Monday, April 27, 2009

Grass, Sky, Song Illustrated:
"Counting Birds"

this beautiful McCown's longspur image courtesy of Alan MacKeigan

In "Counting Birds" I get down to the numbers and how we arrive at them. How do we know that grassland birds, or any birds for that matter, are in decline? Well, in North America, the primary set of data is the Breeding Bird Survey or BBS.

As the Canadian Wildlife Service web page on the BBS says, "The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is an avian survey designed to collect long-term data on the population status and trends of breeding birds throughout North America. It was initiated in 1966 . . . . [and] is coordinated in Canada by the Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Centre, and in the United States by the U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The BBS is a volunteer survey. In 2000, over 484 BBS routes were run in Canada by some 325 volunteers, while over 2300 routes were run in the U.S. In Canada, participants run their routes between 28 May and 7 July. Volunteers are encouraged to run their routes during the peak of the breeding season, usually the first two weeks of June. The starting point and starting direction of routes are selected randomly in order to sample a range of habitats. Each participant runs his or her individual route for as many consecutive years as possible. Routes consist of 50 stops spaced 0.8 km apart along a 39.4-km route. Participants record the total number of individual bird species heard or seen within 0.4 km of each stop during a three-minute observation. Data on starting and finishing times, as well as weather conditions, are also recorded."

This is a map showing in red the routes established in Saskatchewan. I have done the Crooked Lake route for several years and this summer I will be taking on a second route at Tyvan.

This chapter picks up our trail following John Macoun's 1880 expedition 125 years later as Stuart and Mary Houston and I leave the Pipestone Creek valley and head west through Moose Mountain to the first real native prairie we saw, Tecumseh Community Pasture. This is a shot of Stuart during that trip. Toward the end of the chapter we talk about the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration(PFRA), which manages Tecumseh and some of the finest stretches of native grass on the continent.

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