06 July 2010

Perfect Day Atlassing

Besides just being out there, what makes a perfect atlassing day?

The steeples from Picture Valley Road #2
Fantastically beautiful country-side.

Greg - it's more than just his 4x4 truck.
More great company and conversation --

Like the anthropology of bits of metal and stuff found on the railroad tracks and railroader ethnology (he's a railroader, retired).

Passable roads !! Woot !!
No impassable mud holes - yah!

My car wouldn't have made it, that's for sure, but this here is just fine!

Previously undocumented Bank Swallow Colony
Mysteries solved

The previous week, Ruth and I recorded hundreds of swallows on a point count down by the Kootenay River. This colony site is around a hill and on the edge of the benchlands in 3 bluffs dug out courtesy of gravel mining.

130 nest holes (approx.) and over 200 birds make up this swallow's version of an ideal home.

American Kestrel nest
Finding a spirit guide's nest

Aka one of my favorite species - the Sparrow Hawk.
Sooo, sweet to see the female pop in to the nest and duck down with only her tail feathers visible in the shadow of the hole - they're much longer than you think!

And such an obvious and wonderful location!
That is one fantastic flat I tell ya:
American Kestrel,
two Lewis' Woodpecker nests -- one in a tree signed "private property" !!!,
and earlier in the year, one of the two Saw-whet Owl nests we found, now long gone.

Waiting for the Williamson's Sapsucker
And finally, confirming nesting of a previously staked out rarity.

NY! = nest with young. Yup, told ya. This might be the first WISA on the east bank of the Kootenay.

Dianne Cooper

29 June 2010

Oil Spills - New York Times 1991 (not positive, I know)

Excerpt from the 1991 book "The New York Times Book of Science Literacy" - What Everyone Needs to Know from Newton to the Knuckleball; by the editors and reporters of Science Times, Richard Flaste, editor; HarperCollins, 1991

Damage Control

Until now, chance and the irresistible forces of nature have overwhelmed the comparatively puny efforts of humans in determining whether a major oil spill becomes an ecological disaster or spares the environment. Even when attempts to contain the spillage are undertaken promptly and well, experts say, factors beyond human control usually decide a locality's ecological fate.

Will the technology for cleaning up spills ever be good enough to do the job on its own? The question gained new urgency in the wake of the Exxon Valdez tanker accident, which brought ecological ruin to Prince William Sound in Alaska, and other major spills. Researchers are working to develop a variety of techniques for dealing with oil spills, ranging from relatively mundane methods of burning the oil or simply sopping it up with absorbent material to sophisticated ways of tracking the myriad threads and tendrils of spilled oil. But in practical application, many experts say, the technology has not fundamentally advanced in two decades, although there have been refinements and improvements. It can deal with some kinds of spills, but experts say that under the worst of conditions, with the biggest spills, the best of it is all but useless.

"There may be no technological fix for big spills in adverse conditions," says Richard S. Golob, the director of the Center for Short-Lived Phenomena in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The center keeps track of oil spills, and Mr. Golob is a recognized independent expert on the subject who has studied it for the last fifteen years. "The public has always believed that in an oil spill, we should be able to contain and recover a vast majority of the oil spilled. Historically, that is just not the case. It's not just a problem of organization and available resources. It's a problem of technology and our ability to deal with winds and waves. We are dealing with some of the largest forces of nature. In major spills, when there hasn't been serious damage, the reason is that Mother Nature has been kind to us."

In 1976, the New England coast was spared a major ecological catastrophe from an oil spill, not because of anything humans did, but because of what nature did. The tanker Argo Merchant ran aground on Nantucket Shoals off Massachusetts. It spilled nearly 8 million gallons of No. 6 fuel oil, which is heavy, viscous, and long-lived. If the wind had been blowing toward land, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket would have experienced a disaster. Instead, the wind blew the oil out to sea. By contrast, onshore winds blew oil onto the beaches of Brittany after the grounded tanker Amoco Cadiz spilled 68 million gallons into the English Channel in 1978. the result was widespread damage to whole species and communities of wildlife.

Existing techniques are usually effective in containing spills of about a hundred thousand gallons or less, Mr. Golob say, and they can be successfully used to prevent spilled oil from reaching marshes or sheltered coves. But "there are limits to what the equipment and technology can do." Under adverse conditions in the open sea, when waves and winds are high, containment and clean-up attempts can be futile, Mr. Golob says. "Most experts will say that if you can recover 10 to 20 percent of the oil, you're doing well. Many spill experts will say privately that sometimes it is totally ineffective to try to respond to a spill out at sea, and yet that's a very impolitic attitude, because it's giving in. Inaction is perceived as bad." So they proceed to try anyway, he says, while the public meanwhile has "a misperception of what is possible."

19 June 2010

Ignoring Chirps

Most of the time I tend to ignore those little chirps I don't know. I often just don't have the time to hunt down the bird, or am with friends who are 'day-listers' or 'site-flippers' (like channel-flippers watching TV - on to the next).

But these little guys' mother chirped behind me several times so loud and so close she broke my concentration. I turned around and re-focused my aging eyeballs to 'near field' just in time to see her pop onto her nest 1 meter from my face in a thick saskatoon bush.

Good luck, little Yellow Warblers!

06 May 2010

Clay mud unforgiving

Almost the same colour - that Kootenay clay mud.

Now I know: it's actually easier to get a front-wheeled drive sedan out of foot-high muddy clay ruts than it is to get a 2-wheel drive light truck unstuck. Yup! It's true! But don't ask me to prove it to you cuz I'm NOT doing it again! I promise!

No damage done, except to our nerves! My partner wasn't relishing a 2 km walk back to the highway to flag a phone

But, I'm afraid point count co-ordinates beyond any kind of mud will definitely not be done. Throw in gravel boulder and slimy clay-covered hills into that list of no no's, too!

Nooo, the little Corolla is strictly an on - a - pre-defined - road vehicle. (Get it? 'pre-defined', you know ... like pre-defined point count co-ords? Oh, nvm.)

Lesson learned. Ah well.

15 April 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owl Nests

With owl survey data in hand, three of us set off to find some owl nests; then connect with a couple of Atlassers (Breeding Bird Atlas) over in Fernie to plan this year's effort.

What a blinking blizzard it was for weather (insert more expletives here).

Sue did a terrific job, as usual, watching the mileage and Greg was excellent at scratching likely-looking snags with a stick to sound like a predator.

We were able to find 2 NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL nests! Yay! How can we not help thinking we're so good at this. They are so cute! Poking their heads out, with indignant expressions from the disturbance.

A nice walk-about along the scrubby mixed forest adjacent to Peckham's Lake revealed several possible BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE nests (but no long ears sticking up above the sticks).

After a satisfactory pause at the pub in celebration, we carried on to Fernie in search of a Great-horned Owl nest rumored to be in Hosmer. More blizzard and bitter bitter wind. Guided by Kevin, Bob, and Henry the german sheppard, we turned up only a PILEATED WOODPECKER male likely just roosting in a hole in a tree on the banks of the Elk River; and a couple of GOLDEN EAGLE adults against the snow-covered mountains.

All along the way, we noticed flocks of dozens of AMERICAN ROBIN - the migration has begun again after being stalled by nature's flashback of winter.

22 March 2010

Breeding Bird Atlas Report March 2010

2010 marks the third year of the five-year data-gathering effort for the British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas.

Two years worth of data have brought us some very interesting discoveries and maintained what we here in the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench already knew - that this is the best and prettiest place in BC to live and bird.

189 species have been documented in our region!

169 of these are definitely or strongly suspected to be breeding here.

This is compared to the 254 species that breed, migrate, or occasionally fall out of the sky into our area.

Certain species documented at last
The great news is that some very wonderful species have been breeding in our area including:

Barred Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Williamson's Sapsucker, Lark Sparrow, Common Grackle and possibly American Avocet.

K. K. of Fernie was the first to bring to provincial attention that the COMMON GRACKLE have invaded the southeast corner of our province and have been here for years.

The LARK SPARROW was known to be in the Skookumchuck area for some years. Last year, P.D. and G.R. stumbled upon one of these nests in a very dreary but obvious place. Two weeks later, the eggs were pipped (as confirmed by yours truly) and later in the season, the young were seen with their family. Yay!

The furthest southeast corner of our province has given up a very nice record of an AMERICAN PIPIT carrying food as recorded by a researcher from Alberta.

Our region's progress
How are we doing?

Well, compared to the other 40 regions, not bad for having only 11 regularly active atlassers. Mind you each region has a different number of squares. We have over 200 squares. (Squares are based on the Universal Trans Mercator grid and are 10 x 10 kilometers.)

Breeding evidence: we've complete 6 squares (20 hours spent in a square over the 5 years).

Point counts: we've completed 1 square (15 point counts per square).

Squares: we've got some data in 86 squares but no data in over half our squares.

Species: we've recorded 189 species.

Hey, we missed some
Yup, no one has yet documented definite breeding evidence of ROCK PIGEON, BLACK TERN, or VIRGINIA RAIL!

Hopefully, they won't go anywhere (except migration) by the end of the Atlas period so somebody will confirm their breeding.

And other species we might possibly get breeding are: BALTIMORE ORIOLE, MAGNOLIA WARBLER, BOREAL CHICKADEE, BLACK SWIFT, and the ever elusive TURKEY VULTURE.

Carry on, gang
It's a large and diverse province, as we who have travelled anywhere in it know. But, each region is 'known' for something so each has 'priority' squares that would yield the most useful information when considering the whole province. Region 1 Southern Trench has unique mountainous habitats, not often accessed by the non-hiking birder, but there is some road access to some squares.

If you find yourself in any of our 10 priority 1 squares that yet have no data, please be sure to note species, date, location and breeding evidence. Check out the Breeding Bird Atlas of British Columbia or contact me for a list of these squares.

Point counts
Our region has over 200 squares. Each square has a target number of point counts = 15.
Ha ha - that's over 3,000 points.

91 point counts have been done over the previous two years. Only one is considered to have enough point counts.

Have fun! Stay safe! And thanks to all those who have contributed so far!