Thursday, August 12, 2021

Summer 2021 Update - Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas

I think an update on here is long overdue! It's been almost a year since the last one. 

We have been busy in the Timmins area in the past year; we have been reviewing and publishing the Timmins Checklist of Birds and conducting the first year of data collection for the 3rd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. I'll start with an overview of this amazing project:

Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas-3 (2021-2025)
What is it? It's volunteer birders, out in every corner of Ontario, collecting data to help scientists map the distribution and abundance of all the breeding bird species in the province! The data collected is then compared to results from the previous 2 atlasses (1981 to 1985 and 2001 to 2005) to evaluate changes, inform conservation policies for years to come, and help provide better targeted habitat protection for species at risk!  

I have been very fortunate to be part of this project as one of the regional coordinators for the area; I have learned so much from amazing atlas team leaders from all over the province. And the best part is, I get to collaborate with many talented and dedicated local birders from the Timmins and the Timiskaming area who have contributed hundreds of hours of efforts already! 

Swainson's Thrush carrying moss to a nest under construction.
Breeding evidence code: NB (Nest Building)
South Porcupine (June 2021)

Learn more:
This project is a collaboration between 5 partners: Birds Canada, Canadian Wildlife Services (ECCC), Ministry of Northern Dev., Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Field Ornithologists, and Ontario Nature. It's a 5-year project. If you want to learn more about Atlas-3, check it out here: Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas-3 Website  The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas also has a YouTube Channel dedicated to Atlas-3 offering a variety of useful videos, from project overviews to tutorials on how to submit your data. 

Hairy Woodpecker beside her nest where we could hear and see
newly fledged birds - Breeding Evidence: NY (Nest with young)
 (South Porcupine - 30 May 2021)

Region 41 (Timiskaming):
For the Atlas, Timmins is part of Region 41 (Timiskaming); a region divided in approximately 345 squares (each square is 10 km 2). The area starts near Temagami in the south and it includes New Liskeard, Matachewan, Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Timmins, .... To see a map of other atlas regions and find your Regional Coordinator(s), visit this page.  

Tennessee Warbler carrying food for young fledglings.
'Confirmed' Breeding Code: CF (Carrying Food)
Region 41 (11 July 2021)

Summary of the season in our area so far:
We are only starting, but so far in our designated atlas area, 28 atlassers submitted 520 checklists in 87 different squares for a total of 4868 records totalling 153 different species. Local volunteers have conducted over 200 in-person point counts (and a few bioacoustics point counts). You can view more stats on the Atlas Data Summary page and on the Coverage Map. Next year should be even better, especially if we can start in-person mentoring, car sharing, and if we can welcome more visiting atlassers from other parts of the province with a return of inter-regional travel (Check and follow the local COVID-19 guidelines before planning any travel) 

A male and female Indigo Bunting were observed together and
displaying agitated behaviour in Timmins (28 July 2021)

Do you have any observations to add?
If you have done any birding during this past breeding season (June-July 2021) anywhere in the province and took notes (date, time, location, species...) or submitted your list to eBird, there is still time to input that valuable data in the atlas database. I would be more than happy to help you input your lists. 

Ways to get involved:
There are many ways to contribute to the project during the next 4 years, including submitting occasional sightings of birds and breeding evidence, which can be a variety of behaviours such as birds carrying nesting material or feeding fledglings, but can be as simple as a singing bird in June, or birds that are present in suitable habitat during the peak breeding period. Participants can help by submitting checklists, conducting point counts if they can identify birds by ear, conducting special surveys (owls, nightjars, ...), recording digital point counts (see below). There are options for birders of all skill levels.
One of our encounters during an early morning
atlassing outing in Northern Ontario (12 June 2021)

How do we submit the data? There are a few easy ways to input data to the atlas, including a user friendly App (NatureCounts) that will help you easily record the info (location, time, and species list and breeding codes) and even let you pinpoint exact coordinates for significant species to help us learn about their habitat and distribution. 

Recording digital point counts in Northern Ontario:
If you have access to a reliable vehicle and love exploring northern Ontario's nature through the back roads- off the beaten path- in the early hours of the morning, you could contribute to the project by obtaining digital recordings of bird songs at various pre-selected locations. These recorded point counts are then analyzed by a bioacoustics team and entered in the atlas database where they will help scientists learn more about the relative abundance of boreal bird species. 

It's a great way to enjoy the mornings outdoors while helping out when you don't know how to identify all the birds you hear. I had a lot of fun doing a few of them. It's kind of like geocaching... You follow a map to access a specific GPS point but instead of leaving a note of your presence, you capture a moment in time, a precious 5-minute piece of the boreal chorus, for science.

I'm installing the recording device on a tripod at ear-level height
to record a 5 min. digital point count for Atlas-3 (June 2021)

If you live anywhere north of Gravenhurst and you are interested in recording digital point counts during some early mornings in June or early July, contact your RC (Regional Coordinators) Your RC will let you know if there are squares in need of point counts in your area and can lend you one of these devices. 

Here is the Zoom recording unit at work at one of the designated Point Count stations in square 17TMP95 near South Porcupine.  
The Zoom H2n recording device in action in square 17TMP95 
It's a handy unit that can be used to record digital point
counts (5 min of bird songs) mostly in areas where
Point Count coverage is needed

We will be able to know more about interesting findings and trends once the data is all in, reviewed, mapped and compared with the previous atlasses. One thing that was noticeable so far in the Timmins area for this year was a lower than usual number of Pine Siskins (only 6 squares in the entire Region 41) and White-winged Crossbills (only 1 square in Region 41) which could reflect last winter's cycle of low food-supply in northeastern Ontario's boreal forest.

Although practically absent this year in the Timmins area,
Pine Siskin breeding evidence signs were abundant
last year (South Porcupine - 24 April 2020)

Planning a visit to Northern Ontario in the next 4 years? We still have many squares to cover and many species to find all over Northern Ontario. If you are a birder who've always wanted to visit Northern Ontario to do some birding, consider visiting in June or July to help us conduct point counts or document breeding birds during the peak season (if health guidelines permits). Whether you are visiting Cochrane, Timiskaming, Algoma, Blind River, Marathon, Thunder Bay, Kenora, Rainy River, contact the Regional Coordinator(s) to see if you can help fill some gaps in coverage while you are here!  Lots of beautiful, quiet areas to explore while providing valuable data! (Check and follow the local COVID-19 guidelines before planning any travel) 

Learn more about the project on the following site:  Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 3  and don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

I'm already looking forward to next year!