Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mapping Our Birds--the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas kicks off in 2017

this image I took of a Long-billed Curlew nestling (and others with parents in view)
 confirms its status as a breeding species in Grasslands National Park
How far south do loons breed in Saskatchewan? Are some songbird breeding ranges shifting north under climate change? Do White-faced Ibis breed in the Qu'Appelle watershed?

In the next five years, fresh answers to those and many other questions about the province's breeding birds will emerge. 2017 will see the launch of five summers of field work aimed at figuring out which species of birds are breeding where in Saskatchewan. While preparations and planning were underway last year, Bird Studies Canada (BSC) and its partners officially launched the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas in the New Year, with an attractive new website and a solid plan in place. 

To manage the data collection, the atlas design subdivides Saskatchewan into 6,900 10 km by 10 km squares. Even with that army of volunteers and a crack team of scientists, skilled staff people and an energetic coordinating committee, it won't be possible to survey every one of those squares. 

In a recent article posted by Planet S in Saskatoon, project coordinator Kiel Drake said that they will follow "a sampling grid" that will provide representation of the province's geography and birdlife, aiming for somewhere between 1300 and 1500 atlas squares. On each of these he said they hope to get 20 hours of "general atlassing". 

Even at the low target of 1300 atlas squares covered in five years, that amounts to a total of 26,000 atlassing hours--more than five thousand hours a year. That could be achieved with fifty atlasers averaging 100 hours a summer or 100 atlasers averaging fifty hours--or some such multiples.

Daunting? Perhaps, but Manitoba just finished up their five years of survey work--and if they can do it so can we. This is where you and I come in--as volunteers. 

Of course the more skilled you are at identifying birds the better, but not everyone is a hotshot ear-birder who can nail down the hiss of a Nelson's sparrow a half kilometre away. Meanwhile, there are thousands of Saskatchewan people who are confident identifying certain familiar species--for example waterfowl or farm yard birds. They may not think of themselves as birders but they pay attention to the birds they know and leave the rest aside. This too is a perfectly legitimate way to help out as a citizen scientist. For the Saskatchewan Atlas project you could sign up to help in your region (the province is divided into sixteen regions, each with their own volunteer coordinator), and then simply report breeding data on the species that you can comfortably identify.
a screen capture of the southern half of the Breeding Bird Atlas map of regions

And if you choose to, you could take some of the bird ID training that will be available during the atlas project, and increase your list of the birds you can identify. 

Regardless, throughout the five years, there will be help on hand if you are uncertain of the identification of a particular bird. Of course it helps if you can take a photograph, even a fuzzy one, and email it to your regional coordinator.

As for the more skilled birdwatchers out there--now is the time for you to step up and give something back to nature. You have had many pleasant hours chasing vagrants, watching the warblers pass through on a spring morning or the hawks head south in fall. The birds need you to give a few of your mornings this summer to the atlas. The breeding data you help gather will provide the kind of information we need to recognize, defend and protect breeding habitat from south to north in the province. Without solid data on breeding bird populations, the pressure to reduce regulation and government oversight, and the logic of endless economic growth will continue to destroy the places our birds need to nest and rear their young.

Healthy landscapes that support a diversity of breeding birds are healthy landscapes for all of us. 

Please register to help with the atlas when you get a minute--using this web page from the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas site.

this dapper fellow, a Black-crowned Night Heron, breeds at certain choice
wetlands throughout Region 8 of the Sask. Breeding Bird Atlas

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