Friday, 19 January 2018 11:01

Birds of a feather are Castle royalty for counters

Written by  Demi Knight
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The Cold snow covered the ground but people still came out by the tens to take part in the first annual Provincial Bird Count at Castle Park this January. The Cold snow covered the ground but people still came out by the tens to take part in the first annual Provincial Bird Count at Castle Park this January. Contributed

This winter season didn’t just bring with it the cold, but also the first annual Christmas bird count at Castle Provincial Park on Jan. 6.

The park which is located in southwest Alberta, encompasses more than 105,000 hectares and is home to a diverse body of land from mountains and rolling hills to montane forests and even meadows, making it the perfect location for a multitude of species of birds to take home in, and the ideal location to conduct this bird count.
“We have a brand-new winter guide program in the castle provincial park, so this bird count was the very first program we ran in it,” says Heidi Eijgel, a Visitor Services worker with Alberta Environment and Parks in Pincher Creek.
“There’s an official bird counting national program, where selected areas involved have to be a certain size and can’t overlap with other areas, so since there’s a bird count as part of this program in Waterton, Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass, this area in Castle Provincial Park was also planned for as it hadn’t been taken advantage of yet in this program."
Although this January saw the first annual bird count held in the Castle area, the Christmas bird count tradition has been a staple event for avid bird lovers and newcomers alike since 1900 and is North America’s longest running citizen science project.
With dozens of people coming out to each event and traveling the landscapes to be a part of new one’s, these counts take place over the winter months to gather information that will ultimately go towards helping professionals determine the health and status of bird populations across the continent.
“[The bird count] to me is one of the most important things everyone who loves nature can be involved in,” says Eijgel.
“To take the time to observe and monitor wildlife in our area is so important because those results especially with bird species really ultimately tell us how healthy the landscape is.”
Many members of the pubic agreed with Eijgel, as the pilot year for this event in Castle Parks so twenty-three participants joining the guided tours and several other self-registered members whose results and numbers are still being collected after the event.
The count, which saw two guided tours on Jan. 6, one being at 10 a.m. and the other at 2 p.m., started at the Syncline south parking area, where tour guides had snowshoe’s available for participants that needed them thanks to the harsh winter weather.
However, the snowfall didn’t scare away the birds and the guided tours saw a total count of fifty-eight birds, (thirty-one of those being seen during the mornings event and the other twenty-seven in the afternoon) and a total of seven different species including Downy woodpeckers, Black-capped chickadees and Golden crowned kinglets.
“There’s quite a large area that the bird count can be a part of within Castle park,” added Eijgel however on the numbers that have been received so far.
“Those numbers are from the guided tours alone and we haven’t collected all the results from the self-registers participants yet and they picked their own routes in the park to explore as part of the count.” 
The bird count which was originally scheduled for Dec. 30 was moved to after the new year due to severe snowfall and freezing temperatures, was still a great success for it’s pilot year, and although it was the first run for the area, the results just like with all the other Christmas bird counts will be sent in to the national program for professionals to view and use for further research.

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