Maybe you have heard that The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas is once again looking for help, this time in completing the third provincial wide Atlas, beginning in 2021 and going until 2025. During that 5-year span, volunteers will take part in doing bird research throughout the province, during the breeding season, generally April through to about mid-July, basically just enjoying birding but with a purpose. In southern Ontario, it is hoped that every 10X10 km square will have the minimum of 20 hours coverage over the whole 5-year period. Coverage in the north will involve a more concentrated effort, but we are concerned with Region 4, which includes most of Middlesex and Elgin Counties and has bites from Kent, Perth, Oxford and Huron Counties as well.
George and I, being the new co-coordinators for Region 4, are looking for people to spend at least the minimum time to cover a square. These “Primary Observers” make a commitment to search their chosen square for a minimum of 20 hours total in the 5 years (i.e. 4 hours a year, about a half day birding trip per year). If you visit each of the habitats in the square, it is thought that you will come across almost all of the breeding birds in that square, but to confirm breeding, it will likely take a number of extra hours. In most cases, we will not find actual nests to confirm breeding, but rather there are a number of behaviors which will be accepted as proof, such as carrying food, or recently fledged young, so perhaps just an extra visit to each habitat in the same season will provide that kind of result. This will be much easier than trying to find nests, or to endanger a bird by interfering at a nest site. Maps will be provided to show the various habitats you have in your square, and you can budget your time to visit those spots, seeking permission as needed to enter the areas. You will be able to enter your data using an app, or online at the Atlas website, using field notes. The maps of your square and other tools will be available on the website in the upcoming months and certainly before the start of the Atlas next year.
If you feel like you are not experienced enough to be a Primary Observer, remember that taking part in the Atlas will refine your birding skills. As the website is being developed, there will be many tools to help birders find and identify the birds of their square. I took part in the First Atlas back in the 80s and learned a lot, so that by the end of the 5th year I felt really confident in bird identification and by chasing down sounds, I was getting good at birding by ear. During the second Atlas, in the early part of this century, I was able to help even more not only working my local square, but also visiting remote areas of Ontario, exploring far and wide. Remember that help is always close at hand. George and I and other birders you know can help with identifications of birds and sounds as can many of the apps available for that purpose. And if you find that you are pressed to get your hours in, we will have rovers and square bashers to help. We just need to put a name to each square to be sure of the commitment for the 20-hour minimum effort.
There is also an aspect of the Atlas with which the more experienced birdwatcher can help. The Atlas also wants us to report on abundance of species and to do that we will be doing Point Counts again in each square. That involves standing at atlas-generated co-ordinates on the map, designed to cover each habitat, and at those spots listen and watch for all birds within a designated circle around the observer. These surveys can be done by the Primary Observer but likely we will have teams of those skilled at birding by ear travelling from square to square over the 5 years. If you feel that you could do these Point Counts in your own square, or to act as one of the roving Point Counters, please let us know.
Last Atlas, we had Primary Observer coverage of all 74 squares in our Region, and many other birders contributed by aiding those Primary Observers who had squares, resulting in well over 20 hours and high levels of confirmation of breeding. So even if you feel that you cannot take on a square, please consider helping by sending in sightings from your own property, and by visiting your favorite birding spots and submitting data. Or be adventurous and visit birding spots new to you throughout Ontario. Perhaps you have a cottage or vacation spot that you visit between May and mid-July, the usual breeding season, and can send in sightings. I made a lovely canoe trip near North Bay in the First Atlas, with a good friend, and we helped in a few squares as we paddled.
Some of the squares already have a Primary Observer at this point, because observers from the second atlas were asked if they would like to take on the same square as last time, for continuity, since they have knowledge and experience in those squares. However, many squares remain in need of a Primary Observer, so it is hoped we can get coverage for all. You could ask about a particular square or let us assign you a square in need of coverage. Or even if a square has a Primary Observer you could ask if you could be co-Primary Observer in your favorite patch, especially if you live in the square. As well you could let us know if you would prefer to be a “rover” going into squares in our region without taking on the Primary Observer role. Or help us with the Point Count work, or with aiding others to complete the hours or confirmed bird quotas for squares later in the Atlas period.
Sounds like fun, right? Exploring new areas, birding various habitats, improving your birding skills, meeting new people who treasure birds, potentially finding rare or unusual nesting birds, and contributing to important bird research. Our results will be published in a yet to be determined form but will be used to help show the status of all of our nesting birds, and changes in populations can be established by comparing data with previous Atlases. In this way conservation practices can be made to protect birds and bird habitat. Please get in touch with George or me at the following emails, to let us know your interest, either to take part as a casual observer, point counter, and/or a Primary Observer, or to ask us questions as needed. If you want more information about the Atlas go to the website https://www.birdsontario.org/atlas/index.jsp.
If you wish to look over the map of region 4 to see the squares we are covering, here is a link: https://birdmap.birdscanada.org/obbapdf/rgn04.pdf.