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By Ellen Jakubowski, Communications Specialist, Birds Canada

 

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a productive year so far for volunteers with the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas. The aim of this project, now in its fourth data collection season out of five, is to document breeding birds across Saskatchewan.

Breeding Bird Atlases are repeated in a given region at 20-year intervals and play a vital role in understanding large-scale changes in bird populations over time. This is Saskatchewan’s first Atlas. When complete, the results will serve as a valuable resource for decision-makers; atlases have played major roles in everything from conservation planning and environmental assessments, to education and ecotourism.

In late June, LeeAnn Latremouille (Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas Coordinator here at Birds Canada) penned a newsletter to Atlas participants describing how the season was progressing. She wrote: “Despite all of the wind we’ve had in June, we at the Atlas office have still managed to spend much of the point count season out and about collecting data. We were able to hire on a technician (Arthur Beague) to help with point counts in Region 5 (Great Sand Hills, in the southwestern part of the province) which has been a big help for increasing coverage in that area. A week of training around Leader with plentiful pronghorn, Ferruginous Hawks, and Long-billed Curlews was a treat for all.”

LeeAnn found herself completing this newsletter from the passenger seat of a truck as the Atlas team hurried into the field – breeding birds wait for no one! Fortunately she was able to create a wireless hotspot later on by placing her phone on the truck roof, and successfully uploaded and sent the newsletter to dedicated Atlas participants from the field.

Janine McManus & LeeAnn Latremouille Photo: Moriah Tanguay
The trusty field truck Photo: LeeAnn Latremouille

More recently, I caught up with LeeAnn in between excursions.

She told me it’s been a banner year in terms of the number of point counts that volunteers completed. A point count is a survey technique that involves counting all birds seen and heard at a predetermined location during a set amount of time – in this case, a five-minute window. “Two thousand six hundred and forty-eight (point counts) have already been entered and I know that that’s not all of them. We’re seeing great point count coverage across the southern portion of the province which has been very encouraging.”

Her impression is that overall, volunteers have been enjoying getting outside and spending time with the birds. “I’m sure the pandemic has stopped some, but it sure hasn’t slowed down some folks!”

LeeAnn provided this rundown of some key Atlas stats:

  July 13 2020
Bird checklists submitted 19,861
Breeding species recorded 271
Hours of atlassing 13,005
Point counts submitted 12,330

 

The point count season wrapped up July 7, but participants are encouraged to continue keeping an eye out for evidence of breeding until mid-August. Data can be submitted at any time of year.

LeeAnn is blown away by the amount of data she’s seen pouring in this year. “If this keeps up we’ll be in good shape for the final 2021 season.”

Please visit sk.birdatlas.ca if you’d like to learn more about the project, get involved, or lend your support for this valuable endeavor. You don’t need to be a birding expert to participate.

A huge thank-you to of the amazing volunteers with the Atlas and to all supporters of the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas for their important financial and in-kind contributions. The Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas is the result of a partnership between Birds Canada, Wildlife Habitat Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nature Saskatchewan, and the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

Natural Cliff Swallow nests Photo: LeeAnn Latremouille
Atlas technician Arthur Beague Photo: LeeAnn Latremouille