Environment File: Bird count results and rules for fish


Cold chills bird count

Winter’s chill made for a paltry turnout during last month’s St. Albert Christmas bird count, except when it came to black-backed woodpeckers.

Count co-ordinator Alan Hingston released the results of the 2017 St. Albert Christmas Bird Count this week. The count, now in its 27th year, took place on Dec. 28 and aims to track bird populations in a 24 km wide region centred on the old St. Albert Airport.

Hingston said just 113 people participated in this year’s count, far fewer than the 154 that ventured forth in 2016. He blamed the small turnout on the weather.

“It was brutally cold,” he said, with temperatures hovering at around -25 C all day and hitting -35 C with wind-chill.

Hingston said just 4,745 birds from 32 species were identified in the count, down from the average of 6,400 from 35. This was likely due to the fact that there were fewer counters out and about.

“It just wasn’t a good year for birds,” he said.

Counters spotted one bald eagle, four snowy owls and one northern saw-whet owl on count day, as well as two robins, 571 B.C. chickadees, and 1,431 bohemian waxwings, Hingston reported.

Counters also identified a record-setting six black-backed woodpeckers.

The black-backed woodpecker has long been a resident of the white spruce forest and is likely being spotted more often now as people become more aware of the bird, Hingston said.

Unlike St. Albert’s other woodpeckers, black-backed ones favour deep, old coniferous forests such as the Grey Nuns White Spruce Park, Hingston said. They also have black backs, unlike the white ones of the downy and hairy woodpecker. Males also have yellow caps on their foreheads.

“They’re flakers rather than drillers,” Hingston said of the birds, in that they prefer to flake away the bark of trees to get at grubs instead of pecking into them. The best way to find them is to look for bark flakes around the bases of trees.

Count results will be reported to the National Audubon Society for bird research, Hingston said. Visit https://goo.gl/4fUVVk for an interactive graph of the results.

Rules for fish

St. Albert residents can cast their lines into the fisheries debate this week as the province holds an open house on rules for walleye and northern pike.

Alberta Environment is holding an open house Thursday in St. Albert on its proposed northern pike and walleye recreational fisheries management frameworks. First published in October, the frameworks, if approved, will affect fishing regulations across the province.

The open house is a follow-up to an online survey held last fall and should be of interest to anyone who fishes, said Stephen Spencer, senior fisheries biologist with Alberta Environment.

Northern pike and walleye are popular Alberta sport fish that are under pressure due to overfishing and other factors, the draft frameworks suggest. While they’re considered secure province-wide, about 67 per cent of the province’s northern pike populations and 77 per cent of its walleye are at high or worse risk when it comes to long-term sustainability.

The province wants the public to weigh in on management objectives for 34 lakes based on the state of fish populations, Spencer said.

“Do they want to take fish home? Do they want high catch rates? Do they want high catch rates and (to catch) large fish? We’re giving some options we believe are achievable.”

Those objectives will determine what fish-protection measures (such as basin closures or license restrictions) the province puts on each lake, Spencer explained.

Spencer said his department was particularly interested in Wabamun Lake, the rules for which will be up for review in 2020. The current proposal is to make this an “old growth” lake where anglers will be able to catch and release trophy-sized fish.

The open house is Jan. 11 at the Kinsmen Banquet Centre (47 Riel Dr.) at 6 p.m. Visit https://goo.gl/7VT2ye for details.


About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.