Wednesday, January 11, 2012

IBA Caretakers: Volunteers Protecting Birds at Important Bird Areas

Bruce and Hilda Norton at Rice Lake IBA. Photo: Shelly Fisher
For nearly forty years, Bruce Norton has been visiting Rice Lake, Saskatchewan and admiring the abundant wildlife that it supports. Located just 25 km from Saskatoon, it’s the site of an Important Bird Area that is home to large populations of ducks, shorebirds and other wildlife. So when Bruce and his wife Hilda attended a meeting where volunteers were being recruited to care for and watch over Important Bird Areas in the Saskatoon region, they saw an opportunity they knew was too good to pass up.

“When I heard about the Important Bird Area project, Hilda and I decided this was something we’d enjoy doing,” said Bruce, “We’ve been at Rice Lake on and off for about forty years, so it seemed like a natural place to volunteer.”

As members of Nature Saskatoon, a local naturalist group, Bruce and Hilda had visited Rice Lake Important Bird Area many times on bird watching trips before becoming Important Bird Area Caretakers. In fact, many of the group’s members are avid birders and bird watching is a weekly group activity.
Rice Lake Important Bird Area. Photo: Shelly Fisher
A semi-permanent marsh surrounded by agricultural lands, Rice Lake is an important wetland for waterbirds, especially Franklin’s Gull. Over 3,000 pairs of nesting Franklin's Gulls, representing more than 1% of the estimated global breeding population, have been recorded at this site. The lake is also an important staging site for waterfowl including Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Mallard, and Canada Goose.

Not only do Bruce and Hilda make regular visits to Rice Lake IBA to monitor birds and changes to the landscape, they share these observations with local farmers whose land abuts the IBA.
“I’ve found that a lot of farmers are conservationists who have an interest in birds and in the IBA,” said Bruce.

Farmers will often share their observations of birds passing through their land, adding to the greater pool of knowledge about the wildlife that uses Rice Lake to breed, nest and refuel before long migrations. For Bruce and Hilda, their volunteer work is as much about making observations of the IBA as it is informing local stakeholders on bird conservation issues.

“Agriculture is changing, the climate is changing, and we’re not quite sure what this will do to wildlife,” said Bruce, “I think it’s important to have monitors around the country to keep track of how these things are affecting birds and wildlife on the ground.”

Bruce and Hilda are a part of a network of over 200 volunteers who watch over and protect Important Bird Areas across Canada. First launched by BC Nature with the assistance of a Nature Canada Communities in Action Fund, the Caretaker network now spans nine provinces.  Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada are the national co-partners in delivering the Important Bird Areas program and coordinating the IBA Caretakers Network in Canada.

Are you a member of a naturalist club in your community? If you are actively involved in conserving and protecting natural spaces in your area, joining the IBA Caretaker Network could give you the support and guidance to do more! You can find out more about becoming a Caretaker and explore Important Bird Areas in Canada at

As the national sponsor of the Important Bird Area Caretaker Network, TransCanada Corporation committed $1 million in 2009 to support bird conservation efforts in Canada over the following five years.