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Christmas Bird Count takes flight this weekend

Local effort overseen by Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists part of a tradition that started in 1900

Similar to viewing a performance of the Nutcracker or attending a local Santa Claus parade, the annual Christmas bird count is a rite of the season for many.

On Saturday, volunteers and members of the Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists will be out in force patrolling area fields and natural areas as part of this year’s 123rd Annual Christmas Bird Count.

“We’ll be in 17 different areas with the majority having two or three people,” organizer David Schandlen tells MidlandToday.

The Christmas Bird Count began over 100 years ago when American ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a conservation-oriented alternative to a traditional Christmas Day competition to hunt the most birds and small mammals. His initiative to identify, count, and record all the birds found on Christmas Day in 1900 has turned into one of North America’s longest-running wildlife monitoring programs.

Schandlen says the local count was initially conducted in the Wye Marsh area before spreading further afield. He notes that the count can give a pretty good indication of what kinds of changes individual species might be experiencing.

“We might see some species that have gone up in numbers and some that have gone down,” he says, noting counts in recent years have noticed declines in shrikes and evening grosbeaks visiting the area.

But weather can also play a factor in whether the count is successful.

“If it’s rainy or snowy or really cold then we might not see as many birds,” Schandlen says.

Schandlen says he tries to partner avid birders with regular folks who might be able to easily identify a chickadee or cardinal, but don’t draw a blank when trying to determine other species of birds.

“Many of the people are avid birders that go out all the time, not just on this specific day. They’re experts at identifying the birds.”

Once the counting's done, the local group will hold its annual Christmas party at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre with a meal catered by Rooted Plant-based Eating Cafe in Midland.

To learn more about the local field naturalists' club, click here.

A similar count is also occurring in Orillia Saturday. For a full list of the estimated 48 counts happening across the province, visit the Ontario Nature website.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great way for bird lovers of all ages to help Ontario’s birds. Novices work alongside experts to collect important data that help guide work on behalf of all birds across the province. And who knows… maybe you’ll see a rare bird,” says Anne Bell, Ontario Nature’s Director of Conservation and Education.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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