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Bird counting: much more than just a math exercise

Counts used as an ‘early warning system for the environment’

Whistler’s Christmas Bird Count might serve as a great excuse to get outside, but Dick Cannings from Bird Studies Canada said annual bird counts are much more than just an excuse for old friends to get together.

Cannings will be co-ordinating all 350 counts in Canada this year and he said the results will be used for a variety of things, from identifying endangered species to helping different environmental groups from around the world recognize changing trends.

"Any species of animal could tell you about what’s going on if there was a big international count. The trouble is there’s not many snail counters or fox counters out there, but there’s lots of bird watchers," said Cannings.

"We use them (the birds) as an early warning system for the environment because they’re relatively easy to watch and relatively easy to count and there’s lots of different kinds of them that are sensitive to different things in the environment.

"So if we see a grassland species starting to decline then something’s happening in our grasslands, and if shrub species are increasing we know that all our forests are being turned into shrubs."

Cannings, who sits on a national committee that works on identifying endangered species, said the Christmas Bird Counts were regularly referred to.

"We just designated a species in Newfoundland as endangered and the data that we used was from the Christmas Bird Count because the species used to be seen on every Christmas Bird Count, with hundreds or more on each count, and now they don’t see any of them," he said.

"There’s another bird called the Rusty Black Bird which is found all across Canada in northern forests and through Christmas Bird Counts we know that the species has declined by over 90 per cent in 20-30 years.

"It’s like cod; there’s parts of Newfoundland where you can catch plenty of cod but we know through surveys that they’ve declined by over 95 per cent.

"So there’s still plenty of species out there but without these counts you just don’t know how many."

Whistler’s Bird Count will be co-ordinated by the Whistler Naturalists and led by Karl Ricker between Dec. 11 and 17, with the main counting day on Tuesday the 14th. The count will be conducted over the following areas:

1. Alpha Lake-to landfill-to Calcheak-to new Nordic area in the Callaghan.

2. Whistler Creek-Nita Lake-South end of Alta to Wayside-Nordic/Taluswoord.

3. Whistler Mountain-Peak to Creek-Harmony & Symphony to Main Village at Fitzsimmons (this is usually a snowboard party)

4. Alta Vista-Adventures West-Tapley’s-Whistler Cay

5. Town centre-Brio-Blackcomb Benchlands-Lost Lake

6. Blackcomb Mountain (usually a ski party)

7. White Gold-Spruce Grove-Nesters-Riverside Campground-Mons-Nicklaus North

8. West side of Alta Lake, Alpine Meadows-Edgewater-Trudy’s Landing

9. Emerald Estates to Shadow Lake

To volunteer for any of the above areas call Ricker at 604-938-1107 or Mike Thompson on 604-932-5010. For more information look up and/or .

Anyone wanting to help with bird counts in other communities can call Hugh Naylor in Pemberton at 604-894-6402, Dan Cumming for D’Arcy-Devine at 604-452-3453, Marcia Danielson in Squamish at 604-898-9420 and Dr Ian Routley in Lillooet at 250-256-4062.