It’s the perfect time of year for spotting feathered friends, with the Prince Albert area boasting just the right confluence of geographic conditions for birders.
“In the P.A. area, most people don’t realize what birds we have, and the bird diversity we have,” local nature enthusiast Carmen Dodge said. “The boreal forest is basically from Prince Albert – north … 50 per cent of the North American bird species rely on this boreal forest.
“We have forest, lakes, farmland, river, grassy and sandy areas, pastures … Within an hour’s drive of P.A. you can probably see 250 species of birds.”
Tourism Saskatchewan representative Patti Peesker said that eco-tourism attractions are the fastest-growing in the province, and with Saskatchewan boasting about 350 bird species, birders are travelling from around North America to see what the prairies have got to share.
“Fall is definitely one of the best opportunities for bird watching … so if people get out in the next few months, that’s prime viewing season for flocks as they begin their migratory trek south,” she said.
While the Prince Albert area begins losing some bird species at this time of year due to their migration south, some new species show up during their southbound trek from farther north, Dodge said.
“The snow bunting is one, which you see flying along the roadsides in massive flocks of 300 and 400, and the hawk owl and the snowy owls,” he noted.
Others, still, remain in the Prince Albert area during the winter while their counterparts fly south.
“Weather doesn’t really have that big an influence on them,” Dodge said. “It’s a lack of food and cover from getting out of that 40-below wind.”
Robins are one species that have managed to survive the great Canadian winter of the Prince Albert area.
Although most fly south to stay with the earthworm supply, some remain in Prince Albert where they feed off of local plant life, such as the crabapples that remain clinging to defoliated trees.
We have forest, lakes, farmland, river, grassy and sandy areas, pastures … Within an hour’s drive of P.A. you can probably see 250 species of birds. - Nature Prince Albert president Carmen Dodge
“We do, on occasion, get ducks staying over the winter, because there’s a little bit of open water by … where the sewage lets out, so there’s chunk of warm water there,” Dodge said of the North Saskatchewan River.
Dodge fronts a group of nature-loving Prince Albert area residents who make up Nature Prince Albert — a group dedicated to learning about and being entertained by nature.
Although the group discusses and investigates various nature-centred topics, birding is one of the more popular, with each year coming with its own surprises.
Whooping cranes are a good example, having proven an interesting sight, recently.
“They used to be rare, but now if you go south of town by Canwood you can see up to 40 at one place,” Dodge said.
“You don’t even have to get out of your vehicle! They’re right by the highway down a gravel road.”
Nature Prince Albert takes field trips to these locations — special excursions that are in addition to monthly meetings with guest speakers that are held on the third Tuesday of the month.
One of these annual excursions is made in December, during the annual Christmas Bird Count — a day spent admiring avian wildlife within 15 miles of the Diefenbaker bridge.
Last year had about 25 people turn up to count 3,254 birds and 37 species, the most popular being the common raven and the house sparrow.
Nature Prince Albert’s first meeting of the season will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at room 120 of the Academic Centre — a small building to the west of the SIAST Woodland Campus in Prince Albert.
The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m., with anyone interested in nature encouraged to turn up.
For more information on the group, visit Nature Prince Albert’s website, online at www.natureprincealbert.ca .