According to Michael Steinberg, guest editor of the special issue on avian geography in the Geographical Review Volume 100, 2 (April 2010, iii): “Birds are geographical creatures. In fact, we can map connections between birds and politics, recreation, economics, global health, mythology, aviation, and even professional sports. In other words, birds are a pervasive presence in various geographies.”
The special issue on avian geography offers a broad overview of the contributions of geographers to the understanding of human-avian relations, bird conservation strategies, and the impact of human activities on avian habitats. The issue’s aim is to promote future research on avian geographies, as geographers provide “a broader, more complete portrait of birds in and part of a landscape, not simply birds as single units in an ecosystem” (Steinberg, 2010, iv).
Contributors to the issue include Professor Robin Doughty, one of the first human geographers to examine the relations between humans and birds within the context of the bird protection movement in the United States. Doughty is also a new member of the Transnational Ecologies project. See: Robin Doughty, Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation: A Study in Nature Protection (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975).
We are delighted to announce the winners of the Signs of the Season Photo Contest. There were three categories: surprise, beauty and creativity.
For surprise, the winner is Daniel Macfarlane's "Sprouting in NY". In this category, the judges have also awarded an honorable mention to Andrea Gill for her "Stanley Park Heron Colony".
For beauty, the winner is Lauren Wheeler for her "Spring Snow". Daniel Macfarlane's "Gatineau in Fall Fog" was awarded an honorable mention.
Finally, for creativity, the winner is Daniel Macfarlane for his "Rapid(s) Change". The honorable mention in this category goes to Jennifer Davis for "Reseeding".
The judges were a panel of artists consisting of Kari Gogol in Vancouver, Matt Rogalsky in London, UK and Sophie Edwards in Kingston, Ontario. Winners receive $50 and their photos will be featured on the NiCHE website main page. All entrants will have their work displayed on the Transnational Ecologies website. Thanks to everyone who entered. Those of you who intended to enter but never got around to it will be pleased to know that Transnational Ecologies is sponsoring a second photo contest on the theme of "Migratory Natures". Details will be announced shortly!
Photo Credit: "Spring Snow" by Lauren Wheeler.
Photo Credits: "Sprouting in NY" and "Rapid(s) Change" by Daniel MacFarlane.
Birds are commonly used as territorial symbols. The Snowy Owl embodies Québec, the Common Loon represents Ontario, while the Rock Ptarmigan symbolizes Nunavut. Yet, at present, there is no national bird of Canada.
The Canadian Raptor Conservancy (CRC) hopes to fill this void by collecting 200,000 signatures and designating the name of the bird with the largest number of petitioners to a local MP for presentation to the House of Commons.
According to the CRC, designating a national bird would boost Canada’s sense of identity similar to the maple leaf, maple syrup, ice hockey and lacrosse, and the beaver. The group has suggested the Red-tailed Hawk and the Canada Goose, but is leaving it up to Canadians to choose “their” bird.
The debate over choosing a Canadian bird is not a new one. In the early twentieth century, many nature enthusiasts struggled between the White-throated Sparrow and the Canada Goose as Canada’s national bird. Certainly, Jack Miner from Kingsville, Ontario, had strong opinions on the matter:
The white-throated is a lovely bird, but not a bit more so than the white-crowned sparrow, bluebird or some warbler, or yet the rose-breasted grosbeak. My, what a beautiful, lovely, musical variety we have to select from! And, I say, by all means let us have a Canadian national bird, but let it be the Canada Goose, the noblest creature that ever lived on land, in air, or on the water – yes, and on the ice or snow he is perfectly at home.
Miner, born in the United States, compared the Canada Goose with the American Eagle by proclaiming that “our Canada Goose is far superior.” Moralizing the bird, he professed that the Canada Goose “will settle down to raise a family, of from four to eight, as all Canadians should. Wild geese pair for life. I never knew them to even make an application for divorce.”
The CRC has outlined some criteria to the public when submitting their bird suggestion: a bird should be found in every Canadian provinces, or most of them; a bird should not already be chosen as a Canadian provincial bird or another country’s national bird; and a bird should be known by the general public and be seen on a regular basis in their daily activities. If you would like to contribute to the debate over Canada’s official bird, the bird petition can be found on the CRC website.
- See: K. Greer and L. Cameron, “‘Swee-ee-et, Can-a-da, Can-a-da, Can-a-da’: sensuous landscapes of birdwatching in the eastern provinces, 1900-1939,” Material History Review 62 (Fall 2005): 35-48
When you observe up at the top of Fleming Hall at Queen’s University, Kingston, you will find several artificial chimneys created to attract roosting Chimney Swifts. As part of a joint collaboration with Queen’s University faculty members and the Kingston Field Naturalists club, enthusiasts are attempting to attract the Chimney Swift back to Kingston.
Designated as an endangered bird species in Canada, Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica), or “les Martinet ramoneurs,” are dark-sooty birds that spend most of their time in the air. They are often mistaken for swallows or bats, and their small, compact bodies have made some call them “flying cigars.” Every year, swifts migrate thousands of kilometers from Canada to Amazon Basin to their wintering grounds. Since the late 1990s, about a hundred swifts return to Kingston each April to build nests and produce their offspring.
While reasons for their recent decline are for the most part unknown, scientists believe that a reduction in their prey - flying insects - might be a possible reason for their population declines. Chimney Swifts also face the added pressure of habitat loss resulting from the modernization of chimneys (capped, round, metal flues) that prohibits the swifts from entering potential nest sites.
In Kingston, naturalists have uncovered the importance of Fleming Hall as a roosting site for Chimney Swifts. In the 1920s to the 1950s, members of Queen’s University and the local naturalist group started banding the species to understand their migratory routes. The Fleming Hall chimney was built in 1904 but by 1927 became disused, providing an excellent spot for roosting swifts. Observers recorded up to 4,000 swifts at a time, and banded up to 2,000 birds per night. Their efforts revealed the vast distances of Chimney Swift migrations. Many birds were found in various parts of the United States but more importantly, a banded bird collected in Peru. Details of these findings were published in the Canadian Field Naturalist in 1952. By the late 1960s, the Chimney Swift population in Kingston began to decline, following similar trends across North America.
In December 2008, Chris Grooms, Coordinator of the Kingston Field Naturalist (KFN) Chimney Swift Project, coordinated his work with the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL), a group of about 30 research scientists, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and other scientists dedicated to using paleolimnological and other techniques to provide historical perspectives to environmental change. Studies have included work on the Northern Fulmar, an Arctic seabird that has been associated as a vector for the transport of most of the human-made contaminants such as DDT to some arctic coastal ecosystems via their guano.
Grooms’ association with PEARL has allowed him to conceive the original Fleming Hall chimney as a record in itself, with over 60 years worth of data (Fleming Hall burned down in 1933 and was capped in 1993). By studying the guano at the bottom of the chimney, Grooms believes that he will be able to find remnants of the original banded birds, deposits of contaminants, and a record of insects. These materials could possibly provide a clue to reasons for the decline in Chimney Swift populations in the region. As Grooms has stated, the Fleming building chimney is a “treasure trove” of data that could reveal information on dwindling insect populations, habitat changes, and contaminants such as DDT.
The Chimney Swift Project with the Kingston Naturalist Club is looking for volunteers to help with their exciting initiative. Chris Grooms also hopes to build an international network of individuals pursuing similar projects in North America and South America. For contact information on the Chimney Swift Project, see: http://post.queensu.ca/~groomsc/ and http://post.queensu.ca/~pearl/bird%20biovectors.htm.
Historical Notes and Avian Historical Records in Canada
The decline in Chimney Swift populations is a recent phenomenon. In fact, few native birds of the Western Hemisphere have adapted their breeding ecologies to the emergence of European colonization as successfully as has the Chimney Swift. The first recognizable description of the swift in natural history literature appeared in John Josselyn’s New Englands Rarities Discovered (1672). The first known illustration of the swift appeared in Mark Catesby’s (1748) The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, while Peter Kalm, who also travelled to Canada, noted the bird in his travel narratives. Scottish immigrant, Alexander Wilson, (1812) wrote the most comprehensive and biologically accurate narrative of the Chimney Swift in his monumental American Ornithology (1812).
Their vast travels remained a mystery to American and Canadian scientists until the mid-twentieth century. As federal ornithologist Percy A. Taverner exclaimed in Birds of Eastern Canada (1922): “The winter home of the Chimney Swift is unknown. The mystery, however, should not be exaggerated, as there are a numbers of Swifts in the western hemisphere looking like this one and the bird has probably been overlooked in its winter quarters or confused with its allied forms.”
When examining data from the Ontario Nest Record Scheme, numerous observers across the province have recorded their nesting behaviours. Famed wildlife artist Robert Bateman documented nesting swifts 6 June 1959 at Boshkung Lake, near Carnarvon in Haliburton County. In the Kingston area, psychiatrist and naturalist C.K. Clarke noted the birds in Portsmouth, Kingston, in July 1899. Clarke was known for his involvement with the Kingston Psychiatric Hospital.
Avian historical records can be found in many forms, including nest record cards, banding data, travel narratives, sound recordings, bird illustrations, photographs, and stuffed bird specimens. To find records on Chimney Swifts in Canada, research the collections databases of many of Canada’s leading natural history museums including the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Royal Ontario Museum, the New Brunswick Museum, the Provincial Museum of Alberta, the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the Nova Scotia Natural History Museum. Many of these museums house archives related to individuals associated with the study of birds in Canada. Early nineteenth-century and twentieth-century naturalist periodicals offer a wealth of information on early accounts of bird species in Canada. Sound recordings can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the British Museum Natural Sounds Archives (see the links in the Transnational Ecologies Audio Archive).
- Graves, Gary R. “Avian commensals in Colonial America: when did Chaetura pelagica become the chimney swift?” Archives of Natural History 31, 2 (2004): 300–307
- Weir R. and Kingston Field Naturalists. 2008, Birds of the Kingston Region, 2nd ed. pp 235-236. Kingston Field Naturalists.
Many in Canada's eastern provinces are beginning to see robins and snowdrops - the first signs of Spring; some westerners are already seeing daffodils. Of course seasonal signs are the result of many factors - including your place on the globe, your cultural and historical contexts as well as changing climates and migration patterns. Costa Rica is heading into rainy season come May. In Australia March is the beginning of Autumn.
Send us your photographs of your signs of seasonal change. And send along an explanatory description/story as well. All photos will be posted on the Transnational Ecologies pages and the best ones will be featured on the NiCHE main page. Transnational Ecologies offers 3 prizes of $50 each for the best in the following categories: (1) surprise (2) creativity (3) beauty.
- This competition is open to NiCHE members worldwide. NiCHE membership is free and there is no fee for entering this contest.
- You must be the photographer and owner of the copyright for any image entered.
- You can submit a maximum of three images to this contest.
- You will retain copyright of your entries at all times and will always be credited alongside your picture. By entering this competition, you grant NiCHE the right use your photograph for promotional or educational purposes.
- Full time employees of NiCHE and members of the NiCHE executive are not eligible
- Results are at the sole discretion of the judges and cannot be appealed. Not all prizes will necessarily be awarded.
- The deadline for entry is 1st May 2010.
Please send your entry as an email attachment to: email@example.com