Wednesday, 31 October 2012 10:56

Foundation continues to monitor bird migration

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Observers on the Livingstone Ridge at 1900 metres near the Crowsnest Pass monitor eagles that come and go. The observers keep track of the eagles migrating in the area. Observers on the Livingstone Ridge at 1900 metres near the Crowsnest Pass monitor eagles that come and go. The observers keep track of the eagles migrating in the area. Photo submitted

The Rocky Mountain Eagle Research Foundation (RMERF) is in its 21st year of operation and is a non-profit entity studying migrant and resident eagles and other birds of prey in Western Canada’s mountains.

The RMERF also educates the public about the eagles and birds of prey in the area, sharing their importance in the ecosystem.
Peter Sherrington, the research director for the foundation, says they have been learning new information and this year found more eagles are migrating than they originally thought.
“The fact that there is a population of golden eagles that is highly migratory that we were not really aware of — it was known that some eagles migrated, but we had no idea of what the dynamic was or how predictable it was or the numbers of birds involved,” says Sherrington. 
He explains that from findings this year, there has seemed to be a connection with the genetics of an eagle and the fact it migrates. He says this is exciting for the foundation and officials are looking deeper into it to find out more detailed information on the number of migrating birds.
“We’re now doing genetics work along with the University of Calgary. That has actually demonstrated that there is a Happlo type, a type of eagle that is migratory and that it has a different genetic make up from the birds that don’t migrate. So, that’s pretty late, new stuff. We’ve only just found this,” says Sherrington.
RMERF officials are excited about this new information and look forward to monitoring the birds to see the effects of changes in the birds’ environment.
“We hope to continue to monitor these birds, because ... this population does appear to be declining and possibly declining quite significantly largely because of winter mortality, but with the huge changes and rapid changes of climate up in the arctic, where these birds breed, they may start becoming under pressure because of that,” says Sherrington.
He adds one can’t predict what will happen as items such as vegetation are changing rapidly. 
The RMERF’s mission is “to increase knowledge of golden eagle, bald eagle and other raptor migrations in Western Canada.”
The RMERF’s monitoring is suffering from a lack of observers, says Sherrington about how research and monitoring has gone over the last few years. He adds this is the reason the foundation won’t be doing a full count, at the Mount Livingstone site and the Crowsnest Pass. They will probably go out and do a little bit of monitoring and research on the weekends in this area, but without the numbers, they don’t have much choice but to cut back the monitoring.
A full count takes three and a half months and Sherrington was conducting most of those, but says he isn’t quite able to do it all on his own.
“I’m too old and too tired to do that now. To do every single day for three and a half months on average of about 12 hours a day. Plus do all of the analysis and the writing the reports and everything else,” says Sherrington.
“So, one of the things we’re hoping to do is to ... to actually hire some people to do that. If we can find the right people, the right expertise and have the ability to do it. They’re not easy people to find.”
Sherrington says the foundation does however, have enough people to do a 55-day count at its Mount Lorette site in the Kananaskis.
“So, that (Mount Lorette site) will continue. That is long enough to capture about 95 per cent of all the golden eagles that go through.” says Sherrington.
This summer, Sherrington has had several summer students from the University of Calgary helping him out with entering the gold eagle data onto a large data base for the foundation. The RMERF will be doing some statistical analysis on all of the age classes of eagles and will study all of the data they have collected over the last 20 years.
“It connects them (the public) with the real environment, I think. One of the huge problems, and I’ve seen this coming over the last 30 years, is that we are becoming more and more isolated from our natural environment and migration, of all things, is a huge phenomenon around the world,” says Sherrington.
“In some ways we understand that it happens and it’s difficult to observe, but with these eagles, you can actually see the thing happening, people can go up there and it’s a reality check.”
Sherrington explains for the past 30 years, he has been telling people that the big challenge of the 21st century is the challenge of reality. He says people nowadays spend more time on the internet and watching television than spending time outside, so they aren’t really seeing nature and what’s around them.
He wants to reconnect with the public and help them understand the significance of nature and what it can teach people.
Unfortunately, Sherrington believes Alberta doesn’t have a government that is concerned enough about the environment.
Sherrington does less of the actual observing, but he does still do the science and works with the genetic program.
There are about 150 members of the foundation around the world. The foundation  decided to have a life-time membership for $20. Sherrington says being a member means the person is interested in the foundation and what it does and also there are many member events such as meetings and picnics to  attend.
The money from the memberships go towards paying the observers. They get paid $100 a day. The observers generally spend 14 to 15 hours a day monitoring and usually have to drive about 200 kilometres to reach the monitoring site. The RMERF does several things throughout the year to raise money for items such as paying observers and DNA analysis.
People can check the foundation’s website for more information or to keep up to date on events. A report was posted daily on the website during the migration.
Sherrington wants people to know they are always welcome to come with them in their research and observe or help.
People can go online to find out where the foundation will be going to do the monitoring and can tag along if they so wish. There will be directions on how to get to the sites and when to be there during the fall starting in September until Nov. 15 this year.
Visit the following link for more information or to become a member:

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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