle with large cats. PUMA is also an abbreviation (called an alpha code) that scientists often use to talk about a species of bird called the Purple Martin. My name is Megan MacIntosh and I am thrilled to join Nature Canada as the Purple Martin Project Coordinator. There are many mysteries surrounding the life history of the Purple Martin that make it an interesting species to study, and there are many reasons to be excited about this project which I would like to share with you. The Purple Martin is the largest North American swallow. It belongs to a guild of species called aerial insectivores which are specialized at feeding on insects while in flight. Other examples of aerial insectivores include swifts, swallows, fly-catchers, nightjars, and Whip-poor-wills. Aerial insectivores have experienced widespread population declines of up to 70% over the past several decades, and Purple Martins are no exception. Why the startling decline? The exact cause of this unnerving trend remains unclear. Mortality from exposure to pesticides, wind power projects, decrease in food availability, inability to adapt to climate change and corresponding habitat changes have been suggested as possible culprits. To add to the mystery, population declines follow a geographic pattern and are most pronounced in the north-east of North America. A decline of 5 – 7.5% annually has been recorded in the lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region leaving the 2013 population estimated below 15,000 individuals. Interestingly, Purple Martins have a strong connection with humans. They are diurnal (daytime) migrants that breed throughout North America and travel to Brazil for the winter. West of the Rocky Mountains they nest predominately in natural cavities, however, in eastern North America they are entirely dependent on apartment-like nest houses provided by their human ‘land lords’. For a long time, little has been known about the timing and movements of migratory songbirds since their small bodies could not accommodate most tracking devices. As technology improves and tracking devices are made increasingly smaller, researchers are finally able to collect critical knowledge on these birds as they travel continental distances – information which will be crucial to their conservation. The goal of the Eastern Ontario Purple Martin Project is to address knowledge gaps in the species life-cycle by determining their local, regional, and international movements, roost site locations, and post-breeding behaviour. The project aims to significantly contribute to the conservation of Purple Martins in anticipation of aiding the overall plight of aerial insectivores and related environmental issues. If you’re interested in becoming involved, please feel free to stop by Nature Canada’s upcoming Bird Day Festival event on May 31st from 10am- 4pm at Andrew Haydon Park in Ottawa where I will be set up with a booth. You can also look towards upcoming volunteer opportunities such as banding and helping us locate local roost sites.

Victory! Rescuing Panama Bay
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Victory! Rescuing Panama Bay

We just recently received word that one of the most important sites for critical biodiversity in the Western Hemisphere has just been protected! Ladies and gentlemen, this is what a success looks like! The Bay of Panama, a globally Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, is home to a large number of bird and other species that use the area for both habitat and migration. Last year the Panamanian government took away this critical site’s status as a protected area, throwing a massively important natural habitat into crisis and opening it up to the risk of major environmental destruction. Nature Canada is honoured to have played a small role in the campaign to bring legal protection back to Panama Bay. The Panama Audubon Society (Sociedad Audubon de Panamá) reached out to us and asked for our help. Nature Canada responded with a donation from two of our members to support their efforts to campaign to re-instate the protected areas status of the Bay. In late 2013, Nature Canada provided $10,000 for bird conservation in Panama Bay on behalf of long-time Nature Canada members Len and Anne Murray. The prospect of winning this campaign looked dim for a while. But Panama Audubon persevered and, with this funding support, were able to engage in an extremely high profile campaign that galvanized public support and won the day with a decision from Panama’s highest court to re-instate the Bay’s protected areas status! Panama Bay is perhaps the most important link in a chain of sites upon which depend millions of migratory shorebirds (this chain of sites includes the Boundary Bay and Tofino IBAs in Canada). Destruction of any one of these links — especially Panama Bay — would have had the potential of destabilizing entire populations of shorebirds throughout the entire hemisphere. Thankfully, nature won this round today. Good job, team!

Looking Back on Two Years of Hard Work
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Looking Back on Two Years of Hard Work

caribou bull Wayne Sawchuck
Since Nature Canada began what has now been a two-year long commitment to act as a joint intervenor with BC Nature on the Northern Gateway Pipeline review process, long hours and a lot of elbow grease has gone into participating in the hearings. Thanks to donor support and the pro bono help of Chris Tollefson and his legal team at the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, we have been very busy and effective in the final stages of the Northern Gateway hearings. We would like to share with you some of the valuable work that has been made possible through the combined efforts of all three groups. Over the past two years, we have:
  • Conducted 25 hours of cross examinations of four distinct Northern Gateway experts panels on topics ranging from caribou biology, to ornithology, to spills probability and consequence modelling
  • Filed and argued four motions which have succeeded in adducing critical new evidence around caribou issues, and drawing national attention to the procedural deficiencies with the current Joint Review Panel process
  • Made five trips to northern B.C. usually of 3 to 4 days duration or longer including
  • 2 trips to Prince George, B.C.
  • 3 trips to Prince Rupert, B.C.
  • 1 trip to Terrace, B.C.
  • Completed a 92 page single spaced final written argument
  • Completed oral argument in reply to Enbridge two hours after Enbridge delivered theirs
  • Secured media coverage of BC Nature and Nature Ccanada and interviews in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun and dozens of other newspapers, national and local radio and television, Canadian Lawyer and a forthcoming feature piece in American Lawyer
Well over 1,000 hours of senior lawyer time, 2,000 hours of student time as well as thousands of dollars in travel costs and other disbursements were provided pro bono by the UVic Environmental Law Centre and its funders during this process. In a recent conversation, we asked Chris Tollefson, Executive Director of the Environmental Law Centre, to reflect on some of the ground-breaking moments in our involvement in the hearings. Nature Canada: Enbridge has been arguing that the project poses little threat to BC’s wilderness, even as they attempt to explain spills like the one in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The evidence we submitted to the panel suggests otherwise. What did you argue? Chris Tollefson: From the beginning we have argued that Enbridge has underestimated the project’s risks. First we focused on the endangered woodland caribou. Enbridge misjudges the threat of increased mortality from predators, and the impact that fragmentation of habitat will have on the caribou’s ability to feed and breed. Nature Canada: What was so flawed about Enbridge’s science on the woodland caribou? Chris Tollefson: Their assessments are far too rosy. For example: • Enbridge relied on just a single source – an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed slide show on Yukon Caribou – to derive the 'linear feature density' number that they say justifies the project. The problem is that the number is unsupportable, and the source they rely on never actually approved of the number in the first place. Mark Hume of the Globe says that this error, uncovered in our cross-examination, "might just be enough to sink the project". • Enbridge used data that looked at the availability of caribou winter habitat without considering summer habitat availability. A robust analysis would have looked at both. • We fought – successfully – to have new caribou research entered into evidence that raised urgent questions about the fate of caribou, wolves and the Gateway Pipeline. Nature Canada:  And what about Enbridge’s claims about the potential impact of oil spills? Chris Tollefson: First of all, the company avoids looking at worst-case scenarios, such as a spill within the globally significant Scott Islands Important Bird Area. To truly understand the total risk involved of a project that would bring giant tankers into these pristine waters at the rate of one every other day, we argued that the consequences are too high to do anything but prepare for the worst. Secondly, Enbridge has downplayed the consequences of an oil spill by arguing the "scientific literature is clear” that species inevitably recover. We forced them to concede, however, that none of the studies they cite involved marine mammals, and only one study of marine birds they cite showed post-spill ‘recovery’. Enbridge also failed to consider the potential impact of oil spills on open ocean wanderers such as albatrosses and shearwaters. We would like to thank BC Nature and the Environmental Law Centre for their hard work, ingenuity and perseverance during the hearings. Recommendations from the Panel to the federal government are expected later this year. For a summary of our participation in the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings, read our previous posts on the topic here.

Mayor of Ottawa Declares May 12th Migratory Birds and IBAs Day
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Mayor of Ottawa Declares May 12th Migratory Birds and IBAs Day

[three_fourth] We are thrilled to announce the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, has acknowledged the international significance of the Lac Deschênes-Ottawa River IBA and declared May 12 Migratory Birds and Important Bird Areas Day. Deputy Mayor Steve Desroches will present the proclamation at Bird Fair, held in Ottawa's Andrew Hayden Park on May 12, 2013. Below you'll find the official proclamation that Nature Canada submitted to Mayor Watson's office and which was accepted just in time for Bird Fair! [separator headline="h2" title="Migratory Birds And IBAs Day"] May 12th, 2013 WHEREAS, Ottawa boasts a rich natural heritage, including the globally significant Lac Deschênes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA), so recognized for thousands of waterbirds and waterfowl that congregate locally on the Ottawa River each spring and fall; and WHEREAS, BirdLife International’s IBA Program in Canada is a science-based initiative to identify, conserve and monitor a network of crucial sites for migration, feeding, resting and nesting habitats of bird populations; and WHEREAS, Nature Canada is the Canadian partner for International Migratory Bird Day, which celebrates migratory birds' spectacular seasonal migrations; THEREFORE, I, Jim Watson, Mayor of the City of Ottawa, do hereby proclaim May 12th, 2013 as Migratory Birds and IBAs Day in Ottawa and encourage residents to celebrate birds at the Lac Deschênes-Ottawa River IBA. [separator headline="h2" title="Journée Des Oiseaux Migrateurs "] ET DES ZICO Le 12 mai 2013 ATTENDU QUE la région d’Ottawa peut se vanter de son riche patrimoine naturel, notamment la Zone importante pour la conservation des oiseaux (ZICO) d’intérêt mondial du lac Deschênes, lieu de rencontre, tous les printemps et automnes, de milliers d’oiseaux aquatiques et de sauvagine sur la rivière des Outaouais; et ATTENDU QUE le programme de ZICO au Canada de BirdLife International est une initiative scientifique visant l’identification, la conservation et la surveillance du réseau de sites de migration, d’alimentation, de repos et de nidification des populations d’oiseaux; et ATTENDU QUE Nature Canada et le partenaire canadien de la Journée internationale des oiseaux migrateurs, laquelle célèbre les migrations saisonnières spectaculaires des oiseaux migrateurs; PAR CONSÉQUENT, je, Jim Watson, maire de la Ville d’Ottawa, proclame par la présente le 12 mai 2013 la Journée des oiseaux migrateurs et des ZICO à Ottawa, et j’encourage les résidents à célébrer les oiseaux à la ZICO du lac Deschênes (rivière des Outaouais). Jim Watson Mayor / Maire [/three_fourth][one_fourth_last] bird fair merlin by SJ Stephen Merlin by SJ Stephen [/one_fourth_last]

Get to Know Your Important Bird Area
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Get to Know Your Important Bird Area

Here in the National Capital Region, we’re lucky to have an Important Bird Area right in the heart of the city. Just minutes from the downtown core and accessible by public transportation, the Lac Deschênes Important Bird Area (IBA) is a piece of natural habitat that is cherished by Ottawans and residents of Gatineau and is an important area for the region’s birds and other species. Why is it so important? The Lac Deschênes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area is one of the most important places for migrating and breeding birds in Ottawa-Gatineau. Thousands of waterfowl and waterbirds congregate here each spring and fall as they migrate between breeding grounds in northern Quebec and Ontario to areas farther south. Tens of thousands of songbirds also use the river and its forested borders for food and shelter. It’s like a wildlife super highway. Over 300 bird species have been observed in the IBA, making it one of the region’s premier birding locales. Ring-billed Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons breed on some mid-channel islands. The Britannia Conservation Area comes alive in spring with up to 100 species of songbirds returning from southern wintering grounds. Impressive numbers of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants and insects are found at the IBA. Some are regionally or nationally at-risk, including Harlequin Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Peregrine Falcon, Common Nighthawk, Barn Swallow, Red-headed Woodpecker and Wood Thrush. If you live in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, why not come out this weekend and help us clean-up the IBA while getting to know the local wildlife? For upcoming events at our IBA, check out Lac Deschênes website. Nature Canada is a partner, with Bird Studies Canada, in delivering the Important Bird Areas Program in Canada. Canada’s IBA Program plays a critical role in national bird conservation efforts. Major support for the program comes from TransCanada Corporation, Wildlife Habitat Canada, and the Government of Canada. To learn more about the program and to find out if you live near an IBA, visit the IBA website.

Happy Earth Day!
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Happy Earth Day!

[two_third] In celebration of Earth Day and to welcome back the migrating birds we headed out to the globally significant Lac Deschênes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area this weekend for a day of spring cleaning. Spring migration is gearing up and a great group of enthusiastic volunteers meet up with Nature Canada staff at two locations along the urban stretch of the Ottawa River to collect garbage. Garbage is not only an eye sore for people who want to enjoy the outdoors, it can also be incredibly dangerous for birds and other wildlife. The majority of the garbage we collected consisted of small things such as bottle caps, cigarette butts and small pieces of plastic. Take out coffee cups and empty water bottles were also abundant. In addition we had a couple of pretty interesting finds such as a pair of roller skates, part of the hull of a boat, kitchen equipment and a lamp shade. Of course we also took some time to watch the birds in the area and saw quite a few species. It feels like new species are spotted almost every day now as migrating birds take advantage of the warming weather and the insects that are hatching out of the river. At Britannia Bay the species we saw and heard were the Ring-billed Gull, Canada Goose, European Starling,  American Crow, Blue Jay, Mallard, House Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Common Grackle. At Bate Island the species we saw and heard were the Canada Goose, Mallards, Common Golden-eye, Ring-billed Gull, Red-winged Blackbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Lesser Scaup, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Sparrow and European Starling.

The swallows were swooping out over the river in a beautiful moving flock picking up insects. You can see the most recent reported bird sightings along the Lac Deschênes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area right on the homepage of naturecanada.ca On behalf of the birds we would like to ask you to make sure that your garbage makes it into the garbage bin and we encourage you to help others do the same. Together we can all keep our green spaces clean for the wildlife who call it home, and for the people who visit to enjoy nature. Thank you and happy Earth Day! [/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of waste in a park Click to see more images from the day.[/caption] Image of swallows [/one_third_last]

Upcoming Events to Welcome Back Birds to the National Capital Region
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Upcoming Events to Welcome Back Birds to the National Capital Region

TY Barn-swallow_Thimindu-Goonatillake2-960x410
Mark your calendar! In the spirit of spring, we’re hosting a series of events in the Ottawa-Gatineau area to celebrate nature and the return of our shared migratory birds. The events are family-friendly and are a great way to give back to your community while learning about the natural wonders that are right in your backyard. We hope to see you there! Earth Day Spring Cleaning - Ottawa Where: Deschênes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA) When:  Sunday April 21, 2013 What: Help us celebrate Earth Day by collecting litter within our Lac Deschênes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA), and get the IBA ready to welcome home our returning migratory birds. Meet us at: Britannia Bay – 9am to 12pm Bate island – 1pm to 4pm Visit our facebook event page for more information, or just meet us along the river. Material will be provided, but feel free to bring your own work gloves. Don’t forget to wear close toed shoes. Earth Day Spring Cleaning – Gatineau  Where: Deschênes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA) When: Saturday April 27, 2013 La Grande Nettoyage du Printemps. Come and help the spring clean-up efforts of la Ville de Gatineau within the Lac Deschenes – Ottawa River IBA between 9 :00 and 11 :30 am.  Watch for more details at naturecanada.ca and on our social media.  Our clean-up efforts are followed by a BBQ. Bring binoculars as there will be birds around. Nature Canada presents “Rio” at the Mayfair  Where: MayFair Theatre When: Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 10:30am What: Nature Canada presents "Rio" as part of our International Migratory Bird Day celebrations. Join us at 10:30am on Sunday April 28 as we welcome back Canada’s migrating birds to our Lac Deschênes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area. Learn about this internationally recognized urban Important Bird Area and how you can make your own backyard bird friendly. Brush up on your bird knowledge and win prizes. Tickets are available at the door Adult $7 Child $5 Family (2 adult, 2 children) $20 Doors open at 10am and Rio begins at 11am. For more information on the Lac Deschênes project visit naturecanada.ca or visit our facebook event page Ottawa’s First Bird Fair Where: Deschênes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA) When: Sunday, May 12, 2013 What: Bird banding demonstration, walks, crafts and more
  • Bird Banding Demonstration – 7am to 11am . Join Nature Canada’s own certified bird bander, Ted Cheskey for a bird banding demonstration at Rue Houle in Alymer. Observe bird banding and learn about how researchers use this technique to study birds around the world.
 
  • Bird Fair at Andrew Hayden Park – from 11am to 4pm. Ottawa’s first ever Bird Fair will be happening on Sunday May 12, 2013 from 11am to 4pm at Andrew Hayden Park, and we want you to share in the celebration! At the Bird Fair we will have lots to do for the entire family including bilingual bird walks, crafts and activities for visitors of all ages, and informative talks, music and other entertainment.  Local vendors will be present and we will have something special for Mother’s!
 
  • Deschênes Naturehood Tour – 11am to 3pm. We use the same concept as a studio or winery tour to better acquaint local citizens with the globally significant Lac Deschênes- Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA) that’s found right in the heart of the National Capital Region. There will be an information booth at each of the following 6 stops along the IBA directing people to great birding spots, discussing the IBA program, and answering questions:
 
  • Aylmer Marina
  • Rue Houle Boat Launch
  • Mud Lake
  • Brébeuf Street
  • Bate Island
  • Shirley’s Bay
 

Marine e-Atlas is a breakthrough tool to manage the world’s oceans
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Marine e-Atlas is a breakthrough tool to manage the world’s oceans

  [two_third] Do you like maps? Then you’ll love this news. The first global inventory of important sites for the conservation of migratory marine species is being launched today at COP11 in India.  It’s called the e-Atlas of Marine Important Bird Areas, and it promises to provide essential information for a whole raft of people from conservation practitioners and policy makers, to fisheries managers and energy sector planners (think wind farms, gas and oil exploration and drilling). The e-Atlas, a product of BirdLife International, covers 3,000 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) worldwide, and 325 IBAs in Canada, including 124 marine IBAs. It is the result of six years of effort that, to date, has involved around 40 BirdLife Partners, with the world’s leading seabird scientists from inside and outside the BirdLife Partnership, in collaboration with government departments of conservation, environment and fisheries. Data on Canada’s IBAs is based in part on work of Canadian BirdLife co-partners Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada as part of our Important Bird Areas program, which aims to identify, monitor and protect a global network of IBAs for the conservation of the world’s birds and other biodiversity. In addition to the globally significant IBAs profiled in this new Atlas, we’ve identified nearly 300 other IBAs that support nationally significant bird populations. The grand total puts Canada’s Important Bird Areas at roughly 600; you can learn about all of them at www.ibacanada.ca. An e-Atlas on marine sites for migratory species, particularly birds, has been on many a conservationist’s wish-list for some time. Globally, seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds, though Canada is somewhat of a haven for many species. Given the vast distances seabirds cover, the long periods they spend at sea and the many threats they face there, identifying a network of priority sites for their conservation is vital to ensure their future survival. Bordered by three oceans, with the longest coastline in the world and more than 52,000 islands, Canada supports about 15 million breeding seabirds, the most common being Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Thick-billed Murre and Cassin’s Auklet. In addition, there are millions of migrants, mostly shearwaters, which breed in the Southern Hemisphere and visit Canada during our summer. According to the State of Canada’s Birds 2012 report, which Nature Canada published with several conservation partners, oil at sea, both illegal discharges and major spills, poses an increasing threat to Canada’s seabirds. Oil and gas developments are concentrated on continental shelves around Canada’s coasts, which are also the prime feeding areas for many birds and fish. While breeding, seabirds aggregate in huge colonies, sometimes more than a million birds, and these vast concentrations are extremely vulnerable to marine oil spills. The e-Atlas includes profiles on 30 sites along the Northern British Columbia coast that could be exposed to oil pollution from increased tanker traffic and an impossible-to-rule-out oil spill if the Northern Gateway Pipeline project is approved. Nature Canada and BC Nature are joint interveners in the Joint Review Panel hearings examining Northern Gateway, which proposes to carry tar sands oil from Alberta across the Rockies to the northern B.C. port of Kitimat. Giant tankers - some nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall - loaded with crude oil headed for Asia would navigate through the pristine and rugged northern B.C. coast at the rate of about one every second day. That's bad news for B.C. wildlife; the central and north coast of B.C. is a globally important area for marine birds, other marine animals and fish.

Collectively the IBAs there support approximately one half (1.5+ million individuals) of the world’s Cassin’s Auklets, about one third (0.5 million) of the world’s Ancient Murrelets, about one quarter (300,000) of the world’s Rhinoceros Auklets, and up to 10% of the global population of Pelagic Cormorants. Other breeding seabirds that exceed global importance thresholds within the Gateway project area include Leach’s Storm-petrel (up to 2% of the global population), Fork-tailed Storm-petrel (up to 3% of the global population) and Pigeon Guillemot (up to 2% of the global population).
By the way, none of the bird populations within these IBAs is acknowledged as a “key species” and potential impacts on these populations were not assessed by Enbridge in its pipeline proposal.
Several globally threatened, globally near-threatened and federally and provincially listed seabird species regularly occur as non-breeders, including Short-tailed Albatross, Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwater, Buller’s Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Yellow-billed Loon.
A spill there could cause irreversible harm to the livelihoods of many coastal and aboriginal communities and the area's unique marine ecosystems. Our experts are preparing to take part in the cross-examination phase of the hearings, which are already underway and continue through to Christmas. [/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Pectoral Sandpiper Pectoral Sandpiper[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Tufted Puffin Tufted Puffin[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Surf Scoter Surf Scoter[/caption] [/one_third_last]

A chance encounter leads to a guided tour of a Manitoba Important Bird Area
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A chance encounter leads to a guided tour of a Manitoba Important Bird Area

[two_third]Charlie McPherson, Important Bird Area Caretaker for the Netley-Libau Marsh in Manitoba, shares his story of the extraordinary sights he witnessed on a recent birding trip.  In August, I attended a fundraiser for The Lake Winnipeg Foundation.. I met a scientist, Buster Welch, at the fundraiser who's on one of the Foundation's boards who just so happens to have a boat. When he heard I was Caretaking and birding our Important Bird Area - the Netley-Libau Marsh, he offered the boat to me for as long as, and for as many times as, I would need it. When I said, "I have a boat," he said, "Ah, but mine is in the water." How true! The Netley-Libau marsh, Important Bird Area (IBA) 009, is about 18 square kilometres in size and flows into Lake Winnipeg. It is an entire ecosystem in upheaval. The Lake Winnipeg Regulation (a dam in the north) keeps it submerged. A submerged marsh is a dying marsh. I live at the northwest corner of this marsh. The scientist lives at the southwest corner. For me to bird the southwest corner, it means hooking up my boat and trailer and launching in Lake Winnipeg nearby (usually quite possible if wind and weather conditions are right, and in the summer they usually are) and a long journey south through the marsh's maze of channels to the southwest corner, or it could mean a simple little hop, skip and a straight jump by road to his boat in the southwest corner - no loading and/or launching of anything - just jump in. He offered to tour me through Wheeler's Lake too, the only marsh lake I hadn't done bird counts in  throughout the spring and summer. It's in the crown lands off the marsh's vast interior and is not as affected by lake regulation. It's a small, shallow  delta marsh lake at the end of Wavy Creek which drains into Netley Creek, which drains into the Red River, which drains into the Netley-Libau marsh - all of the above being a part of the IBA. After setting out together and entering the IBA, we found Green Herons (rare for this area) in one of the fingernail ponds at the end of a water finger within Wheeler's Lake that evening and a few grebes, ducks, other herons, coots and shorebirds etc. - the shallow, weedy, fingertip ponds being where a lot of the life of the marsh is. A Great Egret (another rare bird for this marsh/area) was sighted just last week, and I found 8 earlier in the season in the Crooked Creek area (northeast corner of the marsh). I call the last hour before dusk the ‘Magic Hour’. It's the hour before the birds settle in for the night, the hour when all kinds of bird activity is going on. Ring-billed Gulls, for example, concentrate in this marsh before heading south and there were thousands flying back in from the surrounding farm lands that evening - thousands. I thought I'd be counting them forever when a few Barn Swallows started showing up. I've read that Barn Swallows will almost exclusively roost in marshes during migration, and on their wintering grounds. When my scientist guide shouted, "Tree Swallows!" I looked up and saw that they were Barn Swallows and said so. They WERE Barn Swallows and their numbers built from a few, to a dozen, to a couple dozen or more as we boated through a quarter mile diameter of creek opening in a sea of cattails where Wheeler's Lake meets Netley Creek. I didn't think much about it at first but fall migrating swallow concentrations are a part of why this area is designated an Important Bird Area. You don't see too many swallows zipping around the marsh throughout the summer breeding season so when they started showing up in the dozens I thought it better to be counting them rather than Ring-billed Gulls, so I dropped counting the individual gulls on this trip and just gave them a ‘guestimate’, a rough approximation of the actual numbers. As we quietly motored into Netley Creek, the creek suddenly turned into a turmoil of golf-ball sized splashes, what we thought at first were feeding fish. We both like to fish so we were quite interested in what was going on and, upon examination, realized it was the Barn Swallows returning to the marsh in mass from wherever it was that they had been during the day, diving in for a quick dip and a probable drink, an immediate out, and then into the cattails to preen. (I've watched Red-eyed Vireos do the quick dip thing, as well, although not in mass). There's no way to count a big bunch of Barn Swallows cruising around like WW2 fighter bombers. They were everywhere! Truly, this was a birding experience EXTRA-ORDINAIRE! Golf ball-sized Barn Swallows!  Imagine that! Thank you IBA program! I might have missed that had I not been in the marsh doing these counts. I gave them a guestimate, too, like I did the Ring-billed Gulls. I hope to run into them again on another count. That might help to nail down some of their numbers. I truly appreciated being guided through Wheeler's Lake, not just because of the Green Heron and Barn Swallow experiences, but because Buster was sensitive as to how he maneuvered his boat, how he got me up close to the birds, and how he held the boat in the breezes. On the way back out, with a spectacular red sun setting in the west and a rising white moon in the east, we came across and passed a Merlin perched in a small, dead maple tree. My guide turned the boat gently back downstream, re-approached the Merlin (which kindly obliged us by not flying off) and positioned it in such a way that I could photograph the Merlin with the moon hovering over it, moon framed by branches - another wonderful birding experience. There is no doubt in my mind that the Merlin had been preying upon the swallows and the hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of blackbirds coming in from the surrounding areas to roost in the marsh that night - fall concentrations of blackbirds are another reason this IBA is an IBA. [/two_third] [one_third_last] barn swallows - charlie mcpherson_2MBBarn swallows by Charlie McPherson merlin and moon - charlie mcpherson_2MBMerlin photographed at sunset by Charlie McPherson. [/one_third_last]

Canada’s Grassland Birds Face Declining Populations
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Canada’s Grassland Birds Face Declining Populations

[two_third]
The Greater Sage-grouse is on the brink of extinction in Canada. This iconic prairie bird, known for its spectacular mating dance, will likely vanish if emergency measures are not put in place to protect its grassland and sagebrush habitat. Unfortunately, the Sage-grouse is not alone. It’s one of many grassland bird species that have been declining over the past four decades. In a recent report co-published by Nature Canada, the plight of Canada’s grassland birds is placed in the context of changing agricultural practices, urban development and international conservation challenges to bring to light the need for concerted efforts to save grassland birds and their habitat before it’s too late.
The report, The State of Canada’s Birds 2012, draws on 40 years of data and summarizes the status of Canada’s bird populations for eight regions, including the boreal forest, prairies, Arctic and oceans. It’s the result of a collaborative effort between the National Bird Conservation Initiative in Canada (NABCI-Canada), and it highlights numerous changes to bird populations in Canada since the 1970s.The report found that grassland birds including Longspurs, Meadowlarks, Sprague’s pipit, Greater Sage-grouse and others, have declined by 50% due largely to a loss of habitat. Grassland bird populations are dwindling as high-intensity farming practices like wetland drainage, conversion of pastureland to cropland and over-grazing remove and degrade grassland and wetland habitat that supports grassland bird populations in the Canadian prairies and Lower Great Lakes – St. Lawrence regions.
In addition to those factors, increasing water use by cities, construction of roads and buildings that fragment habitat, and fire suppression near towns and cities compound the problem of disappearing grassland and wetland habitat. Climate change is also an emerging threat. The predicted increase in droughts for the prairies will have severe consequences for birds and humans.
However, there are significant conservation opportunities for Canadians to ensure healthy bird populations and healthy ecosystems.
So what can be done to reverse this trend?
[separator headline="h2" title="Bird-friendly Farming"]
It might come as a surprise to some that maintaining healthy populations of birds in the Canadian prairies can be compatible with agricultural practices that form the basis of the region’s economy and culture.  But according to the State of Canada’s Birds report, there are conservation opportunities – as well as challenges – present in the relationship between ranchers and naturalists.
In the prairies, there is a need to expand farming practices that are compatible with birds. Many grassland birds – from Meadowlarks to Loggerhead Shrikes – benefit from appropriate livestock grazing to maintain their preferred habitat.
Here are a few more bird-friendly farming practices:
  • No-till farming
  • Planting cover crops such as pasture and hay that prevent soil erosion and provide nesting cover for some grassland birds
  • Reducing pesticide use
  • Delay of haying until after young birds fledge
  • Maintenance and re-establishment of hedgerows
An example of well-managed native grassland habitat can be found in the “community pastures” or PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) pastures in the prairie provinces. These pastures are vital to the survival of 31 species at risk, including some of Canada’s most endangered birds. But with the recent passing of Bill C-38, this critical habitat will no longer be managed by the federal government but instead be handed over to the provinces, which will likely sell the land to the highest bidder. As a result, grassland birds and other wildlife that depend on a healthy network of PFRAs face losing the protection and maintenance formerly provided by the federal government. This is an issue that conservationists will need to watch closely as the hand-over gets underway.
[separator headline="h2" title="Buy Bird-friendly products"]
It has been shown that consumer choices can make a positive impact on forest birds through their choice in coffee. Shade grown coffee conserves bird habitat while sun grown coffee does not. In a similar way, some South American countries can support grassland bird habitat conservation by purchasing ‘bird certified’ beef from ranches that employ bird-friendly practices.
While bird-friendly practices are one part of the solution, the report also highlights the need for urban development to progress in a direction that conserves as much grassland habitat as possible and avoids key areas for birds.
[separator headline="h2" title="Extend Protections Beyond Our Borders"]
The greatest threat for migratory grassland bird species like Swainson’s Hawk is loss of habitat both inside and outside Canada. Swainson’s Hawk over-winters in the pampas and cerrado of the Southern Cone of South America, which faces ongoing habitat loss – grasslands are increasingly being converted to agriculture, plantations or urban settlements. Effective conservation of grassland migratory bird species that Canada shares with countries throughout the Americas, requires international cooperation that ensures the needs of these birds are addressed at all phases of their life cycles.
[/two_third] [one_third_last] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"]Image of a Greater Sage-grouse The Greater Sage-grouse faces extinction due to habitat loss[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240"]Image of a Swainson's hawk Swainson's hawk is losing habitat in its over-wintering sites in South America.[/caption] [/one_third_last]

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