Putting Newfoundland's (Backyard) Birds on the Map - Birds Canada
Thank you to Catherine Dale at Birds Canada for submitting this entry about the upcoming Breeding Bird Atlas in Newfoundland. Catherine is the Coordinator for the Newfoundland Breeding Bird Atlas and is based out of St. John's.
People may be stuck at home these days, but birds are still on the move. As the weather warms, more than 2 billion birds are on their way north to their Canadian breeding grounds. Some of them will end their journey in Newfoundland, where they will establish territories, build nests, lay their eggs, and raise their young this summer.
A Savannah Sparrow stakes his territorial claim at Cape St. Mary’s. Photo Bird Studies Canada
For most Canadian provinces, we have a good idea which species call the province home during the breeding season and where they can be found. But we currently lack that knowledge for the island of Newfoundland – because Newfoundland and Labrador is the only remaining Canadian province lacking a Breeding Bird Atlas.
Breeding bird atlases map the distribution and abundance of all bird species breeding in a jurisdiction. Having solid baseline data about bird population is essential for making sound conservation and management decisions: we can’t know what we’re losing if we don’t know what’s out there. And because breeding bird atlases are designed to be repeated every 20 years, they can help us track changes in populations over time.
Probability of observing Barn Swallows during the first (1986-90) and second (2006-10) Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlases. From Stewart et al. 2015: Second atlas of breeding birds of the Maritime Provinces.
So how exactly do you atlas for birds? The first step is to divide the area into 10 km × 10 km squares – the basic units of an atlas. In Newfoundland, that works out to approximately 1,450 squares. Over the next 5 years, these squares will be systematically surveyed for evidence of breeding birds.
Surveying a square is essentially the same as going out with birding – but with a purpose. Atlassers keep track of the time they spend in a square and the distance they cover, as well as all the species they encounter. They also note any evidence of breeding they observe for those species – for example, whether males are singing, or birds are seen carrying nesting material or food.
Map of Newfoundland showing 10x10 km atlas squares.
Collecting this data over an area the size of Newfoundland is a huge project, and would be impossible without the help of volunteer citizen scientists: people like you who dedicate their time and effort to survey squares.
Surveying for birds in the high alpine habitat of Gros Morne National Park.
Over the next five years, we will be working to ensure atlas surveys are spread out across Newfoundland so that the island’s wide variety of habitats are adequately represented. However, because the health and safety of our volunteers is our primary concern, Birds Canada has suspended any fieldwork or surveys that require travel for the time being.
But even though we all need to stay home at the moment, we can continue birding in our backyards and from our balconies. In fact, there’s no better time to start learning how to atlas. All you need is a pair of binoculars, a keen eye, and some time to watch birds!
Despite these unusual times the work of SAM continues, although we are unable to see you all in person at this time. However, the Officers of the Stewardship Association of Municipalities invite you to Save the Date for our Annual General Meeting to be held June 13th, 2020.
First we would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the Town of Deer Lake for volunteering to act as hosts for the AGM and for completing initial preparations. However, due to the ongoing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAM Officers Committee has decided that holding an in-person meeting will not be possible at this time. Instead, this year's AGM will be held virtually (details to follow). We will be in touch soon to invite SAM members to participate.
Stay Connected Through Conservation
During this unprecedented time we have been practicing social distancing and staying inside as much as possible to protect the people of our province. This can make staying connected to nature and conservation challenging. We have pulled together some fun ways to stay connected to nature with your friends and family.
SAM and Nature NL co-host Weekly Online Bird ID Trivia Nights
SAM is pleased to co-sponsor Nature NL's newest initiative - at home bird learning! SAM Conservation Biologist Laura King has been instrumental in getting this new program off the ground. Want to sharpen up your birding skills? Join birding experts virtually every Wednesday to practice bird identification in the Winged Wildlife Wednesday Series. Check out Nature NL's Facebook page for more information, or click here Wednesdays at 7:30 PM to join.
Get your seedling kits out the basement and find a sunny spot in your house to get your seeds started. Also check out the funding announced this month from the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, for the Community Garden Support Program. They are accepting early applications and there is no deadline this year.
There are lots of animal webcams all over the world. From eagle nests to zoo cams there are lots of opportunities to watch wildlife live from our living rooms! We especially like the Sandhill Crane live stream from Audubon's Rowe Sanctuary. Audubon uses this live stream to educate people on the Sandhill Crane. Their vision is to protect and increase essential habitat for cranes, least terns and piping plovers on the Platte River.
Practice your bird id skills and help science with the eBird Photo + Sound Quiz. Create an online Cornell account and all of your quiz answers and ratings will be recorded in eBird. Each custom quiz presents you with 20 birds that occur at a date and location of your choosing, pulled from millions of photos and sounds added to the Macaulay Library by eBirders around the world. Naturel NL has been running public quiz nights. Check out their Facebook page to learn more.
Night Owls - SAM Conservation Biologists Experience with the Nocturnal Owl Survey
While we're still feeling snowed under, it's amazing to think that birds are continuing with their lives and getting their spring and summer lives ready.
Despite still feeling like winter, birds are going to start to reappear here in our province. Can you identify the bird in the image? No? Then it's time to break out the bird books and familiarize ourselves again with our feathered friends.
A Boreal Owl can be identified by its small stature, large square head and yellow eyes. They also sport a streaky breast and have tiny white spots on its back and crown.
Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are a variety of wildlife surveys that normally take place each season. Due to the pandemic this year, surveys are on hold; however, we thought we'd share our story and some resources you can work on indoors.
Last year, my co-surveyor and I did our second year of the Nocturnal Owl Survey route in Bauline and Portugal Cove - St. Philip's. It was a truly unusual experience to stand by the side of the road at night, in your safety vest with your phone in hand, playing owl noises, quietly waiting to hear if the owls respond to you. The purpose of this activity is to monitor populations of owls along specific routes every year, so we can tell whether different species are present or not, and if they are increasing, decreasing, or staying at the same population levels.
While we are stuck indoors, you can still learn the sounds of all the owls in Newfoundland (Larkwire is a great way to do this).
In our case, we haven't seen or heard any owls on our route yet, but it is a fairly urban route - and maybe in future years we will detect some. There are lots of spots in central Newfoundland where there may be higher densities of owls - and you could be the one to hear them. If you spend this season working on learning the owls of Newfoundland, and their sounds, you'll be all set for a great survey next year. And even if you don't hear any owls, the sights and sounds of other birds and animals may make your night - we've stood in the silence as we appreciate all the sounds of the snipes flying around us, spotted other birds, cats, and foxes.
We have several different owl species in the province including Great Horned Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Northern Hawk Owl.
While we'll be missing out on the survey this year, we look forward to its return in 2021. It's nice to know that at some point owls and wildlife adventures will bring us together again.
SAM Network News & Updates
Apply for Funding Looking to get your next environmental stewardship project off the ground in your community? Find over 50 potential funding grants here. Need help? Email us for more info.
SAM Scholarship Deadline : SAM has been supporting young conservationists in our province since 2015.The $1000 scholarship recognizes a student from Newfoundland and Labrador that has a passion for environmental conservation and stewardship work in their community. Please note, due to early school closure due to COVID-19, we do not require a school transcript as part of the 2020 application and we have extended the deadline to apply to Sept 20, 2020.
A Win for Wildlife - reducing plastic in our environment
SAM was happy to see that on January 29 the Provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a provincial ban on the distribution of retail plastic bags, with the regulations to come into effect on July 1, 2020.
SAM first examined the issue of single use plastic bags at the 2008 Fall Meeting, hosted by the Town of Stephenville Crossing. Members discussed a reduction in plastic bag use, an idea that was put forth at the 2008 MNL Convention.
SAM members felt the negative impact of plastic bags on wildlife habitat was an important issue and that SAM needed to take a stronger advocacy role. As a result members passed a motion in 2008 to write letters to all municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as to head offices of major grocery chains. The letter encouraged them to take leadership on this issue and bring it back to the forefront.
SAM continued the discussion with our members and in 2015, and again in 2017 MNL passed resolutions, sponsored by the Town of Torbay, to prohibit retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
The next step was to support the resolution. In 2017 SAM's President sat on the MNL "Ban the Bag" Advocacy Committee. In 2019, SAM participated in the social media day of action organized by Plastic Bag Ban NL , as well as the public consultation on the draft legislation held by Engage NL. Finally, at the 2019 Spring AGM members discussed details of a potential policy and what a 'good ban' would look like.
There are many opinions on what is a good ban, and what are good alternatives to plastic bags. As an example, some concerns brought forward at the 2019 SAM AGM included: Will the ban increase the purchase of other plastic bags? Will it lead to the production of thicker plastic that will be considered 'multi-use'? and aren't some alternatives also putting pressure on our environment, such as the amount of water needed to produce paper and fabric.
At the meeting, SAM displayed some of the better alternatives to single use plastic bags:
1) This is a first step: Banning single use plastic bags only scratches the surface of the larger plastic pollution problem. From plastic packaging, to micro plastics in our oceans, a ban single use plastic bags is a great beginning, but shouldn't be the end of the discussion.
2) There needs to be a cultural shift: people need to be in support of using alternatives and this might mean changing their lifestyle. Municipalities can help by supporting positive messages and setting examples for residents.
3) One bag for LIFE: According to many sources, the best alternative to single use plastic bags is having one bag, no matter what it is made out of, that is used over and over and over; a bag for life!
SAM's double sided poster and fact sheet presented at the SAM AGM 2019. Would you like this poster for your small business? Send us an email.
After having a chance to review the plastic bag regulations presented on January 29th, we are happy to say the policy is a step in the right direction. Going forward we would like to see a communication campaign done by the Province, encouraging the use of good alternatives and the idea of having one bag for life. For more information on what is happening in the rest Canada see this list of shopping bag regulations across Canada.
Some business and SAM communities have not waited for the provincial ban to start reducing plastic. The NLC in 2018, and Sobey's on January 31, 2020 have taken retail plastic bags out of their stores. A number of SAM members have already taken action:
SAM is happy to see movement in the direction that will help to support wildlife and their habitat in our province. Let's keep up the good work and keep the conversation going!
Cream Puffins: Conservation & Confection
Sometimes you need a conversation starter, and sometimes you just need a snack. Susan Schubel did both by creating 'Cream Puffins'. Schubel works with Project Puffin, Audubon's program to restore seabird colonies in decline.
Feeling inspired? TheTown of Come by Chance was at the opening of the Cleary Trail this past fall with these owl cupcakes pictured right. Raising awareness about conservation and wildlife in your community might be as simple as eggs, sugar, and butter. The full article and recipe can be found at'Cream Puffins' from audubon.org
Fighting Climate Change with Nature
On February 5th - 6th, over 400 people met in Ottawa to talk about nature based climate change solutions. SAM Conservation Biologist Laura King participated as a representative of Nature NL and writes about her experience.
Discussions at the Nature-based Climate Change Solutions. Photo by Nature NL
Recently as part of a Nature Canada trip to Ottawa for Nature NL (where I volunteer as President) I had the chance to take in an interesting conference that helped me expand my thinking around the conservation areas and climate.
The Nature-based Climate Solutions summit looks at all the different things that we might do, as a conservation community, to fight climate change in natural ways. Make no mistake, cutting emissions and reducing our consumption should be our top priorities on this issue. But turning to natural solutions and taking care of our lands and waters can help supplement our efforts, and we can explain these extra benefits to others so that we all understand that conserving land, for example, is a major plus when it comes to climate action.
Pathways we can follow to create nature based climate change solutions presented by Amanda Reed, from Nature United.
The four main categories of nature-based climate change solutions are natural infrastructure, protected areas, restoration, and improved management of our lands and waters. One of the main reason that many of these are climate solutions, although we might not think of them that way at first, is that our ecosystems store carbon, and healthier places store even more. So for example, tree planting, aquatic restoration, or preserving a natural marsh that helps filter municipal water - these are all climate change projects too.
Natural peatlands store about 20 grams of carbon per metre square per year, for example. To better illustrate that, let's consider the Gambo Bog conservation area in the Town of Gambo. At 417 hectares and ~90% peatland, this beautiful wetland conserves about 375 hectares of natural peatlands, and keeps about 75 000 kg of carbon locked into the ground each year.
View of the Gambo Bog. This enormous peatland can lock away tens of thousands of kilograms of Carbon.
Each municipality could quickly calculate this for their conserved and natural areas, and come up with an approximate figure that shows how they are doing their part to use nature to help slow climate change. And together, we make a difference. Imagine the amount of carbon stored across all of our 100+ conservation areas in our province, year after year.
Conveying these climate benefits will hopefully help us understand that our land conservation efforts here with SAM in NL benefit not only our wildlife populations and species at risk, but help prevent carbon from being released into our atmosphere. Conserving where possible, and restoring where necessary, is a superb approach to taking care of our peatlands and other wetlands. And something we can feel good about from a climate perspective as well.
I'm looking forward to integrating what I've learned in Ottawa in my work here. As the climate changes, so too must our thinking, and the ways we approach conservation.
Interested in learning more? You can watch the conference for free online and access the extensive, and growing, library of climate resources they've pulled together.
SAM Steward Award: Recognizing our environmental stewardship leaders
The SAM Steward Award has been created to recognize these heroes of environmental stewardship. SAM hopes this award will inspire people to support wildlife habitat conservation and stewardship.
SAM member municipalities can nominate individuals. The selection will be done prior to SAM meetings by the SAM Officers Committee. If at all possible, it is our hope that the selected individual will attend a SAM meeting to receive the award.
World Wetlands Day 2020: Libraries across NL celebrate
World Wetlands Day is celebrated globally on February 2nd each year to mark the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands. This year SAM wanted to reach out to public libraries. Over 30 of our SAM members have a public library in their community, and the public library system has 95 libraries across the province.
For World Wetlands Day SAM created a library program to encourage public libraries to celebrate wetland conservation. Many libraries participated by creating displays, having wetland themed story-times, and inviting special guests to talk about wetlands.
Pictured below is the wetlands display at the Gander Public Library.
Thank you to all the libraries that participated in the program! If you would like to know more see our website or email us.