Environment File

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Spring has come, and local birders hope it will bring plenty of birds to Big Lake next month as part of an annual count.

St. Albert ornithologists will have their scopes out at the Big Lake Environment Support Society’s observation platform this April 18 and 19 as part of the annual Springing to Life bird count.

The count is meant to catch the start of the spring migration, said count organizer Dan Stoker. If there’s open water on Big Lake, you can see hundreds of tundra swans and coots floating in the water, some right next to the platform, during the count.

“The number of birds coming in is very much weather dependent,” Stoker said, and can vary widely depending on when the count happens.

Past years have seen swarms of robins, thousands of gulls and countless ducks and grebes, Stoker said. They’ve also had loons, but those rarely stick around to breed on Big Lake.

The count is a great way to get in touch with nature and welcome back spring, Stoker said. Scopes and experts will be available on site to help visitors.

The count runs from 9 a.m. to noon both days at the BLESS platform on Big Lake. Call Stoker at 780-965-8839 for details.

Crops and wild animals can live together if farmers use the right techniques, suggests Statistics Canada.

Stats Canada put out a report Monday on the two-way relationship between agriculture and wildlife. The study was based on the 2011 Census of Agriculture, which tracks land use on farms.

The study found that about a third of Canada’s farmland could double as wildlife habitat, as they were places wild animals could live, breed and feed. Three-quarters of this habitat was natural land for pasture (i.e. un-seeded land used for grazing), while the rest was woodland and wetland.

Although wild animals can damage crops and attack livestock, most farmers now know that a healthy ecosystem can improve their bottom line, said Candace Vanin, a land-use specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada familiar with the report.

“Healthy biodiversity and healthy water supplies mean healthy landscapes.”

The study found that Alberta had the most farmland in Canada that could be used as animal habitat, with about 7.3 million hectares in total. About 32 per cent of the province’s farmland was considered pasture, while about four per cent was either woodland or wetland.

Wildlife provides many ecological services such as pollination, decomposition and pest control, the report found. About 28 per cent of Canada’s farmland contained crops that could benefit from wild pollinators.

One of the first things Eric Chen said he did when he set up Peas On Earth farm near St. Albert was to plant a thousand trees to take advantage of these eco-services. The trees not only create a warmer microclimate for his crops, but also act as homes for ladybugs and birds that eat the pests that attack his crops.

“They all need a home.”

The report notes that certain farming techniques such as no-till cultivation and rotational grazing can increase the amount of land that’s available for wildlife to use. Hedgerows and buffer zones along waterways can act as travel corridors for animals.

Having wildlife habitat on your farm draws in birds and other esthetically pleasing creatures and helps maintain healthy wildlife populations for hunters, Vanin said.

“It’s beneficial all around.”

The report is available at statcan.gc.ca.

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