For the birds

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December 8, 2015 12:13 PM

It's almost time for the Christmas Bird count, when citizen scientists across the country help track winter trends of Canada's feathered population. Charlotte Wasylik, president of the Vermilion River Naturalist Society, will be organizing one of the closest counts to the Lloydminster area.

Keeping track of the world’s birds and their migratory habits is no easy tasks, so Bird Studies Canada needs the public’s help to check up on the country’s portion of the global fowl population.
The 115th Christmas Bird Count, taking place in North America between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, will see thousands of volunteers helping to track the populations of wintering birds to get a better idea of their migratory patterns.
“It’s international and the focus on it is what we call citizen science; it’s getting people to help track trends as to what kinds of birds are showing up and what aren’t,” said Iris Davis, Vermilion’s volunteer tabulator for the count.
With the yearly count happening in such a small time frame, about three weeks, Bird Studies Canada can get a good idea of what kinds of birds are on the decline or increasing in each area of the country at the given time of year.
Each area that signs up picks a day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, then volunteers can keep track on forms that are provided, marking down what kinds of birds they see throughout the day and how many.
The closest counts to the Lloydminster area are in Vermilion, Alta. and Turtleford, Sask., but Davis said it’s not unusual for people to travel from out of town to participate.
“We have volunteers from surrounding areas; it’s centred in Vermilion but it goes in a 10-km radius around the town,” she said.
“We have volunteers from Lloydminster, from Manville and we’re from Dewberry.”
Last year nearly 33 people helped out with the bird count in the Vermilion area.
People can also sign up as “feeder watchers” just by having a bird feeder out and keeping track of which birds fly in for a quick bite.
There is also a children’s event, the Christmas Bird Count for Kids, for young bird enthusiasts who want to take part in the day.
Charlotte Wasylik, who is the president of the Vermilion River Naturalist Society, will be coordinating the bird count in Vermilion and also leading the Christmas Bird Count for Kids.
“We go birding in the Vermilion Provincial Park and this year I have seven kids signed up, so that’s wonderful and last year everyone had a great time so we’re looking forward to it again this year,” said Wasylik.
Wasylik said she started participating because it was a great way to meet other birders and see the different species in the area.
Davis said she got interested in birds just by living out in the country and becoming curious about the birds she’d see in her day-to-day activities.
“We farm out here in Dewberry and we live in the bush sort of, so we’ve just had lots of birds around here and I just naturally wanted to know what each one of them is and what they’re doing,” she said.
“Our son was also in 4-H and started a nest box trail for bluebirds and swallows and birds that use nest boxes, so we have that running in the summer as well.”
Some of the birds she said people could expect to see this time of year include chickadees, buntings, different kinds of grosbeaks and magpies and during the evening they look for nocturnal birds like owls.
Counters in Vermilion last year counted 1,820 individual birds spanning a total of 26 species.
Wasylik said she hopes more people learn about the event and those who can’t travel to Vermilion are encouraged to start a Christmas Bird Count in their own community.
Vermilion is holding its event on Dec. 19 this year and anyone interested in participating can contact the Vermilion River Naturalist Society on Facebook or by email at vermilionnaturalistsociety@gmail.com
To start a Christmas Bird Count in your community, email Mike Burrell, Bird Studies Canada’s Christmas Bird Count Coordinator, at cbc@birdscanada.org.

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