Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

April Morning Bird Walks/COVID-9 Year

by Michel Gauthier

Every year in April, MVFN (Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists) organize four Early Morning Bird Walks. Typically, this means inviting the community to participate in guided walks at four different locations, on four consecutive Wednesday. The aim of those walks is to familiarize club members and the community with various aspects of birdwatching.

For the last twelve years, the club has dutifully recorded the number of species obtained during those walks. As of 2017, the club began recording not only the number of species but also the number of birds for each species. From then on, this data has been shared with eBird – Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This year, because of the social distancing measures required to combat COVID 19, the Morning Walks were cancelled. The club, however, found a way to maintain the string of data while strictly adhering to the social distancing measures.

On each of the assigned Wednesday, one of our experienced birdwatchers (or two if they were part of the same family unit) took his/her daily walk at the place where the Morning Walk was supposed to take place. Luckily, the coronavirus closures did not affect any of the designated locations, so our volunteers were able to record the birds and species while doing no more than their prescribed daily walk.

One would think that reducing the number of birdwatchers to such an extent would have dramatically affected the count, but surprisingly, the numbers of birds and bird species did not deviate significantly from previous years. Maybe the lack of human conversation enabled our birdwatchers to hear and locate more birds. Or maybe only one or two humans wandering through the bird’s environment spooked fewer birds. Whatever the reason, the charts below this article show the results.

Sadly, maintaining the Morning Walks data streak is a small consolation when compared to the hurt inflicted on our community by COVID 19, but in these trying times, one must endeavour to find a sense of normalcy wherever one can. We hope with all our hearts that by next year, we at MVFN will again be able to invite the community in joining us for the Early Morning Bird Walks.

But until then, we encourage everyone to go out birding on their own. MVFN has a Guide to birdwatching in Lanark County that suggests a number of good birding routes. Some of the routes are on federal land or provincial parks that are currently closed to the public but the majority are open and easily allow for social distancing. Just check before you go.

Those new to bird watching will find it helpful to have a field guide to aid in identification. There are a number of apps available for smart phones that will help but Merlin – a free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – is highly recommended. See how many of the 46 species found on the early morning bird walks you can spot.