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Volunteers ready to count birds in Collingwood area over Christmas

By Ian Adams,
Wasaga Sun,
December 14 2016

Birders begin at 5 a.m. to hear sounds of owls

A group of volunteers will flock to the Collingwood area at the end of December, prepared to carry out a scientific analysis that’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition.

The Christmas Bird Count, launched by American ornithologist Frank Chapman in 1900, is a one-day census of birds organized locally by birding and nature clubs and conducted by volunteers across North America.

Counts will take place from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, including Dec. 30 in the Collingwood area when birders from Barrie, Orillia, Midland, Haliburton and Toronto show up in Glen Huron at 5 a.m. in the hopes of hearing the call of the Eastern screech owl.

That’s just one of dozens of species the group plans on cataloguing on the day as they move through the area, according to Barrie’s Burke Korol.

“The bay is excellent for winter waterfowl (swans, ducks, geese and gulls). In some years snowy owls are common. Forests have the usual woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and finches,” said Korol, who is also a biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service. “Open fields can have wild turkeys, crows, jays, shrikes and hawks. Well-stocked feeders are good for American goldfinches, blue jays, northern cardinals and sparrows.”

Korol recently began organizing the local count, and while he typically doesn’t look for more help beyond his immediate group of birders, he also doesn’t turn away new volunteers – especially someone with bird feeders.

Members of the group use high-quality spotting scopes, which zoom from 20-to-60 times, essential for scanning Georgian Bay and the distant islands, said Korol.

The data collected is used to monitor the status of resident and migratory birds throughout the western hemisphere. The Christmas Bird Count is North America’s longest-running wildlife census, and is a crucial part of Canada’s biodiversity monitoring database, according to Ontario Nature, whose member groups help to co-ordinate the counts that take place across the province.

Locally, there are also counts in Midland, Barrie, Orillia, Meaford, and Bradford.

Korol has been an avid birder for more than 30 years.

“This is an important citizen-science project that also raises awareness and gets people outside to appreciate nature,” he said.

Last year, 3,472 people participated in 120 Christmas Bird Counts in Ontario, recording 187 species and 1,559,310 individual birds.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great way for bird lovers of all ages to help Ontario’s birds. Novices work alongside experts to collect important data that help guide our work on behalf of all birds across the province. And who knows “maybe you’ll see a rare bird that no one has recorded before,” says Emma Horrigan, Conservation Science Coordinator at Ontario Nature.

Visit the Bird Studies Canada (http://bsc-eoc.org/volunteer/cbc) and Ontario Nature (https://ontarionature.org/cbc) websites to find a count. Counts are free and open to people of all ages and skill levels.