Environment File

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The ice is gone, and that means the birds are coming back to Big Lake.

City birders should head to the Big Lake Environment Support Society platform on the next two Saturdays for the annual Springing to Life bird count.

The event is a celebration of the return of birds after winter, said organizer Dan Stoker. Participants will count all the birds they can spot from the platform and submit the results to eBird, an international online database that tracks bird sightings.

While the ice had just opened up around the platform earlier this week, Stoker predicted that the whole of Big Lake would be open by the 15th.

“A lot of the migrants have already passed over us,” he said, but many ducks, geese and shorebirds should still stop off at Big Lake for the count.

Stoker said Canada geese, crows and ring-billed gulls were already back in force, as were a decent number of mallards and goldeneyes. The platform was also host to what eBird suggests was the Edmonton region’s first American coot (all black ducks) this year earlier this week. By April 15, the lake should also be home to the northern shoveler (big nose), bufflehead (big black and white head), and green-winged teal.

Guests at Springing to Life can park at the new Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park parking lot and take the boardwalk through the John Poole wetland, Stoker said. Spotting scopes and bird experts are available, and guests can stay for as long as they like.

“The more eyes, the better.”

The count runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon on April 15 and 22. Call 780-965-8839 for details.

If you’re chasing snow geese in particular, the Edmonton Nature Club has a bus ready for you.

April 22 and 23 is the 19th annual Snow Goose Chase, where volunteers drive busloads of bird-lovers out to Tofield to see tens of thousands of snow geese.

Snow geese are white with black wingtips and pink bills that appear to have black lips, says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They are known for travelling in enormous flocks that can number in the hundreds of thousands.

The snow goose chase typically has a strong turnout from St. Albert, said organizer Bob Parsons. The nature club has three buses open to the public this year plus 11 reserved for local schools. He expects seats to go fast.

Guests can expect a hot lunch, demonstrations of owl-banding, and, in all likelihood, a great horned owl on its nest, Parsons said. There will also be tens of thousands of snow geese blanketing the fields and soaring overhead as they head north to places like Siberia.

“It’s an amazing sight,” Parsons said.

Tickets are $45. Call 780-436-2772 to register.

Climate change will make person-tossing turbulence significantly more common on future flights, suggests a new study.

Meteorologist Paul Williams of the U.K.’s University of Reading published a study this week in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences on the effects of climate change on turbulence.

Williams said in an email that he decided to do this study – thought to be the first to examine the future of severe turbulence – after seeing statistics suggesting a steep climb in turbulence-related injuries since 1980.

“Clear-air turbulence – the invisible and hazardous kind – is formed whenever the wind shear is strong enough,” he said.

Wind shear is the speed difference between any two layers of air. Whenever that difference gets too great, the layers churn and you get turbulence.

“The atmosphere is not warming uniformly in response to our carbon dioxide emissions,” he continues.

Specifically, at cruising altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 feet, the tropics are warming more than the poles, which makes for a bigger temperature difference, a faster jet stream and more turbulence.

Williams modelled how the jet stream would change if atmospheric CO2 concentrations doubled relative to pre-industrial levels – which researchers say is likely to happen by 2050 – and how that would affect transatlantic wintertime turbulence. He found that the odds of light turbulence on a flight would go up 59 per cent, while those for severe turbulence would skyrocket 149 per cent.

This change in turbulence will likely mean more severe injuries for passengers on planes, Williams said. Better turbulence forecasting could help.

Other studies have found that climate-related changes to the jet stream are already making eastbound flights faster and westbound ones slower, Williams said.

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