In today’s post, Ontario Parks Northeast Ecologist Anna Sheppard asks for your help (eyes and ears, really).
Planning to visit any of these Northwest parks this summer?
If so and you are a fan of birds, I have to ask you a favor!
These parks are especially important to the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and the atlas needs your help.
What is the atlas?
It is a five-year project that aims to map the distribution and abundance of the 300 species of breeding birds in Ontario.
This is the third atlas in 40 years, so the project also analyzes population changes over time.
The province is divided into 10 km by 10 km squares to organize and prioritize birding efforts, and in southern Ontario, bird data is being collected in each of those squares.
The red and orange 10 km x 10 km squares are priority areas for data collection within Lake Superior Provincial Park, while the much smaller Aaron Provincial Park is located entirely within a priority square.
The north, however, is very large and many places are difficult to reach.
Complete coverage of the study will not be possible, so certain squares are prioritized, and some of those squares overlap with our provincial parks.
Keep your eyes and ears open!
Give back to the parks you love by submitting a list of birds you see or hear singing in the park to the atlas.
Their records will help us understand which bird species inhabit the parks during the nesting season, how bird populations change over time, and which habitats are most important and need protection.
New bird watcher? No problem! You don’t need to be an expert in identifying birds to participate.
Contribute only those you can identify and try tools like the Merlin app to help with identification.
I always tell people to start watching, listening and learning early in the season; Starting early and slowly means you’ll learn a lot without feeling overwhelmed.
Should I send everything I see and hear?
Whether it’s spotting gulls and terns while walking on the beach, seeing a chickadee or blue jay while walking along a trail in the boreal forest, or listening to an owl or whip call at night, it’s worth submitting to what you see and listen. The atlas.
And if you see a bird carrying nest material, building or perching on a nest, or feeding its chicks, that’s Atlas gold!
Reminder: Maintain a respectful distance from all wildlife in protected areas, especially any animals with their young.
If you have a photo of a bird and need help identifying it, send it to iNaturalist!
Here’s how to create an atlas.
To join the atlas, register here.
From your preferred App Store, download the Nature Counts app to your phone to collect data (if you already use eBird, it’s easy to automatically share Nature Counts data with your eBird account).
The Nature Counts app works very similar to the eBird app, except that it asks you for a few more details about breeding evidence.
While visiting protected areas, you can contribute your bird observations to the atlas at any time during the breeding season; In the north, it is generally from mid-May to mid-July, although dates vary depending on the species of bird.
Be sure to do your atlasing on trails, campsites, and any other established areas.
When you start your list, Nature Counts automatically maps your data to the Atlas square you are on. You can contribute as many observations as you want for as many hours as you want – it’s up to you!
The square needs 20 hours to be adequately covered, and each square should have between 80 and 100 species.
If you are already an expert bird watcher, you can also contribute by doing a point count. Point count surveys are a standardized way to measure the relative abundance of each species across the province, that is, where the birds are most frequently found.
Each square requires twenty-five five-minute counts at predetermined locations (stations), primarily along highways. Bird watchers record every bird seen or heard during the five-minute period.
Sign up today!
I hope you find the atlas interesting and rewarding.
It feels good to be part of a big project and could even be the start of a lifelong interest in birds and their conservation. It’s what got me hooked on birdwatching twenty years ago!
If you’re already an avid birdwatcher but haven’t signed up for a square yet, I hope you’re convinced by now!
For more information on the atlas, see the FAQ here or the story map here.
For more information about creating atlases anywhere in Ontario, please contact the appropriate regional atlas coordinator.
Here is the list of parks in Northwestern Ontario with atlas squares that need help:
For remote atlasing in rural areas:
Learn more about birding and atlases in provincial parks: