Island birding enthusiasts encouraged to participate in Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 3

Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 3

MANITOULIN ISLAND – Birders of any level of birding expertise are encouraged to participate in the 2021 Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas-3 (OBBA-3) project on Manitoulin Island. The goal of the project is to map the distribution and relative abundance of Ontario’s breeding birds, south of Middle Island on Lake Erie to Hudson Bay in the North. 

“The bird data that can come out of Ontario is phenomenal,” said Manitoulin Region 33 regional co-ordinator Anna Sheppard. The atlas is “not going to happen across Ontario without having 3,000 observers.” Gathering data is 100 percent dependent on participating volunteers. “We’ll all have fun participating,” stated fellow co-ordinator Will Kershaw at a virtual meeting of the Manitoulin Nature Club and Friends of Misery Bay recently. 

Ms. Sheppard and Mr. Kershaw, both from Sudbury, are co-ordinating Manitoulin District for the province-wide survey. The group that puts the atlas together will learn a lot over the next five years, she said. OBBA-3 is a partnership between Birds Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

The survey will look at all birds in Ontario during the breeding season of May to June, with the exception of some breeds such as snowy owls and ravens that breed earlier in the year. “Manitoulin Island is its own region, one of 45 in Ontario,” Ms. Sheppard said. “Our job is to make sure the region is adequately surveyed. We have a solid snapshot of birds nesting on Manitoulin.” For the survey the province is divided into a grid of 10 x 10 square kilometres. There are 77 squares on the Island and anyone can participate. 

Ms. Sheppard is participating in her second bird atlas project. She had “put her hand up” to co-ordinate in Manitoulin District as it was without a co-ordinator. “To adequately survey the Island will take a big effort,” she acknowledged. “One of the first surveys that will happen is an owl survey from March until early April.” 

“Participants can adopt a square and spend at least two hours of surveying per square. Many people can contribute observations. I can listen to 25 to 30 birds singing, defending their territory. Singing is a good indication of a possible breeding nest,” explained Ms. Sheppard. For general surveying, she suggested participants walk a 500-metre section and record what, where and when seen. Data can be recorded on paper or on your phone and entered online later. She suggests exploring the website, “including panning around the map of Manitoulin to change the square you want to see. It’s a five-year atlas, so there’s no rush to get it all done in May. Do what is in your ability and time and have fun.”

Three thousand volunteers across Ontario took part in gathering birding data for Atlas-2, which was completed in 2005, Mr. Kershaw said. For that edition, “50 volunteers on Manitoulin logged 2,800 hours.” Eight squares alone had over 100 hours of birding observations. Individuals contributed between zero and 671 hours, with avid birder Chris Bell contributing data for 64 squares.

Manitoulin Region 33 is in a mixed wood plains ecoregion. Within each square there will be a minimum of 20 hours surveyed over five years. The survey will reflect different habitats and times of day, said Mr. Kershaw. “Atlasers find as many breeding species as possible in each square to match the Atlas-3 species list. Atlasers who know bird songs do five-minute point counts; 25 of these are required to index species abundance in a square.”

Participants should determine what areas in Region 33 most interests them and consider bird groups, time of year and time of day, whether the area is composed of special or rare habitats, streams, rivers, sandy and reedy shoreline and backshore, upland forest (old deciduous and conifer), wetlands, alvar pavement or grasslands. These are factors that will determine where and when species can be observed. 

Participants are also reminded to respect private land, First Nations land and to keep COVID-19 protocols in mind. “Much of the land on Manitoulin Island is private property and owners don’t want to find random birders on their property,” Ms. Sheppard said. There is a letter requesting access permission that birders taking part in the survey can give to a landowner. “Surveyors need to reach out to the landowner. We want to be low impact.”

“Manitoulin Nature Club participated in the past two breeding bird atlases, from 1981 to 1985 and 2001 to 2005,” said John Diebolt. “We are hoping that many of our members will step up to the plate for this latest edition. Anyone at any level of birding expertise can participate.”

The current Atlas-3 project began January 1, 2021 and will continue through 2025. “Anyone can join in surveying at any time during the duration,” said Ms. Sheppard. “If so inspired, they can join again next year. If they see birds nesting and know the species, that will provide the best information.” People can get as involved as they want but to contribute data, they must register on the Nature Count website: birdscanada.org/birdmon/onatlas/register.jsp. 

Anyone with questions or who are interested in taking part can email Mr. Kershaw or Ms. Shepard at manitoulin@birdsontario.org.