CITIZEN SCIENTIST  Ian Dewey records identified waterbirds on Lake Windermere on October 15th as part of the fall Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey. Photo submitted

CITIZEN SCIENTIST Ian Dewey records identified waterbirds on Lake Windermere on October 15th as part of the fall Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey. Photo submitted

By Dorothy Isted

Special to The Pioneer

There are over 600 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Canada and over 10,000 worldwide. Surprisingly, the Columbia Valley Wetlands are not included in this official list.

Rachel Darvill, program manager for the Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey, intends to change that. IBA classification is important because it encourages legal designation for conservation, influences land-use planning and decision-making, allows for the collection of data and increases tourism around birding.

Ms. Darvill, who holds a master of science in environmental management, has lived in the Parson area for the past 15 years. She has done elephant research in Tanzania, studied sea turtles in tropical islands, and worked at Triangle Island, British Columbias largest seabird island.

The recently completed Columbia Wetlands Waterbird Survey was the first of a five-year endeavour and she is happy with the results. She said it was overwhelmingly successful and we gathered an incredible amount of data.

Over 35,000 birds have been counted at 70 sites so far and data is still coming in.

Statistics on waterbirds in the valley were last collected in the 1960s and 1970s, and a population comparison which is one of the long-term goals of the survey has never been done. A number of local organizations are involved including the Windermere District Farmers Institute, the Lake Windermere Ambassadors and the Wings Over the Rockies bird festival.

The question they want answered is: what can be done to conserve, maintain and enhance areas that have been identified as important for migrating birds?

Ms. Darvill said another one of the goals is to have citizen-science partnerships, engaging Columbia Valley residents in a way that builds increased appreciation and recognition for birds in the Columbia Wetlands.

We were really surprised by the number of people who wanted to participate in the surveys, she said. It was fantastic, but ended up being a challenge as there were twice as many as anticipated. It was a great problem to have.

Both the spring and fall migrations happened early this year. In the spring, there was little they could do given the difficulty of moving the survey dates when using volunteers. They planned for the possibility of an early migration this fall and added an earlier additional survey, which proved useful.

For the fall survey, they had about 75 people, including 25 students from Golden Secondary School surveying between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on October 14th.

There wasnt time to recruit or train other schools for the project, but there are plans to do this over the next four years. Ms. Darvill also wants to get local First Nations involved with educational or engagement opportunities.

Anyone wanting more information can contact her at 250-344-5530 or rachel@wildsight.ca.