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Birds of the Island

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Great Blue Heron
"Learning to recognize the birds around us, as well as the other life forms sharing the planet with us, is an important and critical step towards being in touch with nature. Only then will our eyes begin to open and we will see the real world."
AND SO BEGINS Your Guide to Familiar Birds of Prince Edward Island, a pocket-sized, colour guide to some of the most sought out birds in the province. The book was compiled and written by legendary Island naturalist, the late Geoff Hogan, and published in 1991 by Ragweed Press, 222 Grafton St., Charlottetown.
In this handy, take-along paperback, Mr. Hogan has included 90 colour photos of everything from Eastern Kingbirds to Greater Yellowlegs. Accompanying text for each of these species and about 100 others outlines such details as habitat, when to find them and unique characteristics that will aid in identification.
Prince Edward Islanders have always enjoyed a unique relationship with nature. In a province where agriculture, fishing and tourism are the driving forces behind the economy, Islanders take very seriously the responsibility of being the guardians of one of Mother Nature's most glorious works of art.
In all, there are about 333 species of birds found in this rolling tapestry we here are so proud to call home. Therefore, from birders who have just bought their first set of binoculars to those who have travelled the world in order to add to their lists of lifetime sightings, there is something on PEI for everyone.
Considering the abundance of bird life in the province, it is not surprising that Prince Edward Island has become a bird-watching hot spot over the last several years, says Kate MacQuarrie, Executive Director of Island Nature Trust, a non-profit organization devoted to the protection and management of natural areas.
Ms. MacQuarrie said that the Island has always been a Mecca for goose hunting, but in the last five years or so "birding has really taken off here."
The biggest catalyst in that growth, MacQuarrie feels, is that some birds are expanding their ranges and there are more birds here now than there were even 10 years ago.
"Five or six years ago you would not have found a Cardinal on PEI," she explained. "But now we see them more frequently. Every winter there's about a dozen sightings."
There have also been other species introduced here, like the Starling, English Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse, all of which are breeding in the province and doing extremely well, MacQuarrie noted.
However, MacQuarrie and other Islanders realize that simply introducing new birds to the province or waiting for a particular species to introduce itself to our pristine environment is not enough. Suitable habitat has to be enhanced and maintained in order for these species to remain vibrant parts of the Island's ecosystem.
Concerned citizens right across the province have been involved over the past several years with more than 50 river enhancement projects. MacQuarrie said that not all of these endeavours include hiking trails, but many do and the best way to locate the areas most suitable for an individual birder's needs is to contact the Nature Trust. She and her staff would be pleased to offer any assistance and guidance needed and they can even provide a copy of Nature Trails of P.E.I., a handy where-to-go guide compiled by MacQuarrie and fellow naturalist Dan McAskill and published by Ragweed Press.
The provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry also maintains six Demonstration Woodlots across the province, areas which feature valuable insight into natural and Island history, wildlife management and forest ecology.
"Some of the best places on the Island for bird watching are in those woodlots," MacQuarrie exclaimed. "And the best thing about them is that there are road signs, so they are really easy to find."
There is also the Confederation Trail, which, by the end of the 1998 construction year, will include over 200 kilometres a former railway bed that has been upgraded to accommodate hikers, cyclists and snowmobilers, she continued. The well-signed trail features picnic tables and shelters for periodic rest stops and, as was necessitated by the shipment of goods and people on the rail lines, it runs directly through many Island communities. This upgrading project began in 1994 and upon completion about 350 kilometres of abandoned rail line will be resurfaced for the enjoyment of Islanders and visitors alike.
Aside from these managed sites, MacQuarrie recommends much of the North Shore for the best birding in the province, and in particular the Covehead Harbour and Tracadie Bay areas.
For reference materials, the Nature Trust director said Familiar Birds of Prince Edward Island is a must for bird watching. Mr. Hogan's informative works can be found at most bookstores and at the Nature Trust office on Mt. Edward Road in Charlottetown. The P.E.I. Trail and Nature Map can also be purchased at the Nature Trust. This detailed map of the province outlines prime birding locations and traces the paths of a multitude of Island trails.
MacQuarrie said the reference manual 25 Birding Hot Spots will also be invaluable to birders who want to enjoy the best birding experiences PEI has to offer.
The Prince Edward Island Field Checklist of Birds is available free of charge from Visitor Information Centres and the Nature Trust. MacQuarrie reminds her fellow birders to report their sightings to the Natural History Society of P.E.I.. Have fun and good birding!
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