Bird watching from afar takes off in Alberta

Live video webcasts are providing biologists and researchers a bird’s eye view of colonial nesting birds as part of a wildlife monitoring project at High Island Natural Area on Lac La Biche in Alberta.

Norbert Raffael, a biologist with the Alberta government, says the project came out of wanting to monitor the nesting habits of the birds, including Caspian Terns and Great Blue Herons, without human interference.

“Not only researchers, but the general public might be interested in this project,” says Raffael, the heritage protection team-lead for Alberta Parks.

There are two real-time video cameras on High Island, with one to 26 power zoom, and which can also swivel 320 degrees, says Raffael.

“The cameras are placed on an 18-foot tower that is screened so the birds won’t fly into it, or break their legs; nor will they nest on it,” he explains.

The camera has a fibre-optic cable that runs about 150 metres away from the tower to a high bluff which has another tower and an array of solar panels which provides power, which then transmits a microwave signal.

“For now, until we get into the Alberta SuperNet, we’re transmitting off a local provider, but eventually it (the signal) will come right to our provincial building here in Lac La Biche,” says Raffael.

Not only is the bird monitoring something of interest to researchers and biologists, it may also be a great tool for educators, says Raffael.

“We hope that schools, especially within Grades 4 and 5 that have a wetland portion in their curriculum, take an interest. They’ll be able to remotely control the cameras so they can look at a ducks’ nest possibly every week,” he says.

Raffael notes there are not only birds but an entire wetland community on the island.

“With the cameras that we have, you’ll be able to see the shoreline and the storms on the spit of land,” he says. “You could see possibly the severity of the storms, the lowering of the water level of the lake – and these are all part-and-parcel of climate change.”

He says he is hopeful this will enhance the knowledge and bring greater awareness to the bird species and wildlife preservation. “I think this will help our students to know what species are at risk, and maybe encourage future biologists.”

The webcast of the wildlife monitoring project will be available on the Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture Web site from mid-May.

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