A Canary in the Coal Mine

On Monday night, Quispamsis birder Jim Wilson gave a public talk on his experiences with bird watching and surveying, as well as the impacts of climate change on local bird species.

Hosted at the Sackville Commons by the Chignecto Naturalists’ Club, the event was one of many in a full lineup for EOS Eco Energy’s Tantramar Climate Change Week 2017. Around 60 people attended, mostly Sackville community members.

Wilson, who has since worked for the NB Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Wildlife Service, began birding in 1963 as a shared passion with his father. Coming from a working-class background, both Wilson and his father had day jobs, but maintained a lifelong commitment to birding and conservation efforts.

Wilson began his talk by discussing developments in conservation technology over the past few decades. When he was a child, he said they had poor-quality binoculars, no digital cameras, no advanced tracking technology and “relatively little knowledge of local bird life.”

He also said that in the past few decades he has seen a major increase in education and awareness about wildlife conservation efforts. Throughout his lifetime, an additional 117 bird species have been identified in New Brunswick.

Wilson discussed many local bird species, including cases of species extinction and endangerment. With the rise of new agricultural methods and tools, many wildlife species have been forced to adapt to new surroundings. The Bobolink, a small blackbird found in New Brunswick, is a notable case study, as the once-abundant species is now uncommon due to the practice of mowing hayfields that reduces its possible nesting period.

Deforestation in N.B. has also had a major impact on birds, as migratory birds often return to find their nesting ground destroyed before their breeding season. Climate change has also increased the populations of certain more adaptable species, which can have detrimental impacts on other species and the ecosystem as a whole.

Wilson has also seen positive instances of recovery. Many waterfowl species such as Mallards and Wood Ducks were once at-risk, but nest box programs implemented by Ducks Unlimited have led to a resurgence in current numbers. The population numbers of some birds of prey, such as Bald Eagles and Osprey, have also recovered in recent years due to the ban of DDT, a carcinogenic pesticide.

Wilson emphasized the role of public education in mitigating climate change and species extinction. “Change happens gradually. Very few people intend to harm wildlife in a significant way,” he said. “Knowledge changes attitudes.”

According to Linnea Bell, a third-year history student who attended the event, Wilson’s talk helped give a local perspective to human impacts on the environment.

“I think local awareness fosters a tangible connection to the results of climate change,” she said. “This event made me quite aware of how the species directly in this area are experiencing climate change.”

This was the fifth consecutive year that EOS Eco Energy has hosted the Tantramar Climate Change Week.

In an email to the Argosy, Executive Director of EOS Eco Energy Amanda Marlin wrote that they “have been serving the Tantramar and Memramcook regions since 2004 with projects focused on promoting renewable energy, energy conservation, efficiency, sustainable development and climate adaptation.”

An environmental non-profit, EOS Eco-Energy has also created a number of local climate-friendly initiatives such as the installation of rainwater gardens, the local electric vehicle charging station and energy retrofits for low-income families.

Tantramar Climate Change Week also hosted a solar home tour, children’s activities and a panel on the connections between climate change and carbon emissions.

Jill Macintyre