In the February 2020 edition of OFO News, the newsletter of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, Mike Cadman wrote an article announcing that the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas would be starting in January 2021. For those who have participated in either or both of the two previous Atlas projects, this will be exciting news. If you haven’t been involved in a Breeding Bird Atlas before, you might be wondering what’s involved. A five-year project might sound a little scary but it’s necessary to give Ontario naturalists time to cover the very large province in which we live. In Southern Ontario alone there are about 2000 ten-kilometer squares to be covered. In Lanark County we have all or parts of about 50 squares.
You can get involved at many levels; you don’t have to commit to covering a square. In the past there have always been “casual observations” to report even if you weren’t in one of “your” squares. This time around, such reporting will be even easier because technology has come a long way since field work for the last atlas ended in 2005. For those of you who use eBird to report your bird sightings, reporting for the atlas will be similarly based on submitting checklists. For the atlas, though, you will be looking for, and reporting, breeding evidence, not just “presence”. However, almost any bird observation during the breeding season is potentially evidence of breeding at some level, ranging from “Possible”, through “Probable” to “Confirmed” breeding.
Another vital component of the atlas is point counts. The goal is to conduct in each square 25 five-minute point counts of all species heard or seen. I wasn’t too excited about point counts before the second atlas started, but it quickly became my favourite atlas activity. I even found bird species I would otherwise have missed!
I encourage all Lanark birders to get involved in this incredible citizen science opportunity. It will get you into new areas, greatly increase your birding skills, especially song recognition, and will be a lot of fun. You don’t have to be an expert birder to make meaningful contributions – you can report the birds you know in the area where you live. Conducting point counts does require a fairly high level of expertise in recognizing bird songs, but you can start working to improve your skills now. This year’s breeding season is already underway, with much more to come.
If anyone has general questions about what it takes to help out with a breeding bird atlas, I’d be happy to try to answer them.
If you want to see some of the maps based on the first two atlases, you can check them out at: http://birdsontario.org/atlas/samples.jsp
If you want to practice bird song and call identification, I recommend starting out with the Dendroica tool at: https://www.natureinstruct.org/dendroica/