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Desert Society News

Fall 2016

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Dear Supporters:

After a glorious display of reds, gold, and yellows the leaves are falling as autumn advances. The crops are in and grape crushing is underway. The wild land around us is also preparing for winter. The Sockeye have successfully spawned in Okanagan River, many bird species have left for their wintering grounds, and snakes have gone into hibernation as other animals prepare for winter.

We, too, have prepared the Desert Centre for winter. The buildings are secure, water lines are drained and plants are progressing into dormancy. Spadefoots and salamanders are deep in the mud, protected from winter frost. And so ends another successful year, one which saw a near-record number of visitors enjoy the visual qualities and opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the antelope-brush ecosystem.

Almost 10,000 visitors experienced the boardwalk and/or the interpretive exhibits this year. Among those were loyal members who brought out-of-town friends on a tour. Other visitors decided to subscribe to membership; new members are always welcome. The value of membership to the Osoyoos Desert Society and the Desert Centre is far greater than the financial contribution; membership shows support for the work done at the Desert Centre. When applying for a grant to upgrade signage, do research, refurbish kiosks, or run programs to introduce school children to the wonders of the ecosystem, membership support is fundamental, it tells funders that the public supports what we do and wants to see us continue with our mission.

As your President I urge you to show your support and renew or become a new member. Membership can make a novel gift and introduce people to the value of conservation. Details on how to become a member are included in this newsletter.

In closing, may winter provide you with some time to relax and enjoy the wonders of this important season.

On behalf of the Osoyoos Desert Society Board
Lee McFadyen
President, Osoyoos Desert Society

Sensational Citizen Science - Christmas Bird Counts
By Thor Manson, Osoyoos Desert Society

Starting December 14th and running through January 5th birders of all levels will be fanning out across our great country in what is one of the oldest and sustained examples of citizen science found anywhere: the annual Christmas Bird Count. Interestingly, this important work had its genesis as an annual hunting expedition. Prior to the 20th century, groups of hunters would form teams and the team that brought home the largest number of birds and mammals on Christmas Day would win a prize. Luckily, at about the same time, scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations and so, in the year 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman decided that a better idea would be to count birds, rather than hunt them, as a way of taking a "snapshot" count of bird species during a particular time period. Twenty-five Christmas Bird Counts were held on that year's Christmas Day from Toronto to California.
Boreal Chickadee ~ Photo by Thor Manson

Today the annual activity takes place over approximately a three week period. One advantage of spreading the "snapshot" period out over time is to allow birders to participate in more than one count should they wish. The number of participants has now grown to the tens of thousands, and these volunteers go out in all weather conditions (some of it obviously inclement at this time of year) to count birds for the purpose of assessing the health of bird populations, which helps guide conservation action. As the counts have been taking place for over 100 years, this type of longitudinal study has great value. This long-term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitats. As an example, in the study of climate change in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency used climatic data collected by the Audubon Society through the counts as one of 26 indicators of climate change. This same data, through modeling, proposed that out of 588 species of birds studied by Audubon, 314 will lose more than 50% of their current climatic range by 2080.

The organization that collects and archives the data from the over 2000 counts in the Western Hemisphere is the Audubon Society of North America, and all the data from these counts can be accessed at their website (www.audubon.org). In Canada, the organization Bird Studies Canada (www.birdscanada.org) initially collects the data from the Canadian counts before forwarding them to the Audubon Society for archiving. Also, for birders interested in participating in counts, their website is the one you access (starting in about mid-November) to find out what counts are being held in your area, when they are, and who the contact person is for each count.

White-winged Crossbill ~ Photo by Thor Manson
Sometime after the counts are completed, summaries are produced for each province to give participants an idea of how each regional count "stacks up" against others from that year, as well as compared to previous years. Additionally, usually a more quickly available summary for each count area is produced by the count coordinators and published using local birding listservs and also through various forms of social media.

For those who may be becoming aware of this activity for the first time, your initial reaction may be that it sounds like fun, but I am not knowledgeable enough, or have enough experience to participate. That thought should be immediately repressed. All participants, at one time or another, participated in their first Christmas Bird Count and, almost assuredly, that is how they felt prior to the count. Count coordinators are very aware of this situation, and when you sign up you will be asked about your level of knowledge and experience. So-called "beginners" will be placed in a group with more experienced birders who will love the opportunity to share their knowledge about the birds you will be seeing. You definitely will not be judged on your knowledge, and you will still be making a valuable contribution. Even the most experienced and knowledgeable birder can't see or hear all the birds that may be around at any one stop on the count route. It is sufficient to call out "bird" if you see or hear a bird to alert another birder to come over and take a look. This is a great way to increase your knowledge about the bird(s) you may be looking at. Obviously, it doesn't hurt (as even the most experienced birders do) to do a little studying beforehand by looking at some bird guides like National Geographic or Sibley's; but in the end, it is often a group effort in determining the identity of the birds being seen/heard. Part of the fun in participating in a Christmas Bird Count is meeting new birders of all levels who share a passion for the natural world and learning more about it. Many a friendship has been forged out of these opportunities and, going forward, you may have found a birding buddy to share future birding experiences with.

One would be remiss in not mentioning the mildly competitive aspects of Christmas Bird Counts. Despite the more valuable contribution all birders are making simply by participating and counting birds, there is a certain pleasure in being able to say you participated in a count that produced the largest number of species in the region/province/country. For those of us who live in British Columbia, due to a number of factors depending on where you live in this province, you have the opportunity to participate in a count area that traditionally produces the largest number of species, not only in B.C., but all of Canada. Not surprisingly, mostly because of its mild climate, Coastal British Columbia produces the largest species count. More specifically, the count areas of Ladner and Victoria will usually be number one and two, or vice versa, in total species counts. Additionally, the Oliver-Osoyoos count area most often will produce the most interior species; 110 during the 2014-15 count year. One has to give credit to any birder who participates in a count in the far northern reaches of our country where often, in bone chilling temperatures, the only bird recorded is a Common Raven, perhaps indicating the toughness of both bird and birder.

I hope all birders and potential birders will consider taking part in this year's Christmas Bird Count. Birders of a certain "vintage" may be "snowbirders" and therefore may not be present, at least in Canada, for the Christmas Bird Count season. This does not mean you cannot take part in at least one Christmas Bird Count, wherever you are. I would encourage such birders to seek out the coordinators of the regions you will be traveling to sign up for those counts. For more information on the Christmas Bird Count visit www.audubon.org.

Are Bobcats and Lynx Shifting Their Ranges in British Columbia?
By TJ Gooliaff and Dr. Karen Hodges

Climate change is causing many species to shift their ranges. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) and lynx (Lynx canadensis) might be among these species since their distributions are tied to snow. Lynx have extremely long legs and large paws, making them well adapted for traveling across deep snow. Bobcats are heavier, have small feet, and sink into the snow. While lynx are found throughout the interior of British Columbia, bobcats have been restricted to southern B.C. However, climate change has led to earlier springs and lower snow levels. As a result, suitable bobcat habitat may have increased and suitable lynx habitat may have decreased. As part of my M.Sc., I am mapping the current provincial distribution of each species, and I am using harvest records to gauge whether each species has shifted its range over the past century.

To determine their current distributions, we are turning to citizen science. We are collecting photographs of both species submitted by the public from throughout the province. So far 4,301 photographs have been collected comprising 1,539 separate detections. Lynx have been detected across the interior of B.C., while the majority of bobcats have been detected in the southern third of B.C. However, bobcats have been detected north of where they were previously thought to occur. Both species have been detected around Osoyoos - bobcats in the valley, and lynx in the surrounding mountains.

We are still seeking photos of bobcats and lynx captured by trail cameras, or conventional cameras, from all corners of the province and from all time periods. Photos will not be published or shared with anyone without permission, and photographers will retain ownership of their photos. Please send photos, along with the date and location of each photo, to TJ Gooliaff (tj.gooliaff@ubc.ca).

We look forward to completing our analyses to see if there has been a shift in the ranges of either species over the last century.


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