This installment of our 2017 blog series on IBA in Provincial Parks, brought to you by Ontario IBA Coordinator Amanda Bichel of Bird Studies Canada, is very cool.
Welcome to our year-long blog series! For our inaugural focus, we will keep the winter spirit and focus on the far north of Ontario. That’s right: our worlds collide up there in a big way.
Polar Bear Provincial Park is overlapped by five, count ’em, FIVE Important areas for birds and biodiversity, and the park protects 2.3 million hectares! The IBAs follow the coast and extend into the bay, while the park encompasses primarily terrestrial habitat.
This area, located in the southwest corner of Hudson Bay, is primarily low-lying tundra habitat. The landscape is covered with peat bogs in summer and snow and ice in winter.
Polar Bear Provincial Park is a habitat like no other, with extensive beach ridges, thousands of small ponds and lakes, coastal marshes, winding river channels, and a cushion of tundra plants (grasses, mosses, and the occasional spruce). .
The park protects the third largest wetland in the world! These wetlands provide flood control, biodiversity preservation and climate regulation, as well as fundamental cultural value for residents.
Even this cold and seemingly inhospitable habitat can support MILLIONS of birds during migration and breeding periods.
What species do these IBAs protect?
Remember: most IBAs in Canada are designated for congregating birds (more than 1% of their North American or global population).
Polar Bear Provincial Park protects key populations of geese and shorebirds, as well as herons, cranes, ducks and swans.
For example, Cape Henrietta May is home to a snow geese colony of at least 400,000 birds, more than 5% of its world population.
Likewise, the pectoral sandpiper has had 5,900 individuals in one IBA alone, almost 10% of its world population.
In 1995, 70,000 semipalmated sandpipers were recorded in the IBA from Ekwan to Lakitusaki Shores, 3.5% of its world population. Photo: Mark Peck.
Restore the balance of nature
In 2016, Ontario Parks completed a major restoration effort (the largest ecological restoration project in Ontario history!). Now, instead of ruins and rubble strewn across the landscape, the site is more natural and, as far as possible, restored to something similar to what it would have originally looked like. Thanks for the park/IBA renovation!
See the before and after impact:
A conservation paradise
That being said, this beautiful northern park is probably not one to add to your travel list. Remote and accessible only by air, Ontario’s largest and northernmost park features pristine low-lying tundra. There are no visitor facilities.
But this spring, when you see your favorite species of shorebirds and geese, remember that Polar Bear Provincial Park and its IBAs can play a crucial role in your trip.
We can all be proud of this vast subarctic wilderness and the biodiversity it safeguards.
Bird Studies Canada thanks the Ontario Trillium Foundation for generously supporting the Ontario IBA Program. To stay up to date with these monthly blogs, subscribe to the Ontario IBA newsletter.