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Breeding Bird Atlas

April 15, 2010

I just volunteered to be a member of the team creating a Breeding Bird Atlas of Manitoba. My plot number is 14NA70. I chose that plot because it contains one of the loveliest, cheapest and birdiest golf courses in the province. I might as well try to get some birdies while I’m counting birds.

The Breeding Bird Atlas of Manitoba is a much more ambitious and daunting task than the award-winning, coffee-table sized book, The Birds of Manitoba (2003), and an expanded, updated guide, Finding Birds in Southern Manitoba (2006), that I also helped on.

How daunting is the Breeding Bird Atlas of Manitoba?

The province has been divided into approximately 6,996 square segments, one kilometer by one kilometer in size. Segments must be systematically surveyed for approximately 20 hours each over a five-year period. Volunteers will document the distribution, abundance, and status of every bird in the province. The task is complicated by the fact that upwards of two-thirds of the province is virtually inaccessible and has probably never seen a birder. [Manitoba is over 1200 kilometers (765 miles) north to south; most of its population lives within 100 kilometers of the US border.]

We’re latecomers to the task of breeding bird surveys. Every other province in Canada except Newfoundland and Labrador has completed one or is in the process. Ours is especially urgent because we are on a major migratory pathway and some of our birds, like the Eastern Screech Owl, are at the edge of their North American territorial limits.

In providing a sales pitch for the Atlas, Christian Artuso mentioned some preliminary survey results from his research of the last few years. Golden Winged Warblers, for years thought to number between 100 and 270 pairs, were found to exceed 500 pairs breeding in the province.

We’re also curious to find out if the Long-billed Curlew and the Black-throated Blue Warbler might have sneaked into Manitoba unnoticed from neighboring provinces and whether the Ross’s Gull is nesting near Churchill.
I’ve already done a test run. As a fellow team member observed: “Surveying could be even more addictive than twitching!”

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