BPQ Virtual Field Trips April 4th – June 6th 2020
By: Wayne Grubert
It hardly seems possible that it was only three months ago in mid-March 2020 that the BPQ Field Trip Committee was just starting to consider this new COVID-19 virus and its potential implications for life in general and BPQ field trips in particular. The committee looked at several options. Should we continue with outings as normal, let individual leaders decide whether to proceed, continue but with certain guidelines, or err on the side of caution and cancel all field trips for a hopefully short period of time?
Within a week that decision was essentially taken out of our hands as the situation seemed to grow more dire daily and health authorities laid out stricter guidelines. Terms like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” entered the everyday lexicon and life had definitely changed.
However, we believed that the general public still needed activities to keep themselves occupied especially as many were confined at home. For our members, birding would certainly be curtailed, but there had to be a way to continue, at least on a limited basis, without encouraging any dangerous habits. Certainly individuals could bird on their own but the camaraderie of sharing sightings and anecdotes would be lost.
That is when the committee hatched the idea of “Virtual Field Trips”. Members and non-members alike were encouraged to birdwatch from their homes and then report all their observations. These would then be collated into a weekly report to be shared with all participants hopefully giving us a snapshot view of changing birdlife on a temporal basis as the weeks progressed. From the outset the idea was not to make this a competitive event but to have a more collegial atmosphere where observations would be contributed to a growing group result and everyone’s sightings were important. For this reason only the cumulative results were to be published and not those of individual participants.
Spring migration period is a time when birders often travel to favourite hotspots near and far to see their favourite feathered friends returning. With travel limitations in place another of our hoped for results would be that participants would gain new found knowledge and appreciation of avian life close to their domicile. Forced to stay at home, we hoped they would be pleasantly surprised by what could be observed from their urban balconies, suburban backyards or rural farms.
We launched our first Virtual Field Trip April 4th not knowing what to expect but hopeful that we could stimulate some interest from at least a few participants.
Early on in this endeavour there were a number of bumps in the road as a few participants “stretched” the guidelines by venturing outside their property boundaries. Reporting procedures also had a few hiccoughs that needed to be overcome and the compilers quickly realized that jotting down results on random scraps of paper as they came in was not going to do be very efficient given the growing number of lists being received. These latter difficulties were ironed out by streamlining procedures as the weeks continued.
The total number of different species observed reached 138 by the end of Week #10. The average number of species seen each week was a very respectable 74. A complete list of our 138 species along with weeks on the list can be found in the pdf report here
So with that in mind we encourage you to either continue to submit your observations to eBird or, if you have not already done so, to open an account and start contributing. This database, arguably the largest citizen science project in existence, can be a wealth of information of various kinds for professional ornithologists as well as all recreational birders whether novice or experienced.
Based on participation alone the BPQ Field Trip Committee must deem our plunge into “Virtual Field Trips” to be a success and for that we thank everyone who submitted their lists whether short or long, once only or all 10 weeks. We never dreamed we would have this many individuals take part. That we actually produced some interesting data that could be studied was a bonus.
We hope that the experience of getting to know your local bird life has been an eye-opening and valuable one for most of you and that you will continue to record your observations. Many of you who do not already have one should now be in possession a nice start to a personal “property list”!
Thank you to all participants from the BPQ Field Trip Committee: Darlene Harvey, Sheldon Harvey, Chris Cloutier, Wayne Grubert