Atlas News Archives

2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008

February 2013 – Advance pre-sale of the Atlas continues!

To date we have already sold 360 books!  But you can still pre-order your copy by clicking HERE. The pre-sale price is still $65 (including shipping and handling), or just $45 if picked up at one of our book launch events.  Advance pre-sales of the book provide additional funds for design, printing, and translation, and help us estimate how many books to print.

Book launch locations:  Please note that we have not made a final decision on the location of all our book launches.  We will hold them in major centers such as Halifax, Moncton, and Charlottetown, but we may also hold launches in other locations.  We will let all purchasers know where the book launches are to be held once the book is printed.  There may also be a number of books available for pick up at Bird Studies Canada offices in Sackville NB and Port Rowan ON.

Revised book title:  We have decided to remove the dates (2006-2010) from the book title, as it appeared in our Christmas pre-sale flyers.  We were advised by those involved with the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, that including the years of field work in the title could quickly make the book seem out of date.  The Atlas will now be titled: “Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of the Maritime Provinces”.

New data analyses and maps:  We have recently developed a new method of assessing the change in the probability of observation of a species between the first and second Maritimes Atlas periods.  This new method provides us with a map of an index of how species abundance has changed over the last 20 years.  We have also used the same technique to produce new abundance maps, which provide a more detailed picture about the abundance of species in the region.  We will now be able to produce both types of maps (i.e. maps of species’ change and maps of abundance) for a greater number of bird species detected.  The end result is an interesting new snapshot into population changes of Maritime birds!  Hooded Merganser Photo:  Glen A. Fox
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November 2012 – Looking for a Holiday Gift for the Maritime Birder on your List? Give a Gift Certificate for the Atlas!

Although the Maritimes Atlas won’t be printed until 2013, you can order an Atlas Gift Certificate (redeemable upon publication) to give as a gift this holiday season!  By pre-ordering you will help us raise funds for graphic design and printing, and fulfill at least one request on every Maritime Birder’s wish list!

To pre-order and request a gift certificate click HERE and check the: Yes, please send me Atlas Christmas Gift Certificate(s) box at the bottom pre-order page.
Acknowledgements – Check the spelling of your name for the Atlas

This is a reminder to check the correct format and spelling of your name and your assistants’ names for the Acknowledgments section in the upcoming Atlas book.  The list of participants was first sent by e-mail to all Atlassers on 9 October 2012. If you have not yet had a chance to review it, please check the recently updated list of all participants names by clicking on the link HERE and e-mail us to let us know your suggested changes. If your name and the name of your assistants as listed in the column titled («FULL_NAME»)  are:

1) Correct: there is no need to contact us.
2) Incorrect: please let us know exactly how you would like the names to appear in the book.
3) Duplicated: (e.g. usually with slight misspellings) please indicate the error and let us know how the name should appear.
4) Missing: If your name or the name of your assistant(s) is missing, please let us know the full names as they should appear in the acknowledgements section.

E-mail or contact us at: or
OR call
1-866-5atlas5 or 506-364-5045 (please leave a message if I am not at my desk)

Maritimes Atlas: From Field to Print – article in Birdwatch Canada

The fall issue of Birdwatch Canada features an article highlighting recent applications of Atlas data for new conservation initiatives around the Maritimes, and the remarkable value of continued volunteer support for the project. Check out the full article HERE.

A new Science Horizons Bird Projects Assistant

We are pleased to inform you that Holly Lightfoot has joined Bird Studies Canada as a Bird Projects Assistant to assist with the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas and other BSC Atlantic programs. Holly is finishing up her Masters thesis at Acadia University where she studied patterns of fall songbird migration around the Bay of Fundy. You can reach Holly at or 506-364-5185.

October 2012 – Special advance sale of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of the Maritimes: 2006-2010.

The second Maritimes Atlas is the most authoritative and up-to-date resource on birds in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and the largest citizen science project in the Maritime provinces. With over 200 photographs and 300 maps, the Atlas is destined to be a standard on the bookshelves of birdwatchers, naturalists, educators and resource professionals for years to come. Pre-order your copy now for $45 and save up to 30% on the anticipated retail price of $68.

20 February 2012 – Sneak Peak at Atlas Data Analyses

Although you don’t often hear from the Atlas office these days, we are plugging away at analysing Atlas data in preparation for the upcoming book. One of the more interesting – but time consuming – of the recent analyses we have conducted is the Habitat Association Analysis.

The goal of this extensive analysis was to use information about Maritimes-specific species-habitat characteristics from the data you collected over five years of Atlas field work. We did not want to rely on published habitat descriptions that often refer to distant parts of a species range and that may not describe a species’ unique habitat preferences here in the Maritimes. Our objective was to develop a Maritimes-specific product!

In the Maritimes, Blackpoll Warblers are most often associated with sapling balsam fir and black spruce often in industrial forests. Photo: Dan Busby

Here is how we did the analysis: First we compiled a list of every bird detected on a point count. Since each point count location was associated with a unique UTM co-ordinate, we could match the point count georeferences to spatial land cover and forest inventory data provided by the three provincial natural resource departments. By combining these two spatial data sets, we were able to generate a habitat description for each point count location, based on the set of habitat types, or variables, listed in the provincial land cover data.

This enabled us to describe each species’ habitat association based on the following habitat characteristics: 1) Forest Type (i.e., dominant tree species plus the age of the forest stand); 2) Forest Harvest Regime (e.g., clear cut, plantation, etc.); 3) Human Land Use (e.g., cultivated grassland, cropland, hedgerow, etc.); and, 4) Wetland Type (e.g., bog, fen, freshwater marsh, etc.). Although this sounds complicated, it can be more easily understood by looking at some of the graphs that our Editorial Assistant, Margaret Campbell has generated.

Eastern Wood-Pewees are most often associated with shade tolerant hardwood forests in the Maritimes. Photo: Ally Manthorne

Here is the graph for Eastern Wood-Pewee in the Maritimes (click here to see the provincial habitat graphs for Eastern Wood-Pewee). Major habitat classes are listed along the top of the graph, with more detailed habitat characteristics within the habitat class along the bottom of the graph. Each line in the dot graph represents the habitat association within circular areas, or buffers, of different sizes (50 – 1000m) around each point count location. Red dots indicate that there was a positive association between the species and that habitat type – in other words the species tends to be more frequently detected in that particular habitat. Blue dots indicate that the species-habitat association is negative, or, that the species is less frequently detected in that particular habitat. Darker dots (of either red or blue) indicate that the species-habitat association, or lack thereof, is stronger.

Click on the graph to enlarge the image on your screen

From the Eastern Wood-Pewee habitat graph it can be seen that Eastern Wood-Pewee are most strongly associated with mature shade tolerant hardwood forest, especially with older stands of poplar and pine. It generally avoids young coniferous forests, harvest regimes, human occupied areas and travel routes.

Our Atlas GIS specialist at BSC headquarters, Andrew Couturier, has mapped the relative abundance of breeding bird species across the Maritimes using the point count data. It is interesting to look at the relative abundance map of the Eastern Wood-Pewee in light of its habitat preferences and where they occur in the Maritimes: areas of concentration can be seen in Maritime regions with mature deciduous forest, but also in southern Nova Scotia where there are stands of mature pine. It might seem obvious from your time on the ground Atlassing that Eastern Wood-Pewee like these habitats, and tend to occur in these parts of the Maritimes. It is very useful for conservation planning, however, to have this type of field knowledge corroborated by analyses of Atlas data, and visually displayed in maps and graphs, especially for a species like Eastern Wood-Pewee that has been steadily declining.

Here is the Blackpoll Warbler habitat graph for the Maritimes: (Click here to see the provincial habitat graphs). It shows (as you likely know!), that Blackpoll Warblers are strongly associated with sapling balsam fir as well as sapling and young black spruce stands. In addition, Blackpoll Warblers are found in clear cuts and industrial plantations that have undergone pre-harvest thinning.

Click on the graph to enlarge the image on your screen

The abundance map for Blackpoll Warbler nicely illustrates where Blackpoll Warbler typically occur in the Maritimes: at high elevations and in coastal landscapes throughout the region; habitats with a predominance of black spruce and balsam fir forests.

As you can see, we have been quiet but busy at Atlas headquarters over the past while. We have also been analysing and mapping changes in the probability of detection between the first and second Atlases. All of these intriguing maps and graphs will be in the upcoming book: stay tuned for our Maritimes Atlas pre-publication sale sometime this spring! We are excited about the book, and with this glimpse of what’s to come, we hope you are too!

TD Bank to support Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Publication

We would like to announce that TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF) will donate $20,000 to Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas for the hard copy book publication, to be released in late 2012!

“We are thrilled to support this great initiative,” said Mary Desjardins, Executive Director, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.   And the Atlas is thrilled to have their support. Funding from TD FEF will go to the design and layout of the Atlas publication and will reduce the cost of the book for volunteers and other users.
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30 November 2011 – A Tribute to Brian Dalzell

Brian Dalzell birding from his car .  Photo: Alain Clavette.

In this edition of the Maritimes Atlas Latest News, we pay tribute to Brian Dalzell, one of the MBBA’s most dedicated volunteers, who died suddenly at his Grand Manan home in mid-November 2011. Brian atlassed an amazing 211 squares and observed more species than any other Atlasser. He was also Coordinator of the First Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas during its final two field seasons. To see the final newsletter Brian wrote as First Atlas Coordinator click here Fred Scott, Chair of the First Atlas Steering Committee, observed in the Forward to the First Atlas: “Brian Dalzell, in addition to superb atlassing skills, brought an apparently inexhaustible capacity to suffer heat, rain, blackflies and cold canned food while living out of a rented van. Without him there would have been huge blank areas in northern and central New Brunswick.”

Brian grew up in Moncton, New Brunswick, the oldest of four boys, but his father was from Grand Manan Island, and the family spent summers at the homestead on Bancroft Point Road, enjoying nature to its fullest. Brian always had a passion for birds, and began watching birds at age 11. He attended his first Moncton Naturalist Club meeting when he was 14, and was the youngest person in New Brunswick to see 300 different species of birds, until his good friend Alain Clavette surpassed his record.

The Christmas Bird Count was one of Brian’s passions. Photo: Alain Clavette

After graduating from Holland College in 1987, Brian worked as a journalist for a number of years and is remembered for his well-researched and widely read, nature columns, such as those that appeared in the Quoddy Tides. Brian reported on his bird research in several issues of the Razorbill, now archived on the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station web-site ( Brian was the author of Grand Manan Birds (3rd ed., 1991) and an author of Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated List (2004). For the last few years he served as winter season editor for the Atlantic Canada Region in North American Birds.

Brian was the driving force behind the establishment of a bird observatory and landbird banding station on Grand Manan in 1995, after spending time at the Long Point Bird Observatory to become a Master Bander.  The Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station helped to administer this short-lived Grand Manan Bird Observatory (GMBO) until it was dissolved to create the Fundy Bird Observatory (FBO). Brian loved to involve children in birding adventures when possible and was thrilled to have them attend his banding demonstrations at Anchorage Provincial Park and elsewhere. For a number of years, Brian provided birding tours for the Elderhostel programs run from the Marathon Inn on Grand Manan. He always made it a point to help fellow birders find sought-after birds, and once brought an Indigo Bunting from his mist nets to the ferry parking lot to show departing birders a treasure they had just missed.

Brian demonstrating bird banding to a rapt young audience. Photo: Shareen Zaki

Brian maintained detailed bird sighting records for Grand Manan and New Brunswick, gleaning information from sightings reported to him and to the NatureNB list serve, of which he was one of the original members. He was a founding member and first secretary of the New Brunswick Bird Records Committee. The Christmas bird count was another of Brian’s passions. He participated in many counts each year, often leaving the Grand Manan count to the end of the period so he could take part in others. He was compiler at Moncton 1979-86 and Grand Manan 1979-2005, and was a regional editor in 2010.  Brian also conducted a number of volunteer Breeding Bird Survey routes in southwestern New Brunswick.

Brian was a real student of bird distribution throughout the region and enjoyed visiting more remote or seldom-birded locations within the Atlantic Provinces. He had a special interest in the birds of Labrador where he visited on numerous occasions and in all seasons, and also made frequent trips to Prince Edward Island. He contributed thoughtful commentary and data summaries to birding listservs in all four Atlantic Provinces. Over the last five years, Brian developed his birding skills into a successful environmental consulting business. One of the final projects Brian was investigating was how to get a full time birder on Machias Seal Island to fully document fall migration and to supplement the bi-monthly observations of one of the lightkeepers.                                          Brian birding at Pond Point, Newfoundland 1992. Photo: Halton Dalzell

Brian’s passing is a loss to the Maritimes birding community and to the Atlas, where he was a volunteer species account author. His contributions to bird education and conservation in the Maritimes will live on, however, in the many records he contributed to both Atlases, and to other bird research and monitoring projects throughout the Maritimes.
26 September 2011 – Changes in Maritime breeding birds: The results are in!

Populations of Black-throated Blue Warblers are increasing in the Maritimes.  Photo: Dan Busby.

Thanks to 49,000 hours of field work and untold hours of data entry from 1000 volunteers, the results from the second Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas reveal significant changes in bird populations over the 20 years since the first Atlas (1986-1990). Some of the changes have been disturbing, others encouraging, and several were totally unexpected!

Aerial insectivores like swallows, martins, and swifts are declining across North America, especially in the northeast, possibly due to reduced availability of insect prey. In the first Atlas, breeding evidence for Cliff Swallow was detected in 594 Atlas squares, but dropped to 365 squares during the second Atlas (click the species name to see the map). Similarly, squares with breeding evidence for Bank Swallows declined from 792 to 433. The number of squares with breeding Purple Martins crashed from 82 in the first Atlas to 18 in the second, while squares with Chimney Swift dropped from 470 to 291.

Photo: Purple Martins by Ruth Strohmer

Declines in grassland species like Bobolink, documented throughout North America, were also observed here: Atlas squares with Bobolink decreased from 785 to 599. Agricultural intensification and earlier and more frequent cutting of hay fields likely contributed to this trend. Declines in mature hardwood forest species such as Wood Thrush (183 squares to 65) were also noted, probably related to the reduction and fragmentation of preferred, mature hardwood habitat. Species like Tennessee Warbler, (934 squares down to 600) and Evening Grosbeak (842 to 607) whose populations often erupt in response to Spruce Budworm, have also decreased, as forest management efforts now more effectively suppress budworm outbreaks.

On the other hand, several species increased significantly between Atlases. The unexpected proliferation of some woodland species may be related to forestry practices in the Maritimes. For example, squares occupied by Palm Warblers doubled from 214 to 412. Clear-cutting creates expanses of regenerating conifers that may augment this species’ preferred habitat of scattered low conifers in damp areas. Black-throated Blue Warblers were detected in 398 squares in the first Atlas but 943 in the second! Expanding areas of sapling regeneration in forest clearings and edges from forestry activities, coupled with natural regeneration of old fields, may have triggered this increase, similar to what was seen in Ontario.

Photo: Palm Warbler by Ally Manthorne

Some bird species appear to be expanding northward due to the effects of climate change, particularly those at the north-eastern edge of their range here. These include Turkey Vulture (increased from 7 squares to 130), Eastern Bluebird (115 to 249), and Northern Cardinal (18 to 130). New breeding species in the Maritimes also include ‘southerners’ like Chuck-wills-widow (breeding evidence in 1 square), Red-bellied Woodpecker (6 squares), Carolina Wren (11 squares), and Yellow-throated Vireo (8 squares).

Photo: Red-bellied Woodpecker by  John Chardine


Atlas results also give us good news about species that were once on the brink! Populations of raptors such as the Peregrine Falcon declined sharply in the 1960s and 70s due to the negative effects of DDT. During the first Atlas, Peregrines were present in only 11 squares, but they were recorded in 43 squares in the second Atlas, with breeding confirmed in 26 squares! The number of squares occupied by four other raptor species also increased markedly: Bald Eagle (325 first Atlas, 809 second), Broad-winged Hawk (412 first, 645 second), Red–tailed Hawk (541 first, 829 second), and Merlin (233 first, 621 second).

Stay tuned for more intriguing results as the Atlas moves toward publication. In the meantime, detailed species maps are already available on the Atlas web-site, at

The Atlas has a new Editorial Assistant!

We are pleased to inform you that Margaret Campbell has joined the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas as Editorial Assistant.  Margaret has worked for CWS in Ottawa and was one of the people responsible for putting together the Dendroica program (, that many of you have used, so she brings considerable organisational and data analysis skills to the project!  Margaret will be working on key data analyses for the Atlas and will be helping with document management and editing during the writing, reviewing and editing stages of Atlas production. You can reach Margaret at: or 506-364-5089

26 June 2011 – Needed for the MBBA: Cool cover photo and species pictures

The many tasks involved in the development and production of the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Book are moving ahead. The Atlas database is being extensively reviewed, we have evaluated book designers, and we have just assigned species to our volunteer account writers. However, we still need high quality photographs for a number of bird species to accompany the accounts in the book. Please click on this link to download a list of the species for which first-rate photos are still required. To find out more about guidelines for the quality and composition of Atlas photographs, please see pages 11 – 12 of the MBBA Fall newsletter at

We are also searching for that perfect cover photo for the book, preferably of a photogenic species that is characteristic of the Maritimes! Please send your pictures to Atlas photo editor John Chardine at: Check your files to see if you have suitable images, or get out your cameras and head out on a different kind of Atlassing adventure to capture photographic evidence for those remaining species still on the list!

Photo: Common Nighthawk by Roy LaPointe

15 April 2011 – Are you missing birding? Support the Atlas through the 2011 Baillie Birdathon!

For those of us who have eagerly anticipated each new season of atlassing in the Maritimes, this year may feel empty since the fieldwork portion of the Maritimes Atlas is now over. However, atlassers can still use their birding skills to make a meaningful contribution to the Maritimes Atlas this spring, and put in a solid day of birding, by participating in the 2011 Baillie Birdathon.

Each spring, more than 7,000 people across Canada, and from several other countries, participate, or sponsor someone, in the Baillie Birdathon. How does it work? Participating birders find sponsors and then pick a 24-hour period any time in May, to find as many bird species as they can. Participants can be sponsored at a flat rate or on a per-species basis. Birders can designate their favourite conservation organization to receive a portion of the funds they raise, including the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas.

Participation is free and birders will receive a 2011 Baillie Birdathon t-shirt, featuring an image by the Maritimes’ own John Chardine, photo editor for the Atlas. As well, participants have a chance to win some fantastic prizes, including an all-inclusive guided tour to Central Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, or Quebec, for participants who raise over $250!

How to Support the Maritimes Atlas through the Birdathon

When you register for the Baillie Birdathon on your own, or as part of a team, you can designate the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas as the organization to receive a portion of the funds you raise! A full 50% of your funds will go towards the Maritimes Atlas project. Here are four ways to participate in the Birdathon, and at the same time support the Atlas. Be sure to designate the Atlas as the club  to receive part of the funds when you register on your own or as part of a team:

1. Create your own Birdathon team: recruit your friends and family!

2. Go it alone as an individual Birdathon-er: Register your own one-person team.

3. Join your fellow birders on an existing Birdathon team. Teams are listed on-line at the web link below.

4. If you are short on birding time, consider sponsoring a Birdathon participant who is birding on behalf of the Atlas such as Becky Whittam and family. Here is the link to Becky’s Birdathon page:
Click “Sponsor Us” to make a donation. Fifty percent of the funds that Becky raises will go towards the Atlas.  Thanks Becky!

The Baillie Fund has provided Travel Grants to Atlassers and Regional Coordinators in past years, so the funds go to a very worthwhile cause whether it is the Maritimes Atlas or the Baillie Fund in general.

To find out more about the Birdathon and for helpful birding hints, please visit or contact BSC at:
Bird Studies Canada 1-888-448-BIRD (2473);

Hope to see you out there!

25 January 2011 – Who will make the Top Ten most common species this time around? Comparing the First and Second Atlas

We thought you might like to see some interesting results from all the volunteer data that have been entered in the last while. One analysis is a comparison of the ten most common species from our Atlas to the top ten from the first Atlas.

Top Ten Species of this Second 2006-2010 Atlas

Species Number of Squares with confirmed breeding Percentage of squares*
1. American Robin 1599 95
2. White-throated Sparrow 1577 94
3. Common Yellowthroat 1568 93
4. Black-capped Chickadee 1552 92
5. Magnolia Warbler 1548 92
6. Red-eyed Vireo 1528 91
7. Yellow-rumped Warbler 1525 90
8. Hermit Thrush 1516 90
9. Northern Flicker 1513 90
10. American Redstart 1510 90

* The total number of Atlas squares in the 2006-2010 Atlas = 1770 but at time of writing only 1686 of those have recorded species and effort data. However, these results will change as more atlasser data comes in.

In comparison, take a look at the top ten most common species with Confirmed Breeding during the first Atlas (1986-1990). Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows were in the top then, whereas in this Atlas they have declined to the 29th (TRES) and the 52nd (BARS) most common species! On the other hand, Magnolia Warbler is now the fifth most common species with Confirmed Breeding, while it was 13th during the first Atlas. Similarly, Black-capped Chickadee was 14th last time round, but has now moved up to be the fourth most common species.

Top Ten Species of the First (1986-1990) Atlas

Species Number of Squares with confirmed breeding Percentage of squares*
1. American Robin 1339 87
2. White-throated Sparrow 1256 82
3. American Redstart 1222 79
4. Common Yellowthroat 1209 78
5. Song Sparrow 1185 77
6. Tree Swallow 1170 76
7. Northern Flicker 1156 75
8. Barn Swallow 1155 75
9. Dark-eyed Junco 1141 74
10. Yellow-rumped Warbler 1133 74

* Of a total of 1682 squares in the first Atlas (1986-1990), 1541 were surveyed.

These lists were generated from the data summaries feature on the website. To get them, click on Data and Maps and then click Data Summaries from the drop-down menu. Select the First Atlas option, and under What years do you want to display choose All Years Combined. Then go to item number 4: View Species List for… Maritimes and click View. (Note: To determine the most common species you will have to download the results using the green button to the right – this will put them into an Excel table for you, which you could sort and explore further.) Once you have downloaded First Atlas results, repeat the search, but select the Second Atlas option. Remember, since all the data has not yet been entered, these Top Ten lists are likely to change and it is possible that the American Redstart may overtake the Northern Flicker, as an example.

As data continue to pour in, we encourage you to explore the many types of data results that are available on the Data Summaries page of the website. For example, you can find the list of regions or squares reporting a given species (under option # 6). Pick your favourite species and try it! The data summary options are available for the first and second Atlas, so you can compare differences and similarities between the current Atlas results and those of twenty years ago.

Stu Tingley photographed this handsome Magnolia Warbler in Jolicure, NB last June. Preliminary results have seen Maggies move from 13th spot up to 5th on our Top Ten list. Photo: Stuart Tingley

Please keep up the good work!

An interesting phenomenon occurs around the end of January each year, and this year is no exception. Suddenly, traffic on the Atlas website surges and a flood of paper forms fills the mailboxes of Regional Coordinators and Atlas staff as we scramble to make the data entry deadline.

This rate of data entry this year is wonderful, and many of you are entering data from previous years! (It is not too late – just select the year at the top of the data entry page). You can still send in your paper forms but please do so quickly, so that the data you worked hard to gather will be included in the book. You could also fax forms to us at the number below.


Many of you may have questions about the auto-reminder emails sent out last month. Please remember these are automated messages and in some cases may not apply to your specific circumstance. So, if you are asking, “Do I really have to fill out a Rare/Colonial bird form for a Canada Warbler I saw in 2006, or a Turkey Vulture I recorded as H?” In short: “no” and “no”. Please read on for more details.

Bald Eagle or Turkey Vulture: Rare/Colonial forms are only required for BAEA and TUVU sightings if breeding was confirmed (NB, NY, FY, etc).

Canada Warbler, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Olive-sided Flycatcher:
Rare/Colonial are not required for any Atlas sightings in 2006 and 2007 of the four species added to the Maritimes Rare list in 2008 (CAWA, CONI, CHSW, OSFL). These forms are only needed for these species for sightings in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Colonial species:
1) Rare/Colonial forms are only required for colonial species if you saw them at what might be considered a Breeding Colony – defined by the presence of two or more nests at one location; UNLESS the colonial species is also considered Maritimes Rare, or if it is Regionally Rare and you saw it in that region, THEN you always need a Rare/Colonial form (e.g. Chimney Swift).

2) You do not need to fill out a Rare/Colonial form for non-rare colonial nesters if you saw the birds away from a colony and recorded them as H or X.

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo: Denis Doucet

Please feel free to contact us by e-mail or phone at the numbers below for help with any questions you might have about data entry. We also encourage you to check your Atlas Guide or consult the Resources menu on the Atlas website.

The deadline for submitting your Atlas data on-line has been extended to allow Atlassers additional time to contribute their data. Please enter your data or send in your forms soon, to make certain that all your cool sightings and valuable time and effort get in the book! And don’t forget to check out the fall newsletter at:

How to contact us:

Atlas Coordinator Kate Bredin: 1 (506) 364-5045  or  1-866-5ATLAS5 (866-528-5275)   or

Bird Projects Assistant Ally Manthorne: 1 (506) 364-5196  or 

Kate and Ally are located in the Environment Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service building:

Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas
Bird Studies Canada
PO Box 6227, 17 Waterfowl Lane
Sackville, NB E4L 4N1
Fax: 506-364-5062

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15 December 2010 – Atlas Newsletters Online

Collaboration on breeding bird atlases ( is a major part of Bird Studies Canada’s work. Through these projects, thousands of volunteers gather invaluable information for assessing long-term changes and setting regional conservation priorities. The Fall 2010 editions of the newsletters for the British Columbia, Manitoba, and Maritimes breeding bird atlases are now available online.

News from the BC atlas includes a newly-confirmed species for the province, some species located far outside of their usual ranges, and information on the recent Winter Wren split. Click here to view BC atlas newsletters.

The inaugural edition of the Manitoba breeding bird atlas newsletter features highlights from the first field season, including the province’s first recorded Black-headed Grosbeak nest!

In the Maritimes, the final field season has been completed, and the project has moved into a new phase of data analysis and book production. Click here to read about the fifth season, and next steps.

In Québec, the first season of the second atlas was also a big success, with more than 1400 registered participants and 15,000 hours of fieldwork. The first provincial confirmation of Trumpeter Swan has been reported, and a pair of Loggerhead Shrike was found breeding for the first time in 15 years. You can read here some of the highlights from 2010.

On behalf of Bird Studies Canada and our many breeding bird atlas partners, we’d like to thank all of the volunteers who have contributed countless hours of fieldwork, travel, and data entry. We also thank the supporting agencies, groups, and partners (acknowledged in the newsletters and on the atlas websites) for making these essential projects possible.

22 October, 2010 – Atlassing is over, but the real fun has just begun…

All you volunteers who so looked forward to a new breeding season will no longer have the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas as an urgent excuse to go bird watching. Your steadfast efforts over the past five year have paid off, however. The MBBA has met all of the coverage targets that were ambitiously set back in 2006: a minimum of 20 survey hours and 10 point counts in all priority squares. The final level of MBBA survey effort now matches that of the first Maritimes Atlas (1986–1990), which will enable us to identify key changes in bird distribution and abundance over the 20-year period from the first to the second Atlas. In total, over the five years, volunteers and field staff spent 45,000 hours Atlassing and gathered close to 250,000 breeding bird records. MBBA staff, partners and supporters would like to extend a HUGE thank-you to all volunteers for this incredible effort!

The Maritimes Atlas has now moved into a new phase of data analysis and production of the book and web-based data products. The birds may be southbound in search of warmer climes, but here at MBBA headquarters we are settling down in our chairs with steaming mugs of coffee, gearing up for the crucial next stage of the project: data cleanup and database finalisation!

Before we can produce the maps and species accounts that you will see in the published MBBA book, the massive collection of paper and electronic forms must be carefully scrutinized for errors, inconsistencies and missing information. Detecting and fixing as many of these problems as possible will create a more robust dataset, which in turn will give us what we’re all eagerly anticipating: the most comprehensive and accurate source of information on bird biodiversity in the Maritimes.

The first line of defence is the data-entry program itself. For example, if we try to enter “NB” for a Hairy Woodpecker, a warning will appear on-screen telling us that we have used an inappropriate breeding code. Checks like these help to catch simple mistakes during data entry, and thus save time on “house cleaning” later.
The data-entry program cannot catch all types of mistakes, so the second line of defence is our team of Atlas staff and Regional Coordinators (RCs). These folks review the forms submitted by volunteers, institutions and Atlas field teams. Each and every Breeding Evidence form, Rare/Colonial Species form and Casual Observation card that you send in gets checked for accuracy and completeness before it is entered into the database.

Once Rare/Colonial Species forms are entered into the database, they are reviewed by our RCs, who decide to accept, reject, or modify records based on the information provided on each form. RCs then consult with the Atlas Coordinator on each record. If both parties agree, the decision is final. If not, the record is passed onto members of a data verification working group for further review. Although this process has been ongoing throughout the Atlas period, it is especially important now as we move to finalise the database for species population analyses and mapping. Additional data cleanup tricks are employed by the MBBA database administrators at BSC headquarters, who create and run programs to check the database from many different angles to highlight additional errors or inconsistencies that slipped past the data-entry program and Atlas staff. As you can imagine, going through all of these steps is time-consuming, but the effort spent on data cleanup in the coming months will ensure that your 45,000 hours of atlassing collecting 250,000 records will produce an outstanding final product that we can all take pride in. We will raise our coffee mugs to that!

Photo: John Chardine caught this Black-capped Chickadee removing a fecal sac from the nest cavity.  Fecal sacs are the avian equivalent of diapers, and help keep the nest clean and parasite-free. It’s all part of house-cleaning!

7 September, 2010 – Tell us about your Atlas discoveries!

In the early nineteen-nineties, the eastern-most population of the Gray-Cheeked Thrush, which occurs at high elevations in the Maritimes, south-eastern Quebec and the New England states, was found to have distinctive songs, and different physical characteristics such body size (they were slightly smaller) and plumage colouration. This distinct population was re-classified as a separate species, the Bicknell’s Thrush. The populations that breed in Newfoundland, Northern Canada and Alaska continued to be classified as Gray Cheeked Thrush. In the wake of this taxonomic re-assessment, it was assumed that all the former Gray-Cheeked Thrushes that occurred in the Maritimes were the new species, Bicknell’s Thrush, while populations in Newfoundland and northern Canada were homogeneously Gray-Cheeked Thrush. (See a field guide like Sibley for species range maps).

However, during the final year of Atlas field work in 2010, Gray-Cheeked Thrushes were discovered on a number of coastal islands of Halifax and Guysborough Counties, NS, in locations where it was assumed that only Bicknell’s Thrush occurred. In late May, Bird Studies Canada biologist Greg Campbell visited the Harbour Islands off Sheet Harbour in Halifax County, NS. The first day Greg heard what he first thought were rather unusual-sounding Bicknell’s Thrush, but after a second visit he realised they were Gray-Cheeked Thrush, perhaps passing through on migration.

A Gray-Cheeked Thrush on Whitehead Island.
Photo by Ken McKenna.

In mid-June, Coastal Surveys Coordinator Kate Bredin surveyed the Harbour Islands and again heard Gray-Cheeked Thrush on two islands. She managed to get a video recording of singing birds to help substantiate their identity as Gray-Cheeked Thrush. In late June, Kate and Ken McKenna, Regional Coordinator for Region 23, atlassed further east on the Sugar Harbour Islands and Whitehead Island in Guysborough County. This time Kate recorded the thrush songs using a sensitive digital recorder. Kent MacFarland of the International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group and the Vermont Centre for Ecostudies confirmed that this digital sonogram matched that of Gray-Cheeked Thrush. Later in the summer, BSC summer staff caught several Harbour Island thrushes and took blood and feather samples for further genetic analysis. This small island-based population of Gray-Cheeked Thrushes in Nova Scotia is the most southerly occurrence of the species in North America.

This was one of the interesting discoveries made by Atlas staff during the final season of Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas field work. Please let us know some of your interesting discoveries during the final Atlas season – we would love to highlight them in the next Atlas newsletter!


July 29, 2010- Atlassing may be winding down but data entry is going full tilt

I hesitated to write that atlassing is winding down because there is still a lot of good atlassing to be had. Of course, it is getting somewhat more difficult with few birds singing and migrants beginning to pass through so we need to ensure the data we record are actually evidence of breeding. However, breeding evidence isn’t as hard to find as you might think—there are still many birds carrying food and, here in Sackville, there are many broods of ducklings swimming about. That said, those ducklings are alongside migrating Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs. So, in short, if you are still atlassing, that’s great and just be mindful that we are in a period of seasonal change. The next couple of weeks are likely our last chance to cover off under-surveyed areas.

A female Common Merganser leads her new family (and probably someone else’s family also)
along the Miramichi River in New Brunswick.
Photo by Stu Tingley.

As the atlassing season slowly approaches its end, many atlassers have already begun entering their 2010 data online (some have even finished). And, from the online species and effort maps, it is apparent that in this final year many atlassers “went for green” and got it! Volunteers have already logged nearly 6,400 hours for 2010 and have submitted 37,000 bird records. (I am actually quite sure that by the time this article is posted volunteers will have already entered even more data.) Just a reminder to everyone that if you are still holding on to data from previous years you can now enter those data online or mail your forms into the office to be entered by staff. Thank-you everyone for your tireless efforts this season and I can’t wait to see the final outcome.

July 15, 2010 – Trials and jubilations of “late” season atlassing

Atlassing in July is wonderful but it can be a challenge. Many species  become “quiet” and sing infrequently, if at all. Knowing your calls is helpful, as is knowing your chip notes but, let’s face it, few of us are able to distinguish many species by “chip”. On top of that, at this time of year, many birds become skulky and discreet as they are busy feeding nestlings and recently fledged young. Particularly frustrating can be the many chip notes coming from deep in the forest making it clear that fledged young are being fed but difficult to find out which ones. And of course, if you do see a fledgling, they aren’t always readily identifiable. Ducks are another group that may be frustrating at this time of year since males are typically molting and females are more difficult to identify.

But wait before you throw up your hands…all that said, atlassing in July can also be particularly rewarding, especially when you “pish” and, to your surprise, a species that you had no idea was there pops out of the bushes.. July is also the best time to be a first eye witness to what the atlas is all about—detecting evidence of breeding. So if you see a fledgling you can’t identify, just wait a while. Chances are the more easily identifiable adult will be there soon to feed it. And of course, there are other species that travel in family groups that are anything but discreet– Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets, for example. The racket from these groups can also bring in other species. Try playing a chickadee mobbing call and see what pops up (last time I did, I had a Bay-breasted Warbler male appear carrying food). As for the ducks, a few visits to nearby wetlands, plus some patience and some practice with identifying females makes sightings of moms with ducklings in tow exciting and  ducks an easy group for which to confirm breeding. While you at the wetland looking for ducks try calling in a Sora or Virginia Rail (they are often around but silent). Similarly, families of Wilson’s Snipe are sometimes hiding in the marsh grasses and a single playback recording can bring them out.

In addition, a second round of dawn chorus is soon to begin, if it hasn’t already.  Birds that are re-nesting, as well as those who starting on their second brood, will be singing first thing in the morning and less frequently throughout the day. In the western part of Region 10 Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Wood Pewees and Brown Creepers were all singing loud and clear this morning.  While you are out, you are also likely to hear some fledglings practicing their singing. Lastly, even if things are quieter, take heart that this gives you an opportunity to listen for less common species. The other day I was walking through a deciduous forest thinking how quiet it was when I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling from at least a hundred metres away. I don’t think I would have heard the call amongst the regular racket of dawn chorus (wink). Good luck and enjoy your final month of atlassing!

Photos: Indigo Bunting by Jim Stevenson; female Ring-necked Duck by John Chardine


June 15, 2010 – Sometimes you just have to ditch the list!

At the beginning of the season we suggested that to finish a square, check your square summary sheet and try to track down missing species and guilds. While this is good advice, in some cases habitats have really changed and some species that were in your square during the first atlas are just  there anymore. For example, yesterday I bushwhacked into what appeared to be an extensive wetland on to my square map, hoping to find the American Bittern that bred in the square during the first Atlas. However, when I arrived I found a black spruce and alder bog with no open water and no suitable bittern habitat in sight. However, I did find a Wilson’s Warbler—a species that wasn’t detected in the square during the first Atlas–in that spot (thank goodness the bushwhacking wasn’t in vain). So please…don’t beat yourself over the head if species that were in your square during the first Atlas don’t appear to be there anymore. One of the goals of this atlas is to detect  those types of changes and assess how landscape changes affect breeding bird distribution. So if you have spent your twenty hours in your square and looked for all possible species then you have done a great job! And I bet there’s another unsurveyed square near you that could use your attention even more.

Photo: Wilson’s Warbler by Merv Cormier

June 25, 2010  –  We’re nearly at the halfway point

Many atlassers are sharing their day’s highlights online and it isn’t just the rarities…it is the special moments that bring a smile to your face like the fledgling Tree Swallows, pictured here, awaiting their next meal. Photo by Denis Doucet.

Already at the tail end of June…my how time flies (sorry, that’s terrible but I just couldn’t resist the puns). We’re nearly at the halfway point this season and all signs show that the final year of the Maritimes Atlas is shaping up to be one of our most successful. Many people are entering data as they atlas and volunteers have already logged over 3,100 hours this season and have submitted over 18,000 bird records (and I suspect the equivalent amount of data are still sitting in people’s notebooks as well). I look forward to continuing watching the data roll in and reading the many highlights of everyone’s season.  Many atlassers are also using the MBBA listserv to share their highlights and stories as well as ask questions and notify other atlassers where they have surveyed. Postings include: tales of breeding Great Crested Flycatchers, Baltimore Orioles and American Bitterns as well as atlassing mishaps (such as a bus driving by and covering one atlasser with mud…you’ll have to join to find out whom). Staff teams have followed the atlassing plans posted on the atlas homepage fairly closely covering off priority squares southwestern NS, Guysborough County, northern NB along the Upsalquitch river and the Acadian Peninsula plus some parts of south western NB. Staff have also point counted and atlassed in nearby non-priority squares. A square by square update of staff activities is available here.  Lastly, the birds themselves are also moving along quite rapidly.  Many species are already carrying food, fledged young have been seen and second nesting attempts are underway.  So let’s get out there, record those birds and keep this amazing momentum going!

June 24, 2010 – Getting in those final hours

If your square only needs an hour or two to make it to the “20 hour mark” and you feel like you have exhausted all of the possibilities, consider trying one of the suggestions below:

1) Visit your square at dusk for Common Nighthawk or Short-eared Owl (grassland habitat usually associated with some wetland-type habitat);

2) Visit a pond, river or wetland area and stay for a while. It takes time for things to happen and unfortunately ducks, bitterns, rails and kingbirds don’t just “appear”. For example, after spending a full day canoeing a river, it wasn’t until the next day when I was crossing a bridge over that same river that I saw a Common Goldeneye with fledged young. Now I’m not suggesting that you stay in one location all day and night but perhaps have a picnic by a lake or river and just see what happens by;

3) Target some of those more elusive marsh birds. American Bitterns, believe it or not, can be quite “stealthy” and while they might call consistently in the early spring at other times they are silent. If you have appropriate cattail marsh habitat in your square but have not yet detected American Bittern try visiting the marsh first thing in the morning or at dusk. As well, marsh birds may need an extra bit of encouragement (e.g., American Bitterns respond quite vigorously to playback). And don’t forget while you are chasing those American Bitterns to try for Virginia Rail and Least Bittern as well;

4) Pick a elevated area or good vantage point in the square and watch for soaring raptors;

5) And a final suggestion, follow that drumming woodpecker that you haven’t yet identified (but don’t forget to take your GPS or compass with you when you head into the woods).

What if your square is complete and you’d like to do more? That’s fantastic! Here are some additional things you can do to boost coverage in your region:

1) If you miss doing point counts, why not conduct point counts in a nearby non-priority square? The more squares point counted the better and we have until July 3rd to conduct point counts. Squares need a minimum of 10 point counts completed to be used for abundance mapping;

2) Finish a non-priority square that hasn’t been assigned. Lots of non-priority squares have 1 – 30 species (usually the species with widespread distributions that are detected in most squares) but these squares could really benefit from additional coverage and added survey hours will give us a better picture of less common species’ distributions. Contact your RC or the Atlas office to find out what square could use your help;

3) Plan an atlassing excursion or “square bash” with a couple of friends to target undersurveyed areas in your region.

The more squares we complete the better picture we’ll have of our Maritimes’ species distribution and abundance patterns and the better baseline we’ll create for assessing changes between the current Atlas and future atlases. Happy atlassing!

Photo credits (in order of appearance): Black-backed Woodpecker by Samuel Deanult, Pied-billed Grebe by John Chardine and Bay-breasted Warbler by Merv Cormier.

June 1, 2010 – A breeding first – Sandhill Cranes found nesting in NB!

This spring, during a routine aerial survey for waterfowl, Canadian Wildlife Service staff Bruce Pollard and Randy Hicks discovered an active Sandhill Crane nest near Chipman, New Brunswick. This is a first since breeding records have been kept for this species. (They may, however, have nested in the province prior to European settlement of North America.) Sandhill Cranes now nest from the Rockies east to New Brunswick. While, breeding maps in most field guides do not show Sandhill Cranes breeding much further east than the Ontario-Québec border, recent breeding activity has been recorded in Maine (2000 – 2008), Massachusetts and Vermont (2007 & 2008), and New Jersey (2005). This northeastward range expansion is a by-product of the recent explosion of Sandhill Crane populations throughout North America.

Three migratory subspecies of Sandhill Cranes breed in Canada: 1) lesser (Grus canadensis canadensis), 2) greater (G. c. tabida) and, 3) Canadian (C. g. rowani), though there is ongoing scientific discussion about the validity of the Canadian subspecies. Some maintain that the “Canadian” subspecies should be abandoned as it is a hybrid of lesser and greater. The Greater Sandhill crane breeds in northeastern North America, and is further divided into regional populations based on wintering grounds, morphology and migration routes. The population that breeds in northeastern North America (i.e., now in New Brunswick) is known as the Eastern Population, or EP.

The Eastern population (EP) of the Greater Sandhill Crane has rebounded from near extirpation in the 19th century and the early 20th century – for example just 25 breeding pairs were recorded in Wisconsin in the 1930s. Since that time, two main factors, the cessation of hunting (from 1916-1961) and the restoration and protection of wetlands, have allowed the EP to increase to more than 30,000 birds by 1996. Over the last 30 – 40 years the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes has increased from previous population levels by three to five fold! Sandhill Cranes have also increased because they have since adapted to feed in agricultural fields, and to nest in smaller wetlands. Much of the available breeding habitat is now fully occupied and a maximum breeding density has been reached in core parts of the EP’s breeding range in Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin. The continued population growth is forcing Sandhill Cranes to expand into new areas with suitable breeding habitat in more northeasterly parts North America – and into New Brunswick. Most of the Sandhill Cranes that breed in eastern Canada and northeastern US winter in Florida and southern Georgia. During migration huge concentrations of up to 20,000 cranes can be seen at traditional migratory staging areas.

Sandhill Cranes nest in freshwater wetlands in an open landscape of grasslands or agricultural fields, and tend to avoid forested uplands. They build their nest over water and lay a two-egg clutch, but rarely fledge more than one young. In spite of this low annual recruitment, Sandhill Crane populations increase because the species is so long lived (20+ years) and can breed for 15 – 20 years. So keep your eyes peeled. Our bet is while this may be the first nest to be discovered in the Maritimes, it certainly won’t be the last.

Photos: (top) Sandhill Crane by Cynthia Lemay; Sandhill Crane chick by Michael Shepard


May 28, 2010 – Spring Newsletter is now available

Boreal Owl by Christian Artuso

Just in the nick of time for the Atlas season, the spring newsletter is now available online. For those who have requested it by mail, it should be arriving at your doorstep shortly. This newsletter is short and sweet focusing on the priorities for 2010 and the challenges and atlassing needs in each region. 2010 is our very last chance to put Maritimes breeding birds on the map and we’re going to need each and every one of us to get the job done. Hopefully this newsletter will inspire you to get out and finish off those squares.

May 28, 2010 – Preliminary abundance maps
Andrew Couturier, Bird Studies Canada’s Senior Analyst for Landscape Ecology and Conservation (and the individual responsible for creating all of the Atlas’ online maps) has created a few preliminary abundance maps for the Maritimes, just to give you a taste of what will come of all those point counts you’ve completed. Below is the abundance map for the Northern Parula, a species found in virtually every square in the Maritimes. Its abundance map shows that, as far as the Northern Parula is concerned, not all squares are created equal. While this species is widespread there are several areas, like the southeastern corner of New Brunswick and the Tobeatic region of southern NS, where it occurs in particularly high concentration (those areas are in blue). We’ve posted this map as a “teaser”. Check out the spring newsletter for abundance maps for two other Maritimes species.

Preliminary abundance map for the Northern Parula.  If you like what you see take a look at the spring newsletter.

Photo: Brandon Holden

May 28, 2010 – Don’t forget to share your highlights
At the recent Nova Scotia Bird Society out-of-area meeting, held in Economy on the Chignecto Peninisula in mid-May, the area’s regional coordinator Joan Czapalay did a simple yet amazing thing—she began the meeting by asking everyone to share their birding “highlight” of the day. The highlight didn’t need to be a spectacular species just a magical moment. And as we went around the room, sharing each of our highlights, the enthusiasm was really something to behold. Highlights ranged from “good looks” at an elusive Swainson’s Thrush and Canada Warbler to a Black-backed Woodpecker and a Brown Creeper carrying food. I encourage each of you to share your highlights of the season with your fellow atlassers either through conversation, the Atlas listserv or your provincial listservs. Let’s face it, those magical moments are what it is all about.

I bet it was a “magical moment” when Richard Stern captured this Northern Mockingbird on film.

May 28, 2010 – Where is everybody?
As we all know the Atlas season is hectic but communicating with each other is very important and we want to make sure you know where everyone is and can get a hold of us at any time. The NB Field team, consisting of Colin McFarlane and Coordinator Becky Stewart, will be working in southwestern NB in the first part of June (from Charlotte County to Perth Andover) and then in the northern region of Restigouche. The NS field team, consisting of Lucas Berrigan and Jean-François Jetté, will be working on the southwestern shore of NS as well as Guysborough County and will likely move to Kent County and the Acadian Peninsula in the latter half of the June. Click here for a full list of squares where staff plan to survey. While we have put every effort into making sure we aren’t duplicating any volunteer efforts the Maritimes is a big place so please contact us if these plans conflict in any way with your own. Field teams will check and return cell phone messages every two to three days and Becky Stewart will also check email. Kate Bredin, the assistant coordinator, will be in the Atlas office to answer any coordination or data entry questions you may have. Kate will also be working to coordinate surveys along the NS coast. Talk to you soon!

NB Field team (Becky Stewart and Colin McFarlane): 506-540-1822;
NS Field team (Jean-François Jetté and Lucas Berrigan) : 506-540-1906
Kate Bredin : 1-866-5ATLAS5 (528-5275);

Photo: Hairy Woodpecker by Ally Manthorne

May 20, 2010 – The Atlas has a new assistant coordinator

Kate Bredin (second from the left in the top row)has recently joined Bird Studies Canada as the new Assistant Coordinator for the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas. Kate comes to us with a broad range of wildlife experience having worked with all sorts of taxa from whales to dragonflies and, of course, birds. She’s a great researcher with good eye for detail and excellent communication skills. We’re very excited to have Kate on board as we transition from our final year of data collection to the publication phase of the Atlas project. Welcome Kate!

Photo: Kate with several dedicated volunteers at the recent NS Bird Society meeting in Chignecto

May 15, 2010 – Dendroica has been updated and is available to all

Environment Canada (EC) and the USGS Breeding Bird Survey office are pleased to announce the official launch of the bird identification training program Dendroica: An aid to the identification of North American Birds.

Dendroica is an interactive website developed to help students, volunteers and professionals improve their skills at identifying birds by sight or by sound, particularly so that they can participate in nature survey and monitoring programs, including Breeding Bird Atlases. The site includes bird species from throughout Canada, the USA, and Mexico. The program includes up to 8 or more different sound recordings and photographs for each species as well as descriptions of the songs of each species. Although there are still a number of gaps in the site’s coverage, especially from Mexico, the program also allows participants to contribute new photographs and sound recordings, so it will continue to improve over time. Environment Canada and USGS hope that, as more people use the program, they will be able to fill those gaps in coverage. That said, there are already more than 12,000 photos and sound recordings available at the site.

To use all of the features of the program, participants should register (registration is free) and sign-in. This will allow users to select lists of species to study, such as all the breeding (or non-breeding) species in a particular region, or species with a particular song type or from a particular taxonomic group, or they can make their own lists. They can then study the photos or sound recordings and read the song descriptions for the selected species before quizzing themselves to see how well they are doing. The quiz randomly picks songs and/or photos (users can choose) from among the list available for each species. This is particularly valuable for learning bird songs because since there are multiple recordings of most species and users don’t always hear the same recording for a particular species.

May 3, 2010 – Spring has sprung and the birds are back

Spring has sprung and that means the “prime” atlassing season is just around the corner. Many of our spring migrants like WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, HERMIT THRUSH and a myriad of warblers are moving through in fair numbers, particularly in the southern parts of the Maritimes. As well, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, for many species the breeding season is already here. Ducks of all kinds have now been seen throughout the Maritimes, many are paired off and some are on nests. AMERICAN BITTERN are “ung-ka-glunking” in a marsh near you. EASTERN BLUEBIRDS are already nest-building in some areas and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES have been seen excavating nests in several regions. For owls and diurnal raptors breeding is in “full swing”. Both NORTHERN SAW-WHET and GREAT HORNED OWL have been confirmed. LONG-EARED OWL has been reported in 4 squares this year, not to mention an EASTERN SCREECH OWL was heard singing near Moncton. As well, both of our “rarer” woodpeckers, AMERICAN THREE TOED WOODPECKER and BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER have been recorded for 2010. Several Atlassers have also been out “woodcocking and sniping” and, as a result, AMERICAN WOODCOCK have so far been detected in 52 squares. Is that enough detail to entice you to get out atlassing already? I know it is.

Photo: Eastern Bluebird nest building in Kent Count in April , 2010.  Photo by Denis Doucet.

May 3, 2010 – Going GREEN, or, planning the final field season

As noted above, a lot of migrants are already back. In particular, short distance migrants like EASTERN BLUEBIRD, DARK-EYED JUNCO, and WILSON’S SNIPE have been lured northward by the warmer temperatures we’ve been experiencing. This means that, in many regions, the breeding season is likely to come early this year. It also means that the best time to start planning our final field season is now.

The theme of 2010 is: “think big picture” – beyond square and regional boundaries. Remember our overarching goal: to map current Maritimes breeding bird distribution and abundance and assess the changes that have occurred over the past twenty years. To achieve this goal we need to make sure that the current Atlas effort is comparable to the first Atlas effort. In doing so we will ensure that the whole of the Maritimes is evenly and adequately covered and that any changes we see are truly representative of changes across the landscape. With this in mind our priorities for 2010 are as follows:

1) Survey a minimum of 20 hours in all priority squares;
2) Target missing guilds and under-surveyed habitats in priority squares;
3) Top up point counts in squares where point counts have been started;
4) Make abundance estimates where we can.

But, how do these priorities relate to your individual planning activities you ask?
If your square does not have a full 20 survey hours, check to make sure that you have surveyed all habitats in the square, e.g., have you checked that marsh in the eastern corner for AMERICAN BITTERN and VIRGINIA RAIL? (For that matter, have you tried using your species at risk CD for LEAST BITTERN and YELLOW RAIL?). Check if you missed surveying for any type of species e.g., have you gone out a dusk to check for COMMON NIGHTHAWK, or, have you looked for raptor nests? If you’ve already spent 20 hours in your square, please move to another priority square that doesn’t have a full 20 hours of survey effort.

What if all the priority squares in my region are assigned? If you are able, it would be great if you could help out a region with fewer volunteers (plus there are volunteer travel grants available to help cover the costs). Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone. If you are unable to travel to another region, please consider taking on a non-priority square in your region that has fewer than 20 survey hours.

What about point counts? Our original goal was to complete point counts in all priority squares and for the most part these have been completed. In some squares, some point counts have been completed BUT fewer than 10 (these squares are the “yellow” ones on the point count maps). To be used to map relative abundance a square must have at least 10 point counts. Let’s top up those partially point counted squares so that the data that has already been gathered can be used.

Are you ready to go? By now most of you should have received your data forms for 2010 by mail. If you haven’t, or if you require additional forms, please contact the Atlas office and we’ll post those to you directly. As well, if you haven’t spoken with your Regional Coordinator recently, now would be a great time to touch base and discuss plans for the coming field season—that will help minimize the duplication of effort and maximize overall coverage. If you plan to survey in a region without a coordinator, please contact the Atlas office.

Photo: American Bittern by Christian Artuso

May 3, 2010 – Apply for volunteer travel grants

We wish to encourage any atlasser planning to travel more than 100 km to survey for breeding birds to apply for a volunteer travel grant. The goal of the Atlas’ Volunteer Travel Grant Program is to support volunteers surveying remote, unpopulated and under-surveyed areas that might not otherwise be covered during this Atlas. In the past, volunteer travel grants have helped facilitate trips to numerous off-shore islands as well as cover mileage costs of volunteers surveying in the northern parts of NB.

To be eligible to apply for a volunteer travel grant your atlassing plans must:
– include an under-surveyed priority square that is either more than 100km from your home, or, can only be accessed by boat;
– be of sufficient length to meet the square’s coverage targets (20 survey hours);
– include at least one experienced birder.

The application process is simple. To apply for a volunteer travel grant send a brief email (not more than a ½ page) to, or by mail to Becky Stewart at 17 Waterfowl Lane, Sackville, NB E4L 3W7 (email is preferred). Please include the following information:

1. Name of applicant, contact information and details of his/her birding and wilderness experience;
2. If applicable, names of additional participants and details of their birding and wilderness experience;
3. Squares to be surveyed;
4. Dates and length of the trip;
5. List of expected expenses (mileage, accommodation, boat rental).

Volunteer travel grants awarded are typically in the amount of $500 or less. The deadline for grant applications is May 14, 2010 (although we will continue to accept applications after this deadline so long as funds are still available).

Thank-you to Bird Studies Canada’s James L. Baillie Memorial Fund for once again providing the funding to support our Atlas volunteer travel grants.

Photo: Canoe on Sporting Lake by Becky Stewart

January 12, 2010 – 2009 Data Entry Deadline

Well, 2010 is upon us (yikes!) and that means we need to plan for our final year of field work. To make plan the coming field season we need to know what has been surveyed and what hasn’t, and the only way to know that is if you’ve submitted your data. If you are  entering your data online, all 2009 data must be entered by January 31st. So if you have data left to enter please slot some time into your busy schedule in the next few weeks. If you are submitting paper forms, please get them in the mail as soon as possible. Once all the data is in, we will be able to see where to focus our efforts this summer.

Plus don’t forget to fill out those rare/colonial bird forms. As you enter your data Maritimes rare, regionally rare and colonial species are indicated with symbols after the species name and the website will prompt you to fill out a rare/colonial species report as you finish off your breeding evidence form.

Please contact the Atlas office with any questions/comments/concerns or if you need to be reminded of your user number or password, or try the Data Entry FAQ under “Resources > Instructions” (drop-down menu is at the top of the page). Thanks for all your efforts and Happy New Year!

Photo: Spruce Grouse by Becky Stewart

January 12, 2010 – Crossbills: Bravely breeding when no other bird will

Red Crossbill, photo by Mike Wisnicki

The following article originally appeared in the Atlas Latest News on January 07, 2009 but we’re posting it again in light of the many questions the office has received about Crossbills in the past few weeks.  If you haven’t seen or heard any crossbills yet, keep your ears and eyes open because it seems like 2010 may be our “Crossbill Year”.

Despite an abundance of winter birds in the Maritimes (chickadees, grosbeaks, finches etc…), only two passerine species regularly breed in January: White-winged and Red Crossbill. So, what is it about the crossbills that allow them to breed in the winter while other songbirds must wait until spring? Crossbills forage on the seeds in conifer cones, using their crossed mandibles to wedge open cone scales and their tongues to lift the seeds out. Much of the crossbills’ breeding behaviour and ecology can be understood in terms of their exploitation of this food source. Because cone crop availability is erratic, crossbills are nomads, traveling to take advantage of developing cone crops and breeding whenever food sources are sufficient for egg production. Since crossbills do not require insects for breeding (nestlings are fed partially digested seeds), breeding occurs year round. In the Maritimes, White-winged Crossbills generally breed in two bouts: from early January to April and from July to October, while Red Crossbills primarily breed in January through April. For atlassers, this means that much of the crossbills’ breeding activities falls outside of the typical atlassing period (i.e., June and July).

During the first Maritimes Atlas (1986-1990), White-winged Crossbills were detected in 536 atlas squares; most records were from the summer and fall of 1988 when the spruce cone crop was particularly heavy. The breeding evidence observed was primarily singing males (S) and birds on territory (T). Fledged young (FY) were reported in 100 squares but only 3 nests were found over the entire five year period. Red Crossbills were detected in 159 squares with breeding confirmed (FY) in 25 squares. No Red Crossbill nests were found during the first Atlas effort. Thus far, during the second Atlas, White-winged and Red Crossbills have been recorded in 295 and 88 squares, respectively. I’m going to bet we can find them in a lot more! So, where should we look and what breeding evidence codes should we use to describe these detections?

Both species are found in coniferous forest (spruce, hemlock, fir etc…) when trees have an ample cone crop. Breeding males will often sing while circling overhead—this behaviour should be recorded as “S” or, “D” if a female is also present. The Red Crossbill’s song is a series of short warbled clicks and whistles while the White-winged Crossbill’s song is filled with longer trills and warblers and is, in some ways, reminiscent of the American Goldfinch’s song. Keep your eyes peeled for females carrying nesting material (this may also be a good way to find crossbill nesting sites). Also, note that you won’t see Crossbills carrying food because adults carry food for young is carried in their crop, but, you may see males feeding females (D) or parents feeding recently FY (young are heavily streaked). So, the next time you are out walking or cross-country skiing in the woods, look and listen for breeding crossbills…you may even be the first to find a crossbill nest during this atlas effort.

Photo: Female White-winged Crossbill by Clyde Barrett

January 12, 2010 – Quebec Catches Atlassing Fever

Regroupement Québec Oiseaux, Bird Studies Canada and Environment Canada have partnered to map all of the birds breeding in “la belle province” for a second time. Field work for the second Quebec Breeding Bird Atlas will begin this summer. That means there will be four Canadian atlases underway this summer giving birders from coast to coast a chance to get their binoculars and contribute to science.

Like other atlas projects, the Quebec Atlas will provide up-to-date information on the abundance and distribution of breeding birds throughout the province. The second Quebec Atlas will also expand its’ survey coverage beyond that of the first which focused on the more accessible and populated southern regions of the province. This time around efforts will be made to cover the northern and remote sections of the province. In the end the data gathered will be used to inform policy and guide conservation action in Quebec for years to come.

Follow the project’s progress on their website and anyone spending time in Quebec this summer is encouraged to help out (once your Maritimes square is complete of course). And don’t worry if you don’t make it to Quebec this summer, there will be at least 4 more years to participate once the Maritimes Atlas is complete.

January 12, 2010 – Maritimes Atlas First Edition Newsletters Now Available Online

For anyone feeling nostalgic for, or just curious about, newsletters from the first Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas, you’re in luck because they are now available online. You can read articles documenting atlassing trips, tips for atlassers, check out some great artwork in them, and remember how the first atlas came together. The newsletters can be viewed and downloaded from the Atlas Newsletter page.


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December 11, 2009 – I’m dreaming of a white Christmas Bird Count

Snow Buntings photo by John Chardine

Here in Sackville we got our first good snowfall of the year on the weekend and when the sun came out it was glorious to behold that fresh snow in the rising sun.  It finally got me into the holiday spirit and got me very excited about the Christmas Bird Counts coming up very soon.  For those of you don’t know every year for over 100 years now, birders and scientists alike have flocked together to be involved in this long-term and far reaching project.  Sometime between mid-December and early-January all day counts are conducted all over the western hemisphere, with over 2100 counts done last year from Alaska to Chile.  By doing the census every year during the same period long term trends in bird abundance can be monitored and mapped, and (up here in the northern regions at least) rarities and vagrants can be found and celebrated.

Now, don’t fret because you’re worried that many of the Maritimes’ birds have flown south for the winter, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing out there for you to see.  In the Maritimes up to 150 or more bird species are seen every year, with hundreds of thousands of individual birds reported.  I was talking with a co-worker who was participating last year and he said they hadn’t seen anything special in the morning, but in the afternoon they saw a Fox Sparrow, a Northern Mockingbird and then a Broad-winged Hawk all fly by within a short period of time, along with a collection of more usual winter sightings.  Not bad for a cold December afternoon.

The weather outside might not be your idea of ideal birding weather but the camaraderie shared by everyone who comes out to the counts more than makes up for some cold toes.  And I’m told that the tally-up dinners that follow many of the counts always bring together good food and good stories to toast the season with.  If you want to get involved in a local Christmas Bird Count then click here for more information. It’s not too late, organizers are always happy to add someone else to their crews.  We here at the Atlas would like to wish everyone a happy and safe count this year and all the best into the New Year.

December 11, 2009 – Shell gives $10,000 to survey Nova Scotia’s coastline and coastal islands

Nova Scotia’s extensive coastline sets it apart from the rest of the province—both the landscape and bird communities are unique.  In particular, for a short time during the spring and summer months NS’s coast and coastal islands become extremely important to nesting birds.  For example hard rock ledges and cliffs along the coast provide nesting sites for Black Guillemots and Black-legged Kittiwakes.  Other species like terns and eiders nest in grassy areas found on coastal islands. Puffins and petrels nest in underground burrows.  And the bird diversity along the coast isn’t restricted to seabirds. Islands and coastal areas harbour habitats for regionally unusual or rare species.  For example, Fox Sparrows, Blackpoll Warblers and Bicknell’s Thrush, which are typically found in more northern forests and/or at high elevations, breed along Atlantic coasts and islands where the climatic conditions are much like those of more northern climes.

However, coastal areas also present a unique challenge to those people attempting to survey them for breeding birds because while most of the Maritimes can be accessed by car or foot, most of NS’s coast and coastal islands can only be accessed by boat.  Few volunteers have the equipment, boating expertise and/or finances to undertake these types of surveys.  To ensure that Nova Scotia’s coast is surveyed during the course of the Atlas project, the Shell Environmental Fund has provided $10,000 to support surveys along Nova Scotia’s coast.  The data gathered from these coastal surveys will help give us a more complete picture of Maritimes bird biodiversity and will be used to identify important seabird nesting areas and prioritize sites for future conservation.

Photo: Black Guillemots by Kevin Kelly

December 11, 2009 – Fall newsletter now available

The Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas’ fall newsletter is now available online.  The format of this seventh edition departs from those of newsletters previously produced.  This edition has the “look and feel” of the newsletters from the first Maritimes Atlas—it dons the first Atlas logo and formatting style.  But what about the content you ask?  The newsletter focuses on the current Atlas’ progress relative to the first Atlas as well as provides various trip reports, strategies for next field season, new breeding records and suggestions how to approach atlassing in wilderness areas.   Thank-you to everyone who contributed to the newsletter and we hope you enjoy it!

Photo: Common Redpoll by John Chardine

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November 20, 2009 – Want to take your bird checklist into the electronic age?

Herring Gull , photo by John Chardine

Although birding and entering data online aren’t everyone’s favourite pastime, some Atlassers really enjoy entering their data online, seeing their observations appear on the online maps and creating data summaries with their data as well as with the data submitted by other atlassers. For those of you who enjoy using the internet and are going to miss contributing to the Atlas database over the winter, let us introduce you to ebird Canada ( eBird is a real-time, online checklist program and it is one of the fastest growing bird biodiversity data resources in existence. Initially launched by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society in 2002, ebird has now amassed a total of 26,368,659 individual bird observations for North America.

How does it work? eBird documents the presence/absence of bird species (much like the Atlas) through an online checklist program. Participants enter where, how and when they went birding and then fill out a checklist of bird species seen and/or heard. There are no specific survey protocols or timing of surveys, instead it is just a program that allows users to keep track of their bird observations and see what others have observed as well. For example, eBird has a feature that allows you to map recent notable bird sightings in your province or country-wide.  In the map below you can see exactly where on White Head Island Roger Burrows had a Ruddy Turnstone on November 13. And you don’t have to be an eBird participant to use this feature; although I have a feeling if you visit the site often you’ll want to see your observations appear on the map too. Where does all this information go? It goes beyond sharing your observations with other birders. The information you enter into eBird is part of a greater global biodiversity information community (e.g., all data is shared with the Avian Knowledge Network) and thus any contribution you make will contribute to a better understanding of bird distribution and richness across the Western Hemisphere and beyond.

“Screen capture” from on November 19, 2009.  Each red balloon represents a recent NB bird sighting.

November 20, 2009 – Spending time in the valley… Okanagan not Annapolis by Kevin Kelly, Bird Studies Canada Bird Projects Assistant

I am new to working with the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas and Bird Studies Canada. Coming from the west coast I am often drawn back to the BC Breeding Bird Atlas site ( to check progress there and see where the “hotspots” are back home. If you have ever looked at the species density map in BC you may have noticed a strip of squares starting at the US border, in about the middle of the province, that appears to have an awful lot of bird species. For those of you not familiar with BC, this is the Okanagan Valley, a hotspot for BC birding. With habitat that includes more than just the typical coniferous and boreal forests of the province, the Okanagan and surrounding areas have their own unique local species diversity. It has the most breeding species (at least 163 confirmed) in the province and numerous other migrants pass through each year (the Okanagan Valley Bird checklist boasts 319 birds). So if you ever find yourself in BC, why not check out the Okanagan Valley to look for Canyon Wren or Flammulated Owl (it’s the only place they occur in Canada). Other species you are likely to find include: White-headed Woodpecker, Black-chinned Hummingbird, White-throated Swift, and Pygmy Nuthatch—all of which may occasionally pop up elsewhere but your best chance to see them without having to use your passport is in the Okanagan. In addition, the valley’s namesake waterbody, Okanagan Lake, as well as the surrounding wetlands are host to numerous waterfowl species while the valley’s slopes support several resident species including the Mountain Chickadees. So if you’re heading west I suggest stopping in the Okanagan…who knows? you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Ogopogo (not a rare bird but rather Lake Okanagan’s answer to Nessy).

Photo: Flammulated Owl by Dick Cannings

November 20, 2009 – Point counts in the winter? Tell me more.

You are invited to participate in a study of bird call observer effects for Maritimes Bird Watchers. Bob Farmer and Andy Horn from the Leonard Lab at Dalhousie University are studying the factors influencing bird-point count surveys and they could use your help. They have created a survey to assess bird call observers and their abilities to bird by ear. The survey is designed for experienced bird watchers and consists of 16 simulated “point counts,” each 30 seconds long, and your job is to identify all the birds you can, just like in the field. The scenarios are designed for Maritimes birders and, according to the study’s creators, “the diversity of birds featured in this survey might make it the most thrilling point count experience you’ve had in years.” All participation is totally voluntary and ANONYMOUS and if at any time you want to quit, you can. The information gathered will be used to improve bird sampling protocols. That means that the more birders who give this a try, the better they can tailor future techniques for us all. So if you’ve got 15 minutes, take the survey to test your knowledge and get some practice for next summer. The researchers have mentioned that although they have put out the notice and several people have visited the site, few have actually completed the survey. We’d like to encourage you to participate–you’ve got nothing to lose and in the end it may help us develop better bird monitoring techniques. Visit for more details and to take the survey.

Photo: Blue Jay by John Chardine

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October 7, 2009 – First Atlas Data More Accessible

Denis Lepage, the Atlas’ database manager, has added a new feature to the Atlas’ online data summaries page. You can now choose to summarize data from either the first or current Maritimes Atlas. When summarizing first Atlas data, you have all the same options as you do for the current Atlas, and can examine data by year, by region, by species etc…We hope you’ll find this to be a useful and fun tool.

Photo:  Spruce Grouse by Samuel Denault.

October 7, 2009 – Another Atlas on the Horizon

It’s true! By next summer, we will have three Canadian atlases operating simultaneously as  Manitoba  catches the atlassing bug (check out their fancy new logo on the right) and British Columbia heads into their third year of field work.  This is Manitoba’s first breeding bird atlas and it will be very exciting to see their breeding birds’ distributions mapped as well as the other important conservation information that will undoubtedly come out of this effort. For example, very recently (i.e., in the past two years), it has been discovered that the Golden-winged Warbler is much more widespread in Manitoba than was previously estimated.  Who knows if this may be the case for other Manitoba breeding species as well?! Christian Artuso ( of Bird Studies Canada will be coordinating the Manitoba Atlas and the Atlas’ website will soon be up and running. One challenge that Manitoba will face is in trying to tackle their northernmost regions which are primarily road less (British Columbia is already dealing with this issue). And what does this all mean for the Maritimes, the “senior” of the three atlases?  Well, for those Maritimes volunteers still “jones-ing” to go atlassing once our Atlas is complete, I’m sure these provinces will be only too happy to enlist your help. But remember, you aren’t available until after 2010!

The Golden-winged Warbler…just one of Manitoba’s 284 breeding birds waiting to be mapped.  Photo by Christian Artuso.

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August 24, 2009 – Four down, one to go!

Semipalmated Sandpipers on migration, photo by John Chardine

Although a few very late breeders may still be hanging around (e.g., American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing), for the most part our breeding birds have finished breeding and have already departed for their southern wintering grounds. And thus, our atlassing season also comes to a close. Congratulations to all of the atlas participants—you have completed yet another very successful atlas season. And while many of us our now using this “down time” to relax, there are several participants entering their data online and/or submitting their data to either the Atlas office or their regional coordinator. As of today, volunteers have already submitted data for 858 squares, completed 1986 point counts and reported 25, 301 individual bird records for 2009. New species were also found this summer—including Sedge Wren singing in both NB and NS, as well as a nesting pair of Orchard Orioles in Region 7. Most importantly, many atlassers got into areas that hadn’t yet been covered and topped up hours and species numbers in priority squares. I can’t wait to see the results as data are added to the database! Just a final note…several atlassers have estimated abundance for completed squares.  If you haven’t done so yet, give abundance estimates a try–these estimates will help us make comparisons between the first and second Atlas.

August 7, 2009 – Goodbye Ivy, we’ll miss you!

Congratulations to Assistant Coordinator, Ivy Austin, who has landed himself a new position with Service Canada. We’re definitely going to miss you, but we know that even with your new job you’ll still be an active atlasser. Thanks so much for all your hard work and dedication to the project.  Good luck and all the best!





Ivy Austin, former Assistant Coordinator, photo by Becky Stewart

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July 24, 2009 – There’s still lots of good atlassing to be had!

It is at this time of year that atlassing slows down. However this year, maybe because of the weather, things haven’t quite slowed down quite as much as usual. Although you aren’t likely to get a Blackburnian Warbler singing there are still many other species singing like Hermit Thrush, Black-throated Green Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, even Alder flycatchers, etc… and some of the later breeding species like Cedar Waxwing and American Goldfinch are still just getting started. At the same time, other birds are beginning their southward migration, so the question is, how to atlas at this time of year? The answer: “carefully”. “H” is the only breeding evidence code that I would really hesitate to use at this time of year. For example, I heard chipping the other day, so I pished and out came a male Black-throated Green Warbler. He didn’t seem particularly agitated by my presence, and hopped around on the branches in front of me foraging. I heard another few chips and thought that maybe he had fledged young hiding somewhere behind him so I pished again and, to my surprise, out came another male Black-throated Green and a male Magnolia Warbler in fall plumage. I believe those individuals must have already been migrating and I didn’t record them at all. Further down the road I heard a Black-throated Green male sing. I pished and he burst from the forest, flying right at me, with a mouthful of food and chipping rapidly. This male was obviously breeding (it wasn’t long before I saw a Black-throated Green fledgling). This example highlights some of the ways that you can distinguish migrants from breeding birds. Firstly, birds don’t usually sing during fall migration, so if a bird is singing it is likely breeding (or trying to breed; one exception is White-throated Sparrow fledglings that “practice” singing). This atlassing season, bad weather may have delayed breeding or caused nests to fail because many species, even flycatchers, are still singing. Second, migrating birds also don’t respond to pishing at any great speed and when they do, they don’t appear agitated. On the other hand, breeding birds that respond to pishing do so almost immediately, generally giving chips or alarm calls, or show other signs of being agitated. Lastly, as a general rule of thumb at this time of year, it is best to look for higher levels of breeding such as carrying food, fledged young, agitated behaviour, pairs or distraction displays. So if you are asking the question can I still atlas? The Answer: Yes, please do! For southerly regions atlassing will likely continue for a week or two, for Cape Breton and Northern NB, it may be even longer.

Photo: Bay-breasted Warbler by Merv Cormier

July 15, 2009 – Tales from the field

I’d like to share with you one of my best mornings of atlassing this season; it occurred just the other day on July 14th. A bit of background before I begin… Kyle Wellband, fellow atlasser, and I had just returned from a fairly grueling and fantastic canoe trip in the Tobeatic the night before. We had enjoyed our atlassing/canoe trip so much that our expectations weren’t that high for the 14th—how could it compare to where we had just been? Our plan for the morning was to walk in separate directions for a couple of hours, returning to the truck sometime around 8:30 so we could continue to another section of the square to survey. My walk was towards a river through upland and coniferous habitat types. By the time I reached the river, the morning had already been very good, exceeding my expectations by far—I’d had two Canada Warblers “agitated” by my presence, a Hermit Thrush “carrying food” and Boreal Chickadee “fledged young”. It was also at the river that I realized it was 8:20 and that I had 10 minutes to return along a trail it had taken me 2 hours to walk. So half running, half stumbling I began to hurry back hoping that Kyle wouldn’t think that I had ended up in a ditch with a twisted ankle (actually Kyle’s quite used to my being late when we set a meeting time…he usually just has a snack while he waits). I was halfway back when I heard a woodpecker tapping. I looked up to see a Black-backed Woodpecker working on a pine tree almost directly beside the path; flaking off bark and looking for the insects beneath. I paused, hoping that I might see the Black-backed gathering food for young in a nest. Sure enough, he pulled out an insect and didn’t eat it himself. However, instead of flying off, the woodpecker turned to the side and fed the fledgling (that I had missed) sitting directly on the branch behind him. The adult then went back to probing the tree soon finding another insect to feed the young. The fledgling too worked flaking off bark himself, but quickly returned to his father’s side each time
the adult pulled out a new prey item. I continued to watch them foraging and feeding on that same pine tree for about ten minutes. The morning sun was on the pair, lighting up them and the tree..the sight was absolutely magical and I watched the Black-backs for about ten minutes before I continued up the path to meet Kyle. My advice to all: if you haven’t been out atlassing yet, get out there, and if you’ve already been out, try a new walk, new habitat or even a new square—the reward can be quite high.

Photo: Black-backed Woodpecker by Samuel Denault

July 15, 2009 – Abundance estimates

The time has come to estimate abundance and many of us don’t know where to begin. Indeed it took me until year four to come up with a system that worked for me. The key thing to remember when you are estimating abundance is that it is an estimate, in other words, you can’t be wrong. Also, keep in mind, you don’t have to estimate abundance for every species, only the ones for which you feel comfortable doing so.
There are several different ways to arrive at abundance estimates (see the Latest News Archives for previous discussions). Despite this, many of us have had trouble getting started so I thought I would explain how I have been arriving at my abundance estimates as a “jumping off” point for other atlassers. When in a square I have been keeping rough track of the number of individuals of each species (rather than just recording breeding evidence). Later, I try to relate the number of individuals observed to the amount of similar habitat in the square. For example, along a 3 km stretch of road in a single square I had approximately 25 Palm Warblers. The same habitat covers about 60% of the square so I felt safe saying that there must be more than 100 pairs of Palm Warblers in the square as a whole. I thus coded Palm Warbler abundance as a “4” indicating that I estimate there to be between 101 and 1000 pairs of Palm Warblers in the square as a whole (see page 12 for a description of abundance indices). In the same square there were two Eastern Wood-Pewees singing in mature deciduous forest, the only deciduous forest in the square. I recorded my abundance index for Eastern Wood-Pewee as “2” indicating that I estimate there to be between 2 and 10 pairs of pewees in the square. In one section of the square, there was a fairly wide section of river with 5 Yellow Warblers singing along the area that I could access. The river continued through the square and I imagine had similar suitable Yellow Warbler habitat along it. I didn’t find Yellow Warbler anywhere else in the square. I recorded “3” as the abundance index for Yellow Warbler, guessing that they were likely found all along the river thus there were probably more than 10 pairs but less than 100 pairs total. Whether or not you use this “system” to arrive at your abundance estimates doesn’t matter, all that matters it that you give estimating abundance a try. The first Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas is one of the only first generation atlases to estimate abundance thus we have a unique opportunity to examine changes in abundance between the first and second Maritimes Atlas (of course this will only happen if we all estimate abundance for our squares).

Photo: Palm Warbler by Ivy Austin

July 8, 2009 – Birding the Chignecto Game Sanctuary

BSC’s Atlantic Canada Program Manager Becky Whittam recently joined Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) staff Lindsay Notzl and Jon Feldgajer, as well as Vicki Daley of Cumberland Wilderness, for a day of bird atlassing in the Chignecto Game Sanctuary near Joggins, Nova Scotia. The area contains large tracts of mature deciduous and coniferous forest and a series of bogs known as the Bucktagen Barrens, and provides habitat for many regionally interesting bird species including Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Palm Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Barred Owl, Northern Goshawk, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Eastern Wood Pewee. CPAWS and Cumberland Wilderness are campaigning for the NS government to protect this area under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act, as the current Game Sanctuary designation offers no protection from resource extraction activities such as forestry and mining. Read the Fall 2008 CPAWS newsletter for more information about the campaign. The area is in square 20LR84.

Photo: Lindsay Notzl, Jon Feldgajer and Vicki Daley by Becky Whittam

July 7, 2009 – Atlassing East Ironbound and Flat Island

This summer, several volunteers received volunteer travel grants to survey remote and difficult to access areas in the Maritimes. Below is a report from atlasser and trip leader, Chris Fields, for one such trip. I’m sure you’ll agree, their trip was a great success and thank-you to Bird Studies Canada’s Baillie Fund for helping make this trip possible.

Report on Trip to East Ironbound and Flat Island by Chris Field

The trip took place on July 1, 2009 on a boat chartered from Daryl Gates, a local fisherman from Blandford. There were six birders, Alan Covert, Blake Maybank, Ian McLaren, Eric Mills, Hans Toom and me, Chris Field. We left the dock in Blandford shortly after 6:00am and headed to East Ironbound. The wind was light from the southeast with overcast skies and light fog. On the trip out, there were a number of seabirds including a Wilson’s Storm-petrel, several gannets and several Greater and Sooty Shearwaters. Once on East Ironbound, we split into two groups, one heading east and the other west. The birdlife on the island was quite active and we were able to both add new species and get confirmations for several other species for square 20MQ12. We added Fox Sparrows (CF), Bay-breasted Warbler (S) and Cliff Swallow (P). We confirmed Barn Swallows (NY) (large numbers of barn swallows around the fish sheds), redstart (CF), Savannah Sparrow (CF), Boreal Chickadee (FY) and Black Guillemots (AE). In terms of improving the breeding status, we had Blackpoll Warbler (A). Another 11 species were found on the island for which there was already comparable breeding evidence. After leaving East Ironbound, about 9:30am, we headed towards Flat Island. This island is uninhabited and has a fringe of live boreal forest around the perimeter, with deadfall everywhere in the interior. We landed in a small boat and again split up into groups. We were on the part of the island in 20MQ11 (Pearl Island) so almost all the breeding activity observed was new. There was evidence of a Greater Black-backed Gull colony but no fledged birds but one nest contained a broken egg. It was felt that the breeding had not been successful and we wondered if it had been predated by the Bald Eagle on the island. Eric Mills observed a single Greater Yellowlegs which might be a possible breeder. Other notable birds were a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow (S) and a Lincoln’s Sparrow (S). We had a total of 20 species on Flat Island of which Song Sparrows (CF) were by far the most abundant. We also confirmed eider (FY), crow (FY), robin (CF), Yellow-rumped Warbler (FY), Savannah Sparrow (CF) and raven (FY).

We then headed to Grassy Island in 20MQ02 (Tancook). Grassy Island is a rock outcrop with a small grassy area in the center. There were fledged young herring gulls and we estimated the colony size to be between 11-100 pairs. We had Arctic Terns and a tree swallow near the island and large numbers of eiders with edged young. As we sailed past Little Tancook, we were able to confirm Greater Black-backed Gulls (FY) and Herring Gulls  (FY). We returned to the wharf in Blandford shortly after 1:30pm. Everyone agreed it had been a very successful altlassing trip and expressed an interest in re-visiting East Ironbound during Fall migration.

Photos : Bald Eagle and Tree Swallow by John Chardine

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June 21, 2009 – Update on field staff activities

Although the work of a few staff members can not begin to compare with the work of several hundred volunteers –it seems like the colours on the online maps are changing daily–staff have been doing their best to help get the job done, particularly in difficult to access areas. This year, starting May 29th (the beginning of point count season), two Atlas point count teams were deployed from the Atlas office, one to New Brunswick and another to Nova Scotia. In addition, a third crew headed to Gagetown to survey for species at risk on the Gagetown base and in the surrounding area (the southern Saint John River Valley). Bird Studies Canada staff working on other programs (e.g., the High Elevation Landbird Program that surveys for Bicknell’s Thrush and other high elevation birds) have also been doing point counts around their study. Lastly, a final staff member spent two weeks conducting point counts on Prince Edward Island. Despite flat tires and an incident involving a truck in a marsh, things have gone extremely well. Some birding highlights include: two observations of Sedge Wren (on the Digby neck, NS and in region 12, NB), Fox Sparrows along the south shore of Nova Scotia, a pair of breeding Orchard Orioles in western New Brunswick and many, many Canada Warblers. Combined, staff have already completed point counts in 50 squares..and they are hungry for more. Staff will likely have time to do more point counts than we had initially planned so if you aren’t able to get to the point counts in your square this year and would like some help, please call the Atlas office.

Photo: Northern Parula by Brandon Holden

June 11, 2009 – Mid-June is a great time for atlassing!

Whether you are conducting point counts or are getting out to survey your square, mid-June is a fantastic time to Atlas. Depending upon the province or region in which you reside, different bird species are likely to be in very different stages of breeding. In southern Nova Scotia several species, including Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swamp Sparrow and Hermit Thrush, are already carrying food. In northern New Brunswick and Cape Breton species like Black-throated Green Warbler, Mourning Warbler and Alder Flycatcher are establishing territories and pairing up. No matter where you are, there are lots of birds are singing so it is the perfect time to practice or learn bird songs. Lastly, don’t be shy about following a strange song or chip, you never know when you might find a new breeder for your region–Sedge Wren, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Field Sparrow and Orchard Oriole have already all been found in the Digby Neck area, so who knows what might turn up in your region…Good luck and have fun!

Picture: Pair of Tree Swallows by John Chardine

June 11, 2009 – 2nd Atlas record numbers surpass those of the first!

Some time over the course of the evening on Wednesday June 10, 2009, as atlassers were entering their data for the day’s work, the number of individual bird records for the second Maritimes Breeding bird Atlas reached 144,831 thus surpassing the number of records submitted during the first Maritimes Atlas which was 144,642. Congratulations everyone on all of your hard work! The information that you are gathering is going to be key to update the status of, and conserve, many of our Maritimes breeding birds and, given the amount of data being gathered, the Atlas will provide the most comprehensive snapshot of our breeding birds’ distribution and abundance to date. Of course, don’t bask in the glory too long… we’ve still got a lot of ground to cover this season and we wouldn’t want this announcement to make people think we were finished already… Congratulations on this great achievement!

Picture: Savannah Sparrow by John Chardine

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May 27, 2009 – It’s time to atlas!

Common Yellowthroat by John Chardine

This past Sunday, while out doing my Baillie Birdathon, I was surrounded by breeding evidence. There was a Yellow-rumped Warbler carrying nesting material, two male Black-throated Green Warblers “duking it out” over a territory and an American Robin carrying food.  Plus, I just had a phone call from someone asking to “what are these white “balls” that blackbirds are dropping”? I was very excited to report that they were fecal sacs and that there must be a nest with nestlings nearby.  So for anyone wondering when is a good time to start atlassing, the answer is right now. For those conducting point counts, don’t forget that the point count season begins May 29th and ends July 3rd. Peak singing begins about a half an hour before sunrise and usually continues for about 5 hours after sunrise. For those who have spent 15 hours in their square and are wondering how to put in those last few atlassing hour, check your species list thus far and see if any species groups or habitat types are underrepresented. If you’ve finished your square, we’ve got another one for you to start–talk to your Regional Coordinator for more details. And of course we’re here in the Atlas office, ready to answer any questions you might have and send you any additional data forms you might need. Have a fantastic fourth field season!

May 26, 2009 – Dendroica is now available online

Just in time for the field season, the atlasser’s favourite CD-ROM, “Dendroica: an aid to learning Canadian bird songs” is now online. This newly updated, web-based version was developed by the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada to help those participating in Canadian bird survey programs to enhance their bird identification skills (i.e., you!). Like in the CD-ROM version you can study different bird species using photographs and songs and you can limit the species you  study by province, Bird Conservation Region, taxonomy or song type. There’s also a quiz module to test yourself. A great new feature of the online version is that you can now create and manage your own bird lists.

As of now, all those participating in the Maritimes Atlas should have received login and password information by email (it is different than your regular atlasser user ID but you can change it once you have accessed the program).  If you haven’t received this information, please contact the Atlas office and we’ll provide you with that information. You can access the new Dendroica at  As well, the creators are still looking for additional recordings of sounds, as well as photos of plumages, not currently represented. If you would like to contribute please contact Charles Francis

Photo: Dendroica banner from

May 26, 2009 – A call for bird photos from John Chardine

I am assuming the role of photo editor for the Atlas publication and am soliciting good quality photographs of Maritime breeding birds for the final Atlas publication. We plan to include an outstanding colour image of each species along with  its write-up. If you have any photos please consider submitting one or more to me for evaluation by a small selection committee. If chosen, your name will be printed along side the photograph. If you know of someone who has images please put them in-touch with me (contact info below).

Red-winged Blackbird by John Chardine

Here are some guidelines to help you select images to send in:

1. We would like to include photos of breeders taken in the Maritimes by as many Maritime photographers as possible. We may have to go further afield for more difficult species.

2. Photos should be of the whole bird, in good, even, front light. The subject, particularly the head and eye should be sharp with minimal if any habitat elements in front of the bird. Optimum head angle is looking in the direction of, but not straight at, the photographer. Images showing breeding activity such as carrying nest material or food for chicks are particularly appropriate. However, we do not plan to show images of birds at the nest except in rare circumstances.

3. Submit your images at a minimum resolution of 1200 pixels wide x 1200 high in jpeg or tiff format on a CD, DVD, or by email. Images larger than 10 megabytes will be rejected by our email system and may be by yours too, so these will have to come on disk. Good quality slide scans are also acceptable.

4. If one or more of your images is chosen you will be asked to sign a release for one-time use of the image. Copyright will remain with the photographer.

My contact information is as follows:
Address: John Chardine, Environment Canada, P.O. Box 6227, Sackville, NB, E4L 1G6; Email:; Tel: 506-364-5046

May 26, 2009 – Travel grants for Atlassers

We have awarded travel grants to five atlassers planning to conduct point counts in some relatively remote and unpopulated regions in the Maritimes including squares in northern NB, Cape Breton, southwest NS and Guysborough county. Thank-you to Bird Studies Canada’s Baillie Fund for making these grants possible and thank-you to those atlassers willing and able to travel great distances to cover difficult areas.

May 8, 2009 – Commit one hour to night time atlassing!

American Woodcock by Merv Cormier

The American Woodcock is a shorebird species of “young forests and old fields”, found in damp, open areas with some shrub or sapling coverage next to forest. Although woodcocks are widespread across the Maritimes, this doesn’t necessarily come across in their online distribution map. This species is likely underrepresented in nearly every Atlas region, primarily because they are most active at a time of year and day when few atlassers are out. However, we can change that! Woodcocks are “crepuscular” meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. By picking a few spots containing suitable Woodcock habitat in your square, a relatively short visit beginning somewhere between 8:45 – 9:00 pm will likely provide a woodcock for that square (and possibly a winnowing snipe or owl too). Last night, I detected woodcocks in adjacent squares in under a half an hour. Listen for their distinctive “peent” call given from the ground as well as their “twittering wings” during their display flight. Happy woodcocking!

May 8, 2009 – New form for Abundance Estimates

Previously atlassers who waited until their square was complete before estimating abundance sometimes encountered a problem because the online system would only accept abundance estimates for the current year and for species with breeding evidence codes. This is no longer an issue. Denis Lepage, the MBBA database manager, has solved the problem by creating a new online form for entering abundance estimates. The new form, which can be accessed from the data entry page, allows you to enter abundance estimates for all species reported in the square so far. More than one atlasser can estimate abundance for a single square but, to avoid biasing our estimates, you will only be able to see your own estimates. In the future, when you submit a breeding evidence form with abundance codes, they will be automatically added to this new form.

For those of you saying to yourself – abundance estimates… what are those? During the first atlas volunteers were asked to make their best “educated guess” of the number of pairs of each species in their square and then place their estimate into one of six abundance categories or codes. To make our results comparable to those of the first Maritimes Atlas we’re doing the same. Abundance index categories are as follows: 0) 0 pairs; 1) 1 pair; 2) 2 – 10 pairs; 3) 11-100 pairs; 4) 101-1000 pairs; 5) 1001-10,000 pairs. Articles answering frequently asked questions about abundance estimates and describing how they are done can be found on pages 11-12 of the 2008 Fall Newsletter and pages 8-9 of the 2007 Fall Newsletter. Instructions for estimating abundance are found on page 12 of the “Guide for Atlassers”.

Photo: Black-and-white Warbler by Merv Cormier

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April 30, 2009 – 2009 Spring Newsletter is online and in the mail!

The 2009 spring newsletter is now available online. For those who have requested it by mail it should arrive at your door shortly. This newsletter focuses on priorities for year four, frequently asked questions about point counts and has various tips for atlassing for suites of species as well as how to atlas in certain habitat types. It also contains the results of the Atlas publication Survey from the fall newsletter and information about applying for volunteer travel grants.

April 23, 2009 – Owls aren’t the only raptors breeding this time of year

Bald Eagle by John Chardine

Raptors, like Bald Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel have already begun breeding in many regions and Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Osprey should be breeding very soon (if they too haven’t started already). Now’s a good time, before the leaves are out, to look for raptor nests (or any evidence of breeding raptors…just a few days ago Julie Paquet, RC for Region 14, saw a Bald Eagle carrying a stick over the Tantramar Marsh).

Peter Bush, a professor at Dalhousie University (and an atlasser), is particularly interested in NS nesting Northern Goshawk, Broad-winged Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk in Nova Scotia and would very much appreciate any information that atlassers could provide on specific nesting locations. Peter will follow up on your observations to determine nesting success and take habitat measurements later on in the summer. If you can, please let Peter know ( when you find one of these raptors’ nests in Nova Scotia.

April 23, 2009 – Spring Regional Coordinator’s Meeting a success!

Regional Coordinators, staff and steering committee left to right from the top: John Chardine, Ron Arsenault, Pat Kelly, Andy Horn, Denis Doucet, Ivy Austin, Richard Elliot, Peter Hope, James Hirtle, Roy LaPointe, Fritz McEvoy, Suzanne Borkowski, Ken McKenna, Pierrette Mercier, Raymond Chiasson, Ross Hall, David Johnston, Dave McCorquodale, Joan Czapalay, Becky Stewart, Julie Paquet and Rosemary Curley.  Photo by Becky Whittam.

More than 20 Regional Coordinators (RCs) as well as Atlas staff and members of the project’s steering committee met at the Coastal Inn in Sackville, NB, April 18 and 19, 2009, to plan the upcoming field season. The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing the priorities for 2009 which are: 1) Finish atlassing in priority squares, 2) Complete 15 point counts in every priority square, and 3) Begin/continue atlassing in remaining squares. Other topics included: the need for abundance estimates in completed squares (to make this atlas comparable to the first), the availability of travel dollars for atlassers (volunteer grants will be available again this year) and a call for bird photos for the final publication.

Most importantly, RCs provided updates for each of their regions—-the amount of work that went on in 2008 is absolutely phenomenal (so give yourselves a pat on the back) and rest assured that your RCs are working hard to make sure that the fourth Atlas field season will be well organized and a great success. One thing that was clear from the updates: there’s still much more to be done and many RCs could use more atlassers and more point counters to help reach their region’s coverage goals. If you are able to atlas in an additional square or region, or if you are able to conduct point counts, please let your RC know. Thank-you to all the RCs for their hard work and for making the trek to Sackville for the meeting.

Photo: Regional Coordinators on an early morning stroll through Sackville Waterfowl Park, photo by Raymond Chiasson

April 23, 2009 – Thank-you to our many funders of 2009 Atlas field season

Several granting agencies recently announced their support the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas in 2009. Supporters include: NB Wildlife Trust Fund, NB Environmental Trust Fund, the southwestern NS and Halifax chapters of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and Bird Studies Canada’s Baillie Fund. The money received will go towards supporting volunteers (though mailouts, presentations, the online system etc…), travel grants for volunteers and the coordination and implementation of the 2009 field season. Thank-you to each of these agencies for their support. A full list of Atlas supporters is at the bottom of the Atlas homepage.

Photo: Black-capped Chickadee by John Chardine

April 23, 2009 Upcoming Nova Scotia Bird Society Meeting is all about Atlassing!

This year the Nova Scotia Bird Society is hosting their annual “out-of area” Bird Society meeting at the Mountain Gap Inn near Digby Nova Scotia on May 30th and 31st, 2009. The goal of this year’s meeting is to promote Region 16: Annapolis Valley-Digby Neck, and Region 17: Southwest Shore. Speakers include Becky Stewart (Atlas Coordinator) and Patrick Kelly (Region 16). The meeting will start at 7:30 pm in the Annapolise Room, followed by an owl prowl. Sunday morning, 6:00 am, there will be a point count demonstration, followed by breakfast. Field trips will be led by Pat Kelly and Paul Gould. To book your room for Saturday night, go to and click on “Around the Inn”. This map will show you what each of the rooms is like by clicking on any rooftop. Choose from #1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 24,25,26,27 ($100.00 per room) or #41, 42, 43 ($90.00 per room). This meeting/workshop is open to everyone!

April 6, 2009 – April is Owl Month!

Whoooo gives a hoot about owls? We do! In May of 2008, data from Bird Studies Canada’s nocturnal owl surveys in NB, PE and mainland NS were added to the Atlas database. Data from the nocturnal owl surveys contributed to 258 Atlas squares and added 435 individual bird records to the Atlas database. As a result, there have already been more owls detected in the Maritimes during the second MBBA than during the first Atlas. That said, to get a complete picture of where owls breed in the Maritimes the Atlas still needs volunteers to survey on roads, areas and squares that are not surveyed by owl surveyors. To encourage as many people as possible to get out and look for breeding owls Bird Studies Canada and the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas are promoting April as owl month! This month is the month of peak breeding activity for most species of Maritimes owls and is thus great time to bundle up and spend an evening surveying for owls in one or more squares. Click here for a list of priority squares that still require owl surveys and/or contact your Regional Coordinator to find out where your owling talents can be put to use. If you require a pre-recorded CD of owl calls to help with your survey effort, please contact the Atlas office and we’ll be happy to send a CD your way. As well, for each week in April we’ll be featuring a Maritimes owl on the Atlas website—the owl of the week this week is the Barred Owl.

Photo: Boreal Owl by Perry Greico

Owl of the week 1: Barred Owl

Barred Owl, photo by Chris Dutton

The Barred Owl is by far the most common of our Maritime owls. Surveyors with Bird Studies Canada’s Nocturnal Owl Survey detect an average of over 2.5 Barred Owls per route. It is especially common on mainland Nova Scotia where densities can reach more than 20 owls on a 16 km survey route! Barred Owls like large tracks of continuous forest and are most often found in mid-aged mixed forests. They nest in cavities, nest boxes and even use old crow or hawk nests. For food Barred Owls are especially fond of small mammal species but during the breeding season invertebrates, amphibians and even fish are important parts of a Barred Owl’s diet. One wouldn’t think that a bird as big as a Barred Owl would have much to be afraid of but Barred Owls will actually avoid parts of their territories that overlap with another owl, their main predator, the Great Horned Owl.

Owl of the week 2: Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl, named after the sound of one of its calls (an eerie screech that sounds like the whetting of a saw), is our smallest owl in the Maritimes. This species nests in cavities excavated by Northern Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers as well as in nest boxes. They prefer remote areas away from human habitation; however, pairs have been found nesting in residential areas provided there are suitable cavities. Saw-whet Owls lay 5-6 eggs in early April and young fledge in late May and early June. Northern Saw-whet Owls consume small mammals almost exclusively. They must spread some prey items over multiple meals, however, as one report indicates that a young male saw-whet owl apparently died as a result of trying to swallow an entire mouse whole. Remember when your mother told you to take smaller bites and chew your food before swallowing?

Photo: Northern Saw-whet Owl by Denis Doucet

Owl of the week 3: Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl by Charles Kendell

Short-eared Owls are the only regularly breeding Maritime owl that primarily hunts during the day. They are most active in the early morning and late afternoon when they can be found flying low over fields and marshes in search of prey. Like other owls, they locate prey primarily by sound using ear openings that are asymmetrical, allowing them to localize prey in both horizontal and vertical planes simultaneously. The Short-eared Owl is the only Maritime owl to consistently nest on the ground and unlike other owls, which are primarily forest nesters, the Short-eared Owl is a grassland specialist. Their nests are a mix of coarse grass and weed stems, sometimes concealed in low bushes in open country.  Federally-listed as a “species of special concern”, Short-eared Owl populations have undergone substantial declines over the past decade.  Loss of grassland habitat is thought to be a key factor causing these declines.  Tips for atlassing for Short-eared Owls can be found in the guide to atlassing for species at risk.

Owl of the week 4: Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl by Denis Doucet

Great Horned Owls are the largest species of regularly breeding owl in the Maritimes.   Great Horned Owls do not construct their own nests but reuse those of crows, ravens and raptors. They nest in the forest but hunt in open fields and wetlands where they locate most prey from an elevated perch. Great Horned Owls are a major predator of other owls and large bird species. They are also reliant on mammals for a large portion of their diet and are one of the few animals that eat skunks (Great Horneds don’t have a sense of smell).  Great Horned Owls are also highly territorial and thus their breeding densities are often very low.  In fact Great Horned Owls defend their territories so ferociously that unmated adults that fail to establish a territory live in silence as “floaters”. Floaters’ ranges overlap with the edges of other owls’ established territories but they do not “hoot” for fear of being detected and driven off by the territorial pair. Territorial Great Horned Owls rarely travel more than a kilometer from their nest site.

April 6, 2009 – Bird Studies Canada invites you to participate in the Baillie Birdathon and a portion of the money raised will directly support the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas!

Bird Studies Canada’s Baillie Birdathon is the oldest sponsored bird count in North America, raising money for bird research and conservation. The money raised benefits Bird Studies Canada, the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund, and participating migration monitoring stations and conservation organizations. This year for the first time, participants can choose to designate the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas program to receive a portion of the funds raised (if you already participate in Birdathon, please continue to support the station or club of your choice, but if you have never done a Birdathon, this is an excellent way to support the Atlas). Your Atlas Coordinators will be participating in the Baillie Birdathon this year and if you have the time and inclination we hope you’ll participate too.

How does the Birdathon work? It is basically a great excuse to go birding. The challenge is to identify as many bird species as possible within a 24-hour period, any time during the month of May. So choose a day for your birdathon (you can schedule yourself a rain day) and then find sponsors to support your birding effort. You can be sponsored at a flat rate or for each species identified. Tax receipts will be issued for all donations of $10.00 or more. To find out more about the Baillie Birdathon, download the 2009 participants’ kit, or to register online now, visit or call 1-888-448-BIRD(2473).

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March 16th, 2009 – Institutional data adds 11,700 records to the Atlas database

Data from three sources—Canadian Wildlife Service Eastern Waterfowl Breeding Ground Survey, Breeding Bird Survey of Environment Canada and Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resource Bald Eagle Surveys from Inverness and Victoria Counties on Cape Breton Island–were recently added to the Atlas database. This has added approximately 11,700 new records to the Atlas database (a jump of nearly 10% of what we already had). These institutional data will help provide a complete snapshot of breeding birds in the Maritime provinces for 2006-2008 and having the data incorporated into the database now will help us to better identify coverage gaps and target our efforts in areas not covered or surveyed by other programs. The NB, mainland NS and PE Owl data that was previously uploaded to the Atlas database last fall has already provided us with more owl records than the first Maritimes Atlas and is helping us to focus our owl survey efforts in uncovered territory this winter and next. Over the course of the next two years we will continue to look for additional breeding bird data from outside sources.

Photo: Ring-necked Duck by John Chardine

March 16th, 2009 – Tern It Up 2009 Open Mic and Silent Auction – Saturday, March 28, 7 to 11pm

Picture: “Tern it Up” 2009 website

Atlas volunteers and staff continue to fondly remember Gareth Akerman, a former Bird Studies Canada employee that died in a plane crash in Florida last spring. The Gareth Akerman Memorial Scholarship was created in honour of Gareth at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax to financially help a science student whose interests reflect those held by Gareth. On Saturday March 28, 7 to 11pm, the Gorsebrook lounge at Saint Mary’s University will host “Tern it Up 2009” the first fundraising event for the Scholarship. The night will celebrate two of Gareth’s great loves–music and birds–with an open mic and silent auction. A five-dollar donation is suggested at the door and there will be a sign-up station for anyone wishing to participate in the open mic. Please visit for further details. Hope to see you there!

March 16th, 2009 – Bringing Back the Bobolink

Bobolink, photo by Christian Artuso

An article entitled “Bringing Back the Bobolink: what’s happening to our grassland birds and why are farmers their last hope?” by Becky Stewart, Atlas Coordinator, was featured in the March issue of Rural Delivery. Rural Delivery, published by DVL Publishing Inc., is a farm and country journal that comes from the homes and farms of Atlantic Canada and beyond. The idea for the article stemmed from a discussion on the decline in Bobolinks, and grassland bird species in general, at the “For Our Birds 2008” meeting held in Halifax, NS last fall. The article discusses the history of grassland birds in the Maritimes, their close ties with the agricultural community and the importance of farm habitat to sustaining our national and regional grassland bird populations. The Maritimes is home to nearly 100% of the Acadian subspecies of Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow and 10% of the Canadian population of Bobolinks
breed here as well. The Atlas would like to encourage farmers to find out more about the birds sharing their agricultural land. As a first step, we are offering landowners a free copy of the first Maritimes Atlas. If you or someone you know are interested in receiving a copy of the first Atlas, please contact the atlas office or 1-866-5Atlas5.

March 16th, 2009 – What’s been going on in the Atlas office during the winter?

Since February and March are generally quiet months on the Atlassing front we thought we should let you know what has been going on behind closed doors to give you an idea of where we are at in the planning process for the coming months. To encourage winter atlassing we put together a short one-pager on atlassing for owls (available from the website) and April has been designated as Bird Studies Canada’s official “Owl Month”. Throughout the month of April we’ll be featuring an owl of the week on the Atlas website. A spring newsletter has been written and is currently being reviewed by a few members of the Steering Committee, after which it will go to translation and we hope to have it out to all of you by mid-April. Another important winter activity for office staff is grant writing and budget preparation for the coming fiscal year. So far we have submitted 15 applications (totaling approximately 120k) to support the continuation of the Atlas project. As well, we have already heard that our applications to the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund and the James L. Baillie Memorial Fund were successful (this means there will be additional travel grant money for atlassers again this year)—thank-you to both funds for their continued support of the Atlas project. Summer field positions for point count crews have been posted and we hope to have summer staff in place by mid-April. We’ve also spent a good deal of time searching out data from various other institutional and individual sources and will continue to update the database as more data comes in. We have also begun planning for our next year of data collection—identifying gaps in coverage for both point counts and general atlassing—so hopefully year 4 will be our most coordinated and productive field season yet. We’ll be meeting with the 27 Regional Coordinators on the weekend of April 18 and 19 to come up with a “plan of attack” for the different regions.

Photo: Common Redpoll by John Chardine

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February 5, 2008 – Whooooo is in your square?

Northern Hawk Owl, photo by Denis Doucet

February is here and that means atlassing is just around the corner… and you may be asking yourself: what kind of bird would be breeding at this time of year? The answer (of course): Owls! Atlassing for our secretive, primarily nocturnal friends requires a slightly different timing and approach than atlassing for other bird species (i.e., we have to go out at night in the winter and early spring, we usually rely on our ears more than our eyes and we use playback more so than when surveying for other bird species). Data from the 2006 and 2007 Nocturnal Owl Survey (Bird Studies Canada) have been incorporated into the Maritimes Atlas database and as result we have already accumulated more owl records than during the first Atlas effort. But, the Atlas is a golden opportunity to get a comprehensive “snapshot” of Maritime owl distributions across the entire region – not just in areas with owl survey routes.

To maximize detections you’ll need to visit your square a few times over the course of the late winter and early spring. The atlas office has put together some tips on atlassing for owls to help you get started and there are playback CDs available for those who don’t have their own recordings. Please call or email the Atlas office for your copy. If you’ve already surveyed your square for owls, click here for a list of priority squares, by region, that do not have an owl survey route running through them and/or squares where no owl species have been detected thus far. Please contact the appropriate Regional Coordinator if you are able to conduct owl surveys in their region (they can help direct you to unassigned Atlas squares). If you are looking for more details about the timing of owl breeding check out the table below.

Good luck and happy owling!

Feb. Mar. Apr. May Jun. Jul.
SPECIES 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Great Horned Owl
Northern Hawk Owl
Barred Owl
Long-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Boreal Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl

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January 22, 2009 – Sheffield Mills, NS to host its’ 18th Annual Eagle Watch!

Bald Eagle, photo by John Chardine

No one can say that the Bald Eagle has “had it easy” over the last century. Once seen as pest by the farmers, eagles were hunted from farmlands in the Maritimes. The use of DDT in agriculture and forestry practices in the early 50s also took a toll on Maritimes Eagle populations. In many areas throughout the Maritimes, and across the country, eagle populations were severely reduced or disappeared entirely and by 1978 the Bald Eagle was considered nationally endangered. It was at this time, when eagle populations were at their lowest, that the seeds were sown for the Sheffield’s Annual Eagle Watch. A farmer saw an eagle flying over the Annapolis valley one winter. The farmer, knowing that it was no longer a usual sighting, thought that maybe the eagle was looking for food. So, he laid out some dead chickens in a field for the eagle to eat. With time, more farmers joined him in laying out free food for the magnificent birds. Word of the eagles spread and more people came to see the over wintering eagles and to take pictures. It was from here that “Eagle Watch” stemmed. Since that time, DDT use has been banned and eagle populations are rebounding (between the first and second Atlas, there’s been a 16% increase in eagle detections rates). Nearly 300 to 400 eagles over winter in the Annapolis Valley and Sheffield’s annual Eagle Watch will take place over the next three weekends (Jan. 23-24, Jan. 31-Feb.1 and Feb. 7–8). So if you’re passing by the Sheffield Mills area, be sure to join the numerous birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts at one of the town’s many designated “eagle-viewing areas” or drop-in for a pancake breakfast and see the numerous eagle-related exhibits on display.
Visit the Eagle Watch website for more information.

January 22, 2009 – Many rare bird sightings still require your attention

If the current traffic on the Atlas website is any indication, many of you are working hard to enter all of your 2008 data before the January 31st deadline. However, you may not be aware that you can also complete rare/ colonial forms from previous years (i.e., 2006 and 2007)…many of you may not know if you have rare forms to fill out. There are currently close to 700 observations from 2006 and 2007 that require additional documentation. Since, you are entering your data anyway, now would be an excellent time to get those rare bird forms done.

To find out if you have any undocumented records, login to the online data entry system and click the “Your data forms” button (appears about half-way down the screen, under the “Browse Results” title). This will take you to a page that lists all your data forms and from a drop-down menu at the top of the page, you can choose to see your undocumented rare records (i.e., any observation that still requires a rare bird form). Unlike with breeding evidence data, you can still use the online system to fill out rare forms from years past. From the main data entry page, pick the square in which the observation was made and either year (2008 or 2009), then click on the “Rare/colonial” button. Once you begin to fill out the rare form, you will be able to choose any project year. Undocumented observations may be rejected so please take the time to fill in the additional required information.

Photo: Red-shouldered Hawk nest with eggs (NE) by Scott Makepeace

January 7, 2009 – Crossbills: Bravely breeding when no other bird will

Red Crossbill, photo by Mike Wisnicki

Despite an abundance of winter birds in the Maritimes (chickadees, grosbeaks, finches etc…), only two passerine species regularly breed in January: White-winged and Red Crossbill. So, what is it about the crossbills that allow them to breed in the winter while other songbirds must wait until spring? Crossbills forage on the seeds in conifer cones, using their crossed mandibles to wedge open cone scales and their tongues to lift the seeds out. Much of the crossbills’ breeding behaviour and ecology can be understood in terms of their exploitation of this food source. Because cone crop availability is erratic, crossbills are nomads, traveling to take advantage of developing cone crops and breeding whenever food sources are sufficient for egg production. Since crossbills do not require insects for breeding (nestlings are fed partially digested seeds), breeding occurs year round. In the Maritimes, White-winged Crossbills generally breed in two bouts: from early January to April and from July to October, while Red Crossbills primarily breed in January through April. For atlassers, this means that much of the crossbills’ breeding activities falls outside of the typical atlassing period (i.e., June and July).

During the first Maritimes Atlas (1986-1990), White-winged Crossbills were detected in 536 atlas squares; most records were from the summer and fall of 1988 when the spruce cone crop was particularly heavy. The breeding evidence observed was primarily singing males (S) and birds on territory (T). Fledged young (FY) were reported in 100 squares but only 3 nests were found over the entire five year period. Red Crossbills were detected in 159 squares with breeding confirmed (FY) in 25 squares. No Red Crossbill nests were found during the first Atlas effort. Thus far, during the second Atlas, White-winged and Red Crossbills have been recorded in 295 and 88 squares, respectively. I’m going to bet we can find them in a lot more! So, where should we look and what breeding evidence codes should we use to describe these detections?

Both species are found in coniferous forest (spruce, hemlock, fir etc…) when trees have an ample cone crop. Breeding males will often sing while circling overhead—this behaviour should be recorded as “S” or, “D” if a female is also present. The Red Crossbill’s song is a series of short warbled clicks and whistles while the White-winged Crossbill’s song is filled with longer trills and warblers and is, in some ways, reminiscent of the American Goldfinch’s song. Keep your eyes peeled for females carrying nesting material (this may also be a good way to find crossbill nesting sites). Also, note that you won’t see Crossbills carrying food because adults carry food for young is carried in their crop, but, you may see males feeding females (D) or parents feeding recently FY (young are heavily streaked). So, the next time you are out walking or cross-country skiing in the woods, look and listen for breeding crossbills…you may even be the first to find a crossbill nest during this atlas effort.

Photo: Female White-winged Crossbill by Clyde Barrett

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December 11, 2008 – The Christmas Bird Counts are coming!

As the festive season draws near, that means one thing for atlassers: Christmas Bird Count time! Although most of our breeding birds have flown south for the winter that doesn’t mean that our volunteers stop birding. They continue to contribute their time and effort to citizen science through programs like Project Feeder Watch and the Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 with a group of 27 conservationist lead by scientist and writer Frank Chapman. They proposed that they identify, count, and record all the birds that they saw on Christmas Day instead of the traditional “side hunt” which involved teams competing to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals. Since then, the Christmas Bird Count has become one of the most significant citizen-based conservation efforts in the world and is an annual tradition for many in the birding community.  Last year, over 1200 volunteers in the Maritimes counted a whopping 320000 birds of 155 species on 34 counts. This year the Christmas Bird Count is expected to be even larger than before, providing crucial information about the distribution and abundance of our wintering birds. The Atlas staff would like to wish everyone a very enjoyable and safe count this year, and remind you that it is not too late to join a Christmas Bird Count near you.

Photo: Pictou Harbour tally-up, photo provided by Ken McKenna

December 1, 2008 – Atlas maps have a new face!

Andrew Couturier, Bird Studies Canada’s GIS Analyst, has revamped the Maritimes Atlas online distribution maps to show change between the 1st and 2nd Maritimes Atlases, in addition to the level of breeding evidence detected during the current Atlas. Coloured dots are used to show changes between the first and second atlases. Black dots indicate that the species was detected in that square during the first atlas effort but not yet in the second and yellow dots indicate that the species has been newly detected in that square during the second atlas (note that yellow dots are only placed on squares that were surveyed during both atlases).

Black-throated Blue Warbler as detected just far during the second Atlas. Black-throated Blue Warbler detections have increased substantially in Northern New Brunswick but not in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island.

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November 28, 2008 – Help the Publication Committee make some decisions!

As we finish year three, it is time to look ahead to what the second “Atlas of the Breeding Birds of the Maritime Provinces” will look like. This fall, the Publication Committee met to discuss exactly that. But, it soon became clear that a voice was missing from the discussion—yours! If you have an opinion about the final  publication, we want to hear it. Please fill out the survey in the fall newsletter or click here to fill out the survey online.

Photo: Wilson’s Warbler by Merv Cormier

November 28, 2008 – 2008 Fall Newsletter is online!

The 2008 fall newsletter is now available online and for those who have requested it by mail it will be arriving at your door shortly. This fall’s newsletter includes articles on: highlights of 2008; updates from your Regional Coordinators; comparisons between the first and second Atlas (we’re starting to see some real differences); an update on atlassing for species at risk (how we did with our four newly-listed species); a closer look at what’s happening with our finches; and much more. Thank-you to all who contributed. If you would like to write an article for a future newsletter or have story ideas contact the Atlas office at

November 17, 2008 – “For Our Birds 2008” was a great success!

On November 15th and 16th, Nova Scotia Bird Society Members, biologists, researchers, citizen scientists and conservationists flocked to Dalhousie University in Halifax to discuss the state of Nova Scotia birds and what we could do about it. There were many truly inspiring presentations from citizen scientists like Susann Myers, who explained how the information gathered in her shorebird surveys helped halt the development of a proposed coal strip-mine immediately adjacent to her survey site and led to the site being nominated as an important bird area. Ted D’Eon another citizen scientist, who describes himself as a “pharmacist by trade – naturalist by nature” on his webpage (, discussed the challenges he faced working with Roseate Terns on the Brothers islands. Those are just two of many thought-provoking and well-delivered talks; click here for a full list of conference speakers and their presentation titles. Some key themes that ran through all of the presentations were: many migratory bird species are declining; the threats facing birds today are complex (e.g. stem from numerous factors including habitat loss, climate change, uncoupling of insect emergence and timing of breeding and much more…yikes!); we need to take action now to conserve birds; there are several amazing conservation success stories out there; and volunteers are doing some incredible things.

Another unique component of the conference was the second day in which participants broke-out into discussion groups and discussed how participants could work together to address threats facing Nova Scotia birds through outreach and education; advocacy; specific conservation actions; and central messages arising from the conference that could be communicated to the media. The conference organizing committee is currently putting together a conference website which will be up shortly and keep your eye on the NSBS website, as well as the Atlas website, for future actions in which you can get involved. It appears that this conference will become an annual event in NS (and it would be great to roll it out to our other Maritimes Provinces). I can’t wait to see what progress we can make between now and “For Our Birds 2009”!

Top photo: Fledgling Tree Swallows by Denis Doucet; Tree Swallows are one of many aerial insectivorous species that are in decline.

Bottom photo: One of Sunday break-out groups by Becky Whittam

“For our Birds” 2008 was jointly organized by Bird Studies Canada, Dalhousie University, Ecology Action Centre and the Nova Scotia Bird Society.

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October 29, 2008 – Volunteer Submits 3000 Nest Record Cards in 33 Years

There are some individuals so dedicated to birds and understanding their natural history that the rest of us are truly humbled by their efforts–Bernard Forsythe, of Wolfville NS,  is one of those people and he is a inspiration to volunteers and conservationists alike.  Bernard made his first contribution to the Maritimes Nest Records Scheme (MNRS) in 1975.  This year, Bernard became the first MNRS volunteer in history to submit over 3000 nest record cards to the program.  Congratulations Bernard! 

The MNRS is essentially a collection of cards, each detailing one or more visits to an active bird’s nest or colony in the Maritimes. These records are an effective tool for monitoring bird population health, particularly breeding success.   Bernard’s records along with all other nest records submitted to the MNRS between 2006 and 2010 will be incorporated into the Atlas database.

Photo: Bernard Forsythe in the field, photo by Mark Elderkin

October 29, 2008 – A breeding first for Atlantic Canada!

In June 2008, Willi Wolfe, of St. Andrews NB, observed a Tufted Titmouse, on her back deck carrying dog fur in its beak. This nest building behaviour is the first confirmed breeding evidence for Tufted Titmouse in the Maritimes. Willi and her husband Max had been watching the titmice come and go from their feeders since early April of this year. Shortly after their June sighting, the titmice “disappeared” until early September when 3 or 4 titmice began visiting the  regularly. Amazingly, this isn’t the only evidence that Tufted Titmice were breeding in NB this summer. Tracy Dean also caught and banded a hatch-year (a bird hatched this summer) Titmouse at the St. Andrews Bird Banding Station which, as Willi explains, “as titmice fly, Tracey’s banding station is less than 1 km away…”. What an exciting new record!

Photo: Tufted Titmouse, photo by Robert M. Smith

October 29, 2008 – “For Our Birds 2008” to be held in NS this November

“For Our Birds 2008” is a weekend conference for anyone interested in bird conservation (gee…I wonder why Maritimes Atlas participants immediately come to mind?). It is being held the weekend of November 15th in Halifax, NS and all are welcome to attend. The goals of the conference are to increase communication about science and the conservation of birds, engage new people in bird conservation and increase public awareness and action for birds. The conference’s keynote speaker is Dr. Janis Dickinson, Director of Citizen Science at Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University. The conference will be a mix of presentations (by scientists, birders, government representatives and your Atlas Coordinator ), lively discussions and workshops.

October 29, 2008 – Unregistered assistants to be acknowledged

Previously, when you tried to add an assistant to your online profile, the system would only allow you to enter the name of an assistant IF he/she was a registered atlasser. This is no longer the case. Many of you asked that your assistants, registered or not, be recognized for their hard work and we want to make sure that everyone who contributes to the project receives the recognition they deserve. To add an assistant, login to the online data entry system and click the “list of assistants” box on the data entry webpage. If your assistant does not wish their name printed in the final atlas publication, you can choose to “keep name private”. Alternatively, you can call or email the Atlas office and we will add your assistant to your list. Unregistered assistants will not receive an atlasser number, data forms or newsletters but, their names will be listed in the final Atlas publication.

October 8, 2008 – Tax receipts for Atlassers!

Nature NB and the NS Bird Society are offering charitable tax receipts to their members for mileage and out-of-pocket expenses related to Atlas activities. This support is greatly appreciated by atlassers, particularly in the face of rising fuel costs. To download a travel claim form, please visit (NB) or, (NS). This offer is only available to members of Nature NB and the NS Bird Society  (of course, it’s not too late to join either organization). The deadline for submitting claim forms is November 1 2008 (NS) and November 30 2008 (NB).

Left: One of the many roads traveled by atlassers (and other wildlife) in 2008,  photo by Becky Stewart

October 8, 2008 – Data update

As the leaves are changing colour, the temperatures are dropping, and the migrants are leaving, more and more atlassers are finding time to enter their breeding evidence data and catch up on their rare bird forms. So far for 2008, volunteers have submitted 1,412 breeding evidence cards and 28,539 individual bird records! Don’t forget, you can follow the project’s progress using the online data summaries and we will continue to update the species and effort maps every two weeks throughout the fall and winter. Also, a reminder to atlassers submitting paper forms, to please do so by October 31, 2008. Anyone wishing assistance with online data entry, please contact your Regional Coordinator or call the atlas office. Thanks to everyone for your hard work!

Photo: Blackpoll Warbler in fall plumage at the Atlantic Bird Observatory, photo by Becky Stewart

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August 23, 2008 – If birdwatching were an Olympic sport, Maritimers would have the gold!

As the birds begin to head south for the winter, many atlassers are heading to the computer to enter their results for 2008. Almost every day data is entered for yet another square—thus far, the online data show that nearly 900 squares received some survey attention this year. In these squares, atlassers spent a total of 3,830 hours, found 200 species and recorded 25,600 individual bird records. There were also many interesting (some amazing) sightings, including: Lesser Scaup confirmed and Eurasian Wigeon recorded as a probable breeder in NB; a White-winged Dove observed (X) in NS (this is the second White-winged Dove sighting–the first was in Northern NB in 2006); Yellow-billed Cuckoo detected in two squares; and Solitary Sandpiper detected in one. A great deal of data has also been entered for our more “common” Maritimes breeders, e.g., every species of warbler was confirmed breeding this year, which means that we are getting ever closer to our goal of painting a detailed and accurate picture of breeding bird distribution in the three Maritimes provinces. As well, atlassers have spent a good deal of time tracking down many species at risk including Olive-sided Flycatcher (recorded in 125 squares) and Chimney Swift (recorded in 30 squares). With all this activity, just imagine the final result!

Photo credit: Belted Kingfisher by John Chardine

August 23, 2008 – Breeding Bird Atlases across the continent

The Prothonotary Warbler primarily breeds in the deciduous swamp forests of the southeastern U.S. Photo: Ruth Strohmer

Often times when we think about the Maritimes Atlas, we think of our results in terms of the squares or regions in which different species have been detected and we compare our findings with those from the first Maritimes Atlas and with neighbouring squares or regions. However, over the past thirty years, Atlases have become an internationally recognized conservation tool and are/have been carried out all over the world, including Europe, Britain and the United States. The results of the second Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas will not only contribute to our understanding of the distribution of breeding birds in the Maritimes, but also to our understanding of breeding bird distributions throughout North America.

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre hosts the North American Breeding Bird Atlas Explorer. On the website you’ll find maps showing the status of both Canadian and American Atlases in, as well as, a list of Atlas projects (both completed and in-progress) with links to various Atlases’ homepages. Using the site as a jump off point you can find out if and where Mourning Warblers are breeding in Massachusetts, or which species have been confirmed thus far in New Mexico. Of course, the value of examining atlas data at various geographical scales goes beyond our satisfying our own curiosity. Combining the data from various Atlas projects has great conservation value, as it allows us to look at bird-habitat relationships at various geographic scales (and across borders), as well as enables us to develop estimates of population change and better understand species’ range-wide distributional patterns.

August 18, 2008 – Sick finches

Since the beginning of July, reports of sick finches have become disturbingly prevalent on a number of different nature list serves in the Maritime provinces. The problem seems to be more common in New Brunswick (even though it was observed in the entire Maritimes and elsewhere in Canada), and the species reported most frequently affected is the Purple Finch. Both adults and newly fledged young have been observed with crusty, inflamed eyes, some with eyes so swollen that they are almost shut. The symptoms observed are similar to those caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum. While this bacterium has long been known to affect domestic turkeys and chickens, it has only been detected in wild birds since the early 1990s, particularly species that frequent feeders. The disease is now commonly known as “House Finch Eye Disease” but is often reported in other finch species, including the Purple Finch.

Additional reports of sick finches, however, describing Purple Finches as appearing “very weak and suffering from laboured breathing”, may be symptomatic of a different pathogen altogether. A number of dead Purple Finches have been sent to provincial diagnostic laboratories for necropsy, in an attempt to learn the cause of death. Dr. Jim Goltz, a pathologist at the New Brunswick Veterinary Laboratory in Fredericton, has stated that, “The few dead finches that have made it to diagnostic laboratories have all been emaciated, something one would not expect at this time of year, as it should be a time of plenty. The ones that I received had a number of problems in addition to the emaciation, but none had Salmonellosis. Some of the lesions that I found were inflammation of the crop and esophagus (possibly due to Trichomoniasis, a protozoan parasite), inflammation of the liver, pneumonia, vascular thrombosis (blockage) in the lung, etc.”

Salmonellosis outbreaks in passerines are caused by infection with Salmonella spp. bacteria, and can occur during periods of hot summer weather when birds may be stressed or when they congregate for food and water. Parasites like Trichomoniasis may also be spread via concentrations of birds at feeders, where infected birds come into contact with healthy birds. Cleaning your feeder regularly with a 1:10 mixture of bleach and water will reduce the spread of these types of diseases in wild bird populations. In the meantime, wildlife pathologists continue
to investigate what may be causing so many finches to become sick.

Photo credit: Female Purple Finch with a swollen eye at Mary’s Point, NB by David Christie

August 4, 2008 – There’s still good atlassing to be had!

American Goldfinch, photo by John Chardine

Believe it or not, there are still lots of birds breeding out there! However, please beware, there are also many birds that have finished breeding and are now preparing to migrate, or, are already migrating. So what does this mean for atlassing? You can definitely still atlas but, be sure to exercise more caution than you would in early July. At this time of year it is probably best to avoid using “H” and “S” codes because a bird in any habitat, showing no additional signs of breeding could easily be “passing through” the square. As well for some species, like White-throated Sparrow, juveniles are now testing their singing abilities and will continue to “practice” as they migrate. The best approach to atlassing in early August is to look for higher levels of breeding evidence like carrying food or fledged young accompanied by their parents. By focusing on obtaining higher levels of breeding evidence you can be assured that the birds you are looking at are in fact breeding in that area.

It is also a good idea to take a quick look at the breeding date information available online. Certain species, like Cedar Waxwing and American Goldfinch, typically begin breeding mid-summer thus right now is actually one of the best times to atlas for those species. Also, many species of thrush and sparrow will breed more than once in a season (I had a White-throated Sparrow carrying nesting material on July 24) so don’t rule out the possibility of confirming species on their second or third nesting attempt. Other species, like most warblers, are finished (or nearly finished) breeding. In short, if you would like to continue atlassing—go for it and if you aren’t sure as to whether a particular observation is actually evidence of breeding, check in with the Atlas office or your Regional Coordinator.

August 4, 2008 – The data keep pouring in!

An amazing amount of data has already been entered online for 2008 and every day it seems that more and more data are being submitted. Thus far this year, atlassers have submitted a total of 1,118 breeding evidence cards for 791 squares, have spent 3,291 hours atlassing and have submitted data for 2,272 point counts in 260 squares…WOW! In addition, atlassers have been working hard to document locations and habitats for the four newly-listed species at risk (Chimney Swift, Common Nighthawk, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Canada Warbler)–sightings of these species have already been documented in over 100 squares. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg because there is still a lot of data that hasn’t come in yet.

If you haven’t submitted your data yet, don’t panic, there’s still lots of time and many people are busy getting their last bit of atlassing in before our summer breeders are gone. For those submitting paper forms, please send them to your Regional Coordinators by October 31, 2008 and for those entering data online, please logon before January 31, 2009.

Photo: Ruby-throated Hummingbird by John Chardine

August 4, 2008 – “Maritimes Atlas Coffee” is flying off the shelves

In June of 2008, Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op launched a new line of coffee — Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Coffee — and 10% of all proceeds go directly to the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas project. Based out of Wolfville, NS, Just Us! is Canada’s first fair trade coffee roaster, and their coffee products are organic and bird-friendly. Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Coffee has proved to be quite popular and Just Us! is in the process of producing more Maritimes Coffee labels in order to meet the demand. Thank-you to all our atlassers who have been promoting the project to their friends and neighbours–your efforts have definitely paid off!

Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Coffee will continue to be on sale until the fall and can be purchased by phone 1-888-668-8436 or from any of the Just Us! Cafes (located at Grand Prez, Wolfville, Halifax Barrington Street and Halifax Spring Garden).

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July 21, 2008 – Dawn Chorus replaced by a Choir of Beggars

As adult birds are singing less (though there are still many out there singing), their voices are being replaced by a younger generation–the fledglings. Now is one of the best times to get out there and confirm breeding for various passerine species by observing their fledged young “FY”. How can you detect fledglings?  You can often hear the young begging, making a “jit-jit”-like sound (somewhat like little typewriters), from just inside the forest or shrubbery or whatever habitat you may be in. If you pish, chances are, a parent will pop out as well. Identifying fledged young can be tricky, but with a bit of patience most can be identified. Some, like the Chestnut-sided Warbler and Dark-eyed Juncos, have their own plumage pattern that differs from the adults, while others, like the Least Flycatcher, closely resemble the adult birds. A quick perusal of a field guide to look for differences (or lack of differences) between juveniles and adults prior to going in the field, may be helpful. As well, fledglings typically retain their “fleshy” beak for some time after leaving the nest and their feathers often have a “fluffy” appearance (owing to a looser feather structure). Fledglings may have some trouble flying; only going short distances and often crash into bushes rather than landing on them. If you find a fledgling but are not sure what species you are looking at (some young sparrows and warblers can be difficult to identify) just wait to see what adult comes in to feed it.  There should be plenty of fledglings out there, just waiting to be found, this week and next.

Photo: Fledged young American Robin by Ivy Austin

July 8, 2008 – (Incredible) Progress to date!

Already, people have begun entering their data online (don’t feel bad if you haven’t, you are far from alone). However, from what has been entered online already it is obvious that Maritimes atlassers are hard at work!! Already more than 14,000 individual bird records have been submitted to the online system, along with 1702 point counts and data for 582 squares. Amazing—and that’s just what’s online. From atlassers everywhere, we at the Atlas office have been hearing stories about people finding new species in their square and confirming others. As far as we can tell, year three is shaping up to be our best year yet. THANK-YOU everyone for all your hard work and keep having fun out there!

Photo: Swamp Sparrow by John Chardine

July 8, 2008 – The breeding season is in full swing!

The peak of the breeding season is here and while many passerines are still singing up a storm, more and more, birds are being seen carrying food either to the nest or recently fledged young. This is the best time of year to work on bumping some of those “possibles” up to “probable” or “confirmed”.  But where to start? One of the best ways to bump up breeding evidence is to retrace the steps you may have taken in June. For example, if you detected a species singing in a particular spot a week or two ago, make a return trip to see if that particular bird still hanging around. I f it is, you can change the breeding evidence code to a ‘T” (territory). If you didn’t have a chance to get out in June–don’t worry, there are other ways to increase breeding evidence.  At this time of the year, although some species sing less often, there are other ways to detect them. Try “pishing” and you may be surprised at what pops out with food in its mouth (often warblers, thrushes and vireos will respond to “pishing” this time of year).  Now is also a great time to look for woodpecker nests–listen for the young begging from inside the tree (they are often quite loud) and then wait to see what species comes in to feed them.

Photo: Yellow Warbler by Christopher Clunas

July 2, 2008 – The Atlas in the media

There’s a small article on the front page of the Telegraph Journal about the Atlas in today’s paper (July 2nd, 2008).  Ivy Austin (MBBA’s Assistant Coordinator) and Roy LaPointe (Region’s 4 Regional Coordinator) were interviewed for that article.  To read that article, click here.  A second article came out last week (June 25th, 2008) in the Sackville Tribune-Post on page 18.  Sandy Burnett (an atlasser from Sackville, NB) was interviewed for that article.

And on the radio of Radio-Canada (French station), tomorrow morning (July 3rd, 2008), they’ll talk about the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas.  Ivy Austin was interviewed for that story coverage.

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June 16, 2008 – News from Becky

Kyle Wellband and I departed for the field on May 30, 2008. Since that time, we’ve only had two rain days (this is one of them and I am currently typing from the public library in Edmundston). We’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of atlassing done and have been able to point count nearly every day (we’ve completed point counts in 16 squares so far and hope to get a lot more done by the July 3rd deadline). There have been many highlights along the way–far too many to list them all here but I’ll mention a few. Kyle has developed a true talent for finding White-throated Sparrow nests and has already found three nests–two with eggs and one with young. We’ve also found a Spotted Sandpiper nest with four eggs, a Hermit Thrush nest with eggs and a few Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Hairy Woodpecker nests as well. We’ve also found Cliff Swallow colonies (one right in the parking lot of Irving’s Deersdale camp) and also a likely Chimney Swift breeding and roosting site (a big hollow tree in the middle of the bog with more than 10 Chimney Swifts flying above in Region 8). We’ve seen Ovenbird, Magnolia Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush and Black-throated Green all carrying nest building material and have had Lincoln’s Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Blue-headed Vireo and American Robin all carrying food. Also, as we go, we keep learning more and more about birds and their habitat preferences. For example, until now both Kyle and I have thought of Black-throated Blue Warblers as being a “hardwood species”, but, we’ve changed our minds since we’ve found several dozen in mixed forest types of all ages. Other favorite sightings include: Scarlet Tanager, Pine Warbler, Canada Warbler, Rusty Blackbird, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cape May Warbler. Needless to say, we’re having a great time!! (I can’t wait until this rain stops so we can get back out there). I hope all of you are having a great time atlassing too and please feel free to share any adventures (or mis-adventures) with everyone on the Atlas listserv.

White-throated Sparrow, photo by Denis Doucet

June 17, 2008 – Trip to Cape Breton, NS (by Ivy Austin)

Last weekend (June 13th to June 16th) I was invited by Patrick ‘Fritz’ McEvoy, the RC of region 26, to come participate to a birding workshop held in Cape North, NS.  I left very early Friday morning so that I could stop in region 21 to do some point counts in a priority square that I planned to do this summer.  I met Fritz later that day after a long drive in this beautiful region that is region 26.  The workshop went really well and it was followed by a birding trip nearby.  We had a good mixed group of people who looked interested in the Atlas.  Sunday, me and Fritz did some point counts and ‘atlassed’ in his square and before leaving Monday morning we managed to finish the 15 point counts in Fritz’s square.  We saw a lot of birds, some confirmed like the Fox Sparrow (who was carrying food), 2 Great Blue Heron nests on the cliff of an island off White Point along with nesting Black Guillemots, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes and a pair of Common Eider were seen with 2 young at the same location.  We also saw some Olive-sided Flycatchers (A), Eastern Kingbirds, Canada Warbler, some Mourning Warblers (S), a Leach’s Storm-Petrel on a coastal point count close to St. Paul’s Island and many more.  Thank you Fritz for everything, I had a great time visiting your corner of Cape Breton! 

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May 28, 2008 – Point Count period extended from May 29th to July 3rd!

The Atlas’ Technical committee met on Monday, May 26, 2008 and made a decision to extend the point count period for three days on either side of June (the typical point counting month). The intention of the extended period is to allow volunteers living in areas where birds begin to breed earlier (i.e., southern NS) to begin point counts earlier, and those living where birds begin breeding later (i.e., Northern NB and Cape Breton) a bit of extra time at the end of the month. This extension will mean that we will need to be a bit more aware of bird activity (recognizing migrants vs. those who are there to stay) but will allow us a greater window of time to get the work done.
Red-winged Blackbird calling, photo by John Chardine

May 28, 2008 – Revised Guide to Atlassing for Species at Risk is Available!

In 2007 and 2008, the status of four species – Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Canada Warbler – was assessed by COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). COSEWIC designated all four of these species as “threatened”, meaning that these species are in decline and may be at risk of disappearing if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to their extirpation or extinction. For each of these species, new and updated breeding records, identification of key habitat locations and characteristics, and an assessment of their Maritimes status, are required steps to develop a conservation plan. To assist in the gathering of this important information, we are asking atlassers to fill in rare bird forms when these species are detected. The information you gather will be used by Canadian Wildlife Service Species at Risk biologists to identify critical habitat for each of these species (information gathered by atlassers is already being used to help identify critical habitat for the Least Bittern).

To help increase your detections of these four newly listed species, a revised edition of the Atlasser’s guide to “Atlassing for Species at Risk in the Maritime Provinces” has been created and is available online under “Atlasser Material“.

May 28, 2008 – Completing your square – focus for 2008

At this point, most atlassers have somewhere between 5 and 15 survey hours for their square and are now beginning to think about how to “complete” their square (a square is considered complete when it has 20 survey hours and approximately 95% of expected species detected). Your square summary sheet will tell you what species were found in your square during the first Atlas. Here are some things to consider when you are trying to complete your square: Have all habitat types been covered? Are there any groups of species that are underrepresented (e.g., crepuscular species)? How many species have been confirmed? Depending on your answers to these questions completing your square may require spending more time in certain habitat-types, visiting your square at different times during the day or, visiting your square later in July to look for species carrying food. If you have well over twenty hours in your square and are hungry for more atlassing, please talk to your regional coordinator about taking on another square.

Photo credit: Black-capped Chickadee excavating, photo by John Chardine

May 28, 2008 – Atlas Effort Maps have a New Face!

To give atlassers a better idea of which squares are complete and which squares require additional survey effort, the effort maps have been changed to more precisely represent the amount of survey effort that has been spent in each square. Now, yellow squares represent squares with less than 10 survey hours, light green squares represent squares with 10 to 19 survey hours and dark green squares are those with more than 20 survey hours.

May 28, 2008 – Maritimes Atlas Coffee goes on sale June 1, 2008

As of June 1st, 2008, look for the yellow Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas label on  Just Us! coffee. This coffee is shade-grown in Mexico, in areas where many of our summer breeders spend the winter, and 10% of all proceeds will go to the Atlas project. Visit one of four Just Us! Cafes (Grand Prez, Wolfville, Halifax Barrington Street and Halifax Spring Garden) to pick up your Maritimes Atlas coffee or call 1-888-668-8436 to order. For more information on shade-grown coffee and its benefits to birds, check out this our article on coffee and birds in the Atlas news archives. For more information about Just Us! visit their website.

May 26, 2008 – The Atlassing season is well underway!

American Robin with nesting material, photo by John Chardine

Already 108 species have been reported to the Atlas database for 2008. Thirty-four species have been entered as confirmed breeders including: Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, American Woodcock, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Barred Owl, Hairy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat and Red-winged Blackbird (to name just a few…). So if you haven’t had a chance to get started yet, now is the time to head out to your square. Still be cautious with those warblers, many are still migrating through and are singing as they travel.  For warblers and other passerines, check that the birds are in the right breeding habitat, as well as, their breeding dates (but remember these are just a guideline and will vary between regions). One of the best ways to be sure you aren’t looking at a species that is just “passing through” is to watch for behaviour that indicates a higher evidence of breeding or, return to the same spot a second time in a least a week from now. At Amherst Point, there’s a Cape May Warbler who has been singing from the top of the same conifer for more than two and a half weeks so, I’m pretty sure he is there to stay, even though many others are still just passing through. Good luck and have fun!

May 26, 2008 – Preparing for 2008…it is going to be great!

The primary atlassing season (June and July) is almost upon us and, across the Maritimes, atlassers are preparing to go out in the field. The Atlas Coordinators have travelled to several regions, including Edmundston, Wolfville and White Point to give talks at naturalist clubs and many Regional Coordinators are already organizing square bashes in their respective regions.  Breeding Evidence forms for 2008 have been sent out and should be on your doorstep shortly (if they haven’t already arrived).  For those atlassers planning to do point counts, please tell your Regional Coordinator where you’ll be working so we can avoid any duplication of effort. Click here for a list of squares where Atlas staff will be doing point counts this summer (and don’t hesitate to tell us if you had already planned on doing point counts in that area).

As you begin to prepare for the coming season, there are many online resources that you can use to help focus your survey effort including square summary sheets (these provide you with a list of what has been found so far during the current atlas and what species were found during the first atlas) and regional checklists (that will give you a list of all species that are considered Maritimes rare as well as regionally rare). Happy birding!

Photo credit: Atlassing near Edmundston, photo by Ivy Austin

May 26, 2008 – “Tricks” to identify birds by their songs

For those just beginning to “bird by ear”, it may be helpful to know some of the “tricks” that many birders use to help them identify (and remember) the songs of different bird species. Click here for a a table of several bird species and the phrases that are typically associated with their song—i.e., they deliver their song with a similar rhythm or cadence to the phrases. Keep in mind that the songs listed below are each species’ most “typical” songs and that songs can vary between regions and individuals. Also included in the table is the habitat-type (s) within which you are more likely to find each species. Habitat can often be an important clue to identifying the bird that you are hearing.

Photo credit: Chestnut-sided Warbler, photo by Jim Stevenson

May 1, 2008 – Just Us! Coffee and the Maritimes Atlas have joined forces

In May of 2008, Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op is launching a new line of coffee — Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Coffee — and 10% of all proceeds will go directly to the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas project. Based out of Wolfville, NS, Just Us! is Canada’s first fair trade coffee roaster, promoting trading relationships based on respect, empowerment and fairness.  Just Us! coffee is organic and bird-friendly. Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Coffee comes from shade-grown coffee plantations in the highlands of south-central Mexico.

As you may already know, many of the birds that breed here in the Maritimes travel south to Mexico and Central and South America for the winter. Of all the agricultural systems in the tropics, shade-grown coffee plantations host some of the highest numbers of migratory birds (some  upwards of 120 species). Shade-grown coffee’s multi-layered vegetation structure provides food and cover for many over wintering bird species (birds feed on flower and fruit crops, as well as, insects in the shaded overstory). Maritimes birds that frequent shade-grown coffee plantations include: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula and Baltimore Oriole (just to name a few, click here for the names of a few more).

So for all those birders who begin their day with a cup (or several cups) of coffee, please consider brewing your pot with Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas coffee. Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas Coffee will be available by mid-May.  Just Us! Coffee can be purchased by phone 1-888-668-8436 or from any of the Just Us! Cafes (located at Grand Prez, Wolfville, Halifax Barrington Street and Halifax Spring Garden). Just Us! is also sold at several local stores and co-ops across the Maritimes.

Photo credit: Baltimore Oriole photo by Jim Stevenson

May 1, 2008 Upcoming Nova Scotia Bird Society Meeting is all about Atlassing!

This year the Nova Scotia Bird Society is hosting their annual “out-of area” Bird Society meeting at the White Point Beach Resort near Liverpool on May 24th and 25th, 2008. The meeting will be geared toward Atlas participants, as well as all those who may be interested in becoming Atlas participants. All are welcome!

We’ll kick off the weekend meeting with a Saturday evening workshop covering various “atlas” topics including how to complete your square and how to track down some of those more elusive species. Atlas Coordinators, Becky Stewart and Ivy Austin, along with local Regional Coordinators Peter Hope, James Hirtle, Donna Ensor and Suzanne Borkowski will be on hand and ready to answer any atlassing questions you may have. Sunday morning there will be a point count demonstration followed by breakfast and a choice of field trips.

To book your room at the White Point Beach Resort for the night of May 24th, call: 1-800-565-5068. (Be sure to say you’re with the Nova Scotia Bird Society to get a discounted rate of $120.00 for a double room in the Lodge or $135.00 for a one-bedroom cottage on the beach).

May 1, 2008 – Nova Scotia Species at Risk Guide

Parks Canada, in collaboration with many other partners, has recently produced an identification and information guide to species at risk in Nova Scotia. Harold and Diane Clapp, two environmental stewards, approached Parks with the idea for a species at risk field guide at the Kejimkujik volunteer appreciation night back in 2006. The end product is a 100 page guide that provides a detailed description of each of NS’s 42 species at risk (from the American Marten to Sweet Pepperbush, with Piping Plovers and Common Nighthawks in between), as well as, habitat information, threats to survival and contacts to report sightings. The guide is can be downloaded from

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April 29, 2008 – Canada Warbler designated as Threatened

This past Friday, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada designated the Canada Warbler as “threatened”, which means that the Canada Warbler is likely to become endangered if factors affecting its population decline are not reversed.  Most of the Canada Warbler’s breeding range (nearly 80%) occurs in Canada. While regional trends vary, overall this species is showing a significant long term decline. The reasons for the decline are unclear, habitat degradation on both the wintering and breeding grounds are potential causes. In the Maritimes specifically, forest management practices aimed at thinning and reducing the broad-leafed forest component may reduce the amount of breeding habitat available to Canada Warblers.

In light of this new designation the Atlas is asking volunteers to fill out a rare bird form for any Canada Warbler that they may encounter this summer. The most important pieces of information to gather are location coordinates (either from a map or GPS) and a description of the habitat in which the Canada Warbler was detected.

Although Canada Warbler breeding habitat can be somewhat difficult to “peg”, they are primarily found in moist, mature- to mid-aged mixed forest stands with a dense understory. As well, Canada Warblers are usually associated with broad-leafed trees and shrubs, although conifers are typically present. Below, are two habitat photos I took where I found Canada Warblers breeding in northern NB last year.

Two locations where Canada Warblers were found; in the case of the second photo, there was a bog/open wetland directly adjacent to this habitat; photos by Becky Stewart.

Photo credit: Canada Warbler photo by Jerry DeBoer

April 29, 2008 – Regional Coordinators Meeting held in Memramcook, NB

Twenty-five Regional Coordinators, along with Atlas staff and several members of the Atlas Steering Committee got together in Memramcook, New Brunswick to discuss Atlas progress to-date and plans for the coming field season. Bernard Forsythe, an active atlas volunteer and a “real pro” when it comes to raptors, was also there to help work through some specific breeding evidence questions. Regional Coordinators spent two days discussing a variety of atlassing issues (including motivating atlassers, completing point counts, plans for 2008, reviewing rare bird records and the online system). RCs also managed to find time to track down a Barred Owl, a Red-breasted Merganser, some Ruddy Ducks and a variety of other species. The meeting proved itself to be a great opportunity for information sharing between all of the regions. So atlassers beware—your RCs are revved up and ready to go!

RCs discussing the finer points of the online system, photo by Ivy Austin.

April 16, 2008 – The 48th Annual Nest Record Scheme report is available!

Alder Flycatcher in Nest, photo by Gord Belyea

In 2007 there was a huge increase in the number of nest record cards submitted relative to years past, in part this was due to online submissions of nest records by Atlas participants. Red-winged Blackbirds topped the list with 188 nest records submitted. Three Bicknell’s Thursh nests were found in NB (bringing the total number of nest records for Bicknell’s Thrush in NB to 4).  Other very exciting finds include a Boreal Owl nest in Cape Breton and a Brown thrasher nest in NB. I won’t give any more of the details away. Check out project coordinator Julie Paquet’s annual report by clicking here.

April 16, 2008 – Atlas staff visit the Miramichi Naturalists Club

Project Coordinators, Becky Stewart and Ivy Austin, spent a very enjoyable evening with the Miramichi Naturalists Club on Monday,  April 14, 2008. Becky gave a presentation on the Maritimes Atlas that covered: what the Atlas is all about, how it works, what the end result will be, what’s been done thus far, and how to use your knowledge of bird habitat preferences to increase species detections in your square. The talk was followed by a lively discussion about atlas protocols and other methods for increasing species detections such as using call playback and visiting your square at different times during the day. Thank-you to all who participated!

April 1, 2008 – 2008 Spring Newsletter is online!

The 2008 spring newsletter is now available online and for those who have requested it by mail it will be arriving at your door shortly. This spring’s newsletter includes articles on: highlights of 2007; how to complete your atlas square; potentially new breeding species for the Maritimes; how to atlas for raptors; unusual Barn Swallow nesting locations; and much more. Thank-you to all who contributed.  If you would like to write an article for a future newsletter or have story ideas contact the Atlas office at

April 1 – 2008 Early Atlassing has begun!

En route to set up raptor nest boxes, Photo by Amanda Lowe

As the snow begins to melt (and hopefully won’t fall again) more and more breeding activity is being reported for raptors and owls on various bird and nature listservs. The sightings are too numerous to list them all here but I thought I’d peak your interest with a few: a pair of Bald Eagles was seen “talon grappling” during an aerial courtship display; a Northern Goshawk was observed carrying nesting material; and several owl species have been heard singing or on territory and/or are already nesting. Other species that will begin breeding soon (or have already begun) include: several duck species (Mergansers, American Black Duck, Wood Ducks), Red-tailed Hawk and American Woodcock. For a complete list of early breeders check out the article entitled “Early Season Atlassing” from last year’s Spring Newsletter or  the Breeding Dates information sheet.

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March 30, 2008 – Islanders prepare for the coming Atlas season

This past Saturday, March 29, 2008, 16 atlassers met for an atlassing workshop in Charlottetown, PEI to prepare for the coming atlas season. The workshop was hosted by Rosemary Curley, the island’s Regional Coordinator and Diane Griffin, dedicated Atlas volunteer. This is the second workshop to take place on PEI this month; the first was held in Summerside on March 15. Rosemary began the session with a presentation, entitled “Atlassers rule; how to be a good atlasser”. As a group, volunteers discussed the finer points of data collection including: filling out breeding evidence forms, online data entry, colonial forms, point counts and when a square is complete. Dwaine Oakley, also a dedicated Atlas volunteer, showed the group the technological “gadgets” that he uses in the field to help elicit responses from birds (portable cd player, iPod and iMainGo, a portable speaker device). As well, Becky Stewart, project Coordinator, gave a brief overview of the island’s progress to date. There was a slight break in discussion for a delicious homemade lunch that included lasagne and apple cake. By the workshop’s end, most not-yet-surveyed priority squares were assigned and atlassers were geared up and ready to go.

March 29, 2008 – Coordinator speaks at Forestry Conference

Becky Stewart, Atlas Coordinator, introduced the Atlas project to foresters at joint meeting of NS Forest Technicians Association, Canadian Institute of Forestry and the Registered Professional Foresters Association of NS, held in Truro, NS, March 27 and 28, 2008. Becky’s presentation focused on the effects of changing land use practices on bird habitat and distribution, as well as, the potential for the industry to utilize the Atlas project to develop and provide context to its own monitoring programs. Other presentations focussed on sustaining both the Acadian forest and the industry itself.

Photo credit: Great Horned Owl nestlings, photo by Richard Ster

March 14, 2008 – Remembering Gareth

Gareth on top of Bald Peak, photo by Gareth Akerman

It is with sadness that we report the death of former BSC employee, Gareth Akerman. Gareth, along with three other individuals, died in a plane crash near West Palm Beach, Florida on March 13th, 2008. Gareth was on a 6-month contract with Florida Atlantic University, conducting aerial surveys of wading bird colonies in the Lake Okeechobee area.

Gareth worked for the MBBA in the summer of 2007; surveying for breeding birds in some of the more remote regions of northern New Brunswick. Gareth recently completed his Master’s research on the role of riparian forest and riparian buffer strips in avian conservation in the Acadian forest. Gareth also worked with the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation on the Roseate Tern Recovery Project and volunteered for several other conservation initiatives. In addition, he was a world traveler who taught English in Guatemala and planted trees in western Canada.

Gareth had a real knack for finding Scarlet Tanagers, picking the perfect driving tune and making others laugh. He was also an incredible field researcher, a dedicated conservationist and a valued friend. He is greatly missed by all who knew him.

March 5, 2008 – Whoooo is in the woods?

The time for owling is upon us and March and April can be the best months to detect calling owls. Already Great-Horned Owls can be heard “singing” and are occupying territories. There are likely quite a few Great Horned Owls that already have nests with eggs (NE) and by the end of March we’re likely to find some nests with young. The breeding season has also begun for Northern Saw-Whets and Barred Owls (a couple have already been reported for 2008).

What’s the best way to Atlas for owls? The first thing to do is to “scout out” appropriate owl habitat in your square during the daylight hours (most basically–woodlots with some larger trees). Great-horned Owls rarely build their own nests and often use old crow or raven nests. Barred and Northern Saw-whet owls are both cavity nesters, using cavities left from fallen branches and woodpecker holes. While Northern Saw-whets can generally be found in all forest and woodland types, their densities are usually highest in coniferous areas. Barred Owls are more often found in mature hardwoods or mixed stands. Once you’ve found your owling locations, visit your square at night, preferably with a friend and a couple of thermoses of hot chocolate, spending about five to ten minutes in each of your chosen locations. Using CDs of owl calls can be very effective in eliciting a response from nearby owls (Barred Owls can sometimes be quite slow to respond so they may require a bit of patience). If you do use a taped owl call, please do so judiciously and only to trigger an initial response. Revisit the location at least a week later to increase the breeding evidence to “T” territory.

If the roads in your square are impassable at this time of year, you can go out mid-May to early June to listen for family groups with recently fledged young (FY).

Photo credit: Northern Saw-whet Owl by Denis Doucet

Financial Support for Atlassers

Bird Studies Canada Baillie Fund will once again be providing support to volunteers willing to organize trips and travel to remote or difficult to access areas to survey in squares that might not otherwise be covered (e.g., islands that require boat rental, can only be accessed by canoe or on foot, squares that require a 4-wheel drive vehicle and/or are more than 150 km from the nearest town. In 2006 and 2007, the Baillie Fund supported trips to St. Paul’s Island, Moose Island, Ile d’Haute, as well as atlassing ventures in Cape Breton and Northern New Brunswick. So if you have a trip in mind and would like some additional support, check out the Support for Volunteers link on the Atlas homepage for details on how to apply for funding. Trips must be long enough (or repeated) to obtain full atlas coverage (i.e., 20 survey hours and 95% of species detected). Requests submitted to the Atlas office by May 9, 2008.

The Ontario Atlas is now available!

To purchase your copy go to the Ontario Atlas website or, call Nature Ontario at 1-800-440-2366. The cost is CA$92.50 + GST, including shipping within Canada.



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February 2008 – Keep an eye out for early breeding finches!

Red Crossbill, photo by Bill Schmoker


Right now (late January through February)  is when Red and White-winged Crossbills are beginning to breed.  Both crossbills feed on seeds extracted from the cones of coniferous trees and where and when they breed depends on the food supply. Both of these species are more likely to be found breeding in years with a large cone crop.  As well, because they follow their food supply, crossbills may not breed in the same area year after year—thus, if these species were found breeding in your atlas square during the first Atlas, they may not be there this time around.  The best way to find out if crossbills are breeding in your area is to visit the “mature coniferous areas” in your square and check out this year’s cone crop. If Crossbills are in the area, singing males can be very conspicuous as they sing loud, long songs while flying circles around tree tops where a female can usually be found.  The presence of less conspicuous, solitary males can also be a sign of breeding as the females do all of the incubation.  During courtship and incubation males will often feed the female.  This can be a good way to find evidence of breeding (a nest or nest tree) but the food will not be easily observed as the male regurgitates the food for the female.  If you do see a male feed a female the correct breeding code to use is ‘D’.  Atlassing for winter breeding Crossbills takes a lot of effort and tolerance of cold and snow, but there are no black flies and mosquitoes and being in the forest during winter can be lots of fun.

There are many other species that also begin nesting long before the “typical” Atlas season starts including several species of raptors, owls, doves and ducks.  Check out Scott Makepeace’s article in last year’s spring newsletter for a list of early breeders or click here for a table of breeding dates for all Maritimes species.

Breeding Bird Atlases are now coast to coast!

This year the Maritimes won’t be the only region searching for breeding birds–the British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas is now underway!  Already, more than 250 participants have registered for the project and an Anna’s Hummingbird was found nest building (that was before nearly a foot of snow fell).  Check out the BC Breeding Bird Atlas website ( to find out the latest atlassing news from the west coast.  And if you happen to be traveling to BC this summer, don’t hesitate to contact the Atlas Office ( for information on available squares.

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