Saving Our Songbirds

Birds herald the spring with their songs, protect our crops from pests, and astound us with their beauty and versatility. The Vancouver Avian Research Centre is working to guarantee the future of these remarkable creatures.

Photo courtesy of VARC

The haunting minor-key song of the Varied Thrush announces the arrival of spring in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia’s coastal forests.

The annual north/south migrations of many bird species connect Canada and the US.  Canadians, referred to as “snowbirds,” arrive each autumn in their southern US habitats and return home in the spring. In non-pandemic years, Americans travel north to their summer environs in Canada and head back to the US  ahead of winter. Real bird migrations follow the same rhythm but for them migration is a matter of survival.  Covid-related border closures don’t stop the seasonal avian journey, but many hazards make their migrations dangerous. Since 1970, North America has lost 2.9 billion birds!

The Vancouver Avian Research Centre (VARC), one of American Friends’ newest partners, works to safeguard birds and their habitats to ensure their long-term survival.  VARC studies  the health and populations of bird species that migrate through western British Columbia, providing valuable insights to guide effective conservation.

VARC, which is operated almost entirely by volunteers, strives to communicate that migratory birds need winter and summer homes, and secure sites to rest and refuel on their grueling annual trips. One of those sites is Colony Farm Regional Park, a 260-hectare (650 acre) park at the confluence of the Fraser and Coquitlam rivers, in suburban Vancouver where the old fields, hedgerows and wetlands provide habitat for over 200 bird species.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest member of the warbler family. It winters in Central America.

VARC’s field station at Colony Farm is where they monitor and band migratory birds. This work also increases public awareness of environmental issues through the inspiring experience of interacting with wild birds. Since 2009 VARC has banded more than 50,000 birds of 99 species, many of which stopped at Colony Farm during migration. See if you can identify the species in this video! Data gathered by VARC is submitted to the North American Bird Banding Program.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Short-eared Owls hunt in open fields, like those at Colony Farm, during the day.

Derek Matthews, a North American Banding Council (NABC) certified trainer and his wife Carol, co-founded VARC. They conduct workshops for adults including an introduction to Bird Monitoring and Banding and a Bird Identification Workshop.  Participants are thrilled to see birds up close, and to learn about their life cycle and habits. VARC also offers programs for students, at schools and summer camps.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Banding records reveal that Golden-crowned Kinglets that nest in Canada migrate into the US for the winter, but many US populations stay put.

Recently VARC launched  the “Saving Our Songbirds” (SOS) initiative to supply 7 simple actions we can all take to protect the world’s bird populations. Currently VARC is focused on preventing “window strikes” which kill up to one billion birds each year in North America.  SOS educates the public on this issue and encourages  homeowners to act right away to create a safer urban environment for migratory birds.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Lazuli Buntings are flashy spring/summer residents of the western US and southern BC. Western Mexico is their home during fall/winter.

Learn more about Vancouver Avian Research Centre by watching the video created for Giving Tuesday  or the one about banding hummingbirds. American Friends of Canadian Conservation is pleased to support VARC’s research, conservation and education initiatives. Contribute today to help migratory birds continue their remarkable seasonal journeys for generations to come. You can make a secure (US) tax deductible donation online, or get a Canadian tax receipt by contributing on VARC’s website.

Protecting Our Parks in British Columbia: A Happy Convergence

It is a huge challenge to manage and protect 644 provincial parks, four of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites,  24 others are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The BC Parks Foundation is there to help!

Jason Headley

Gwillim Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park.

Canada’s westernmost province is promoted as Super, Natural British Columbia for its reputation as a destination where visitors can  renew themselves through interactions with nature. British Columbia (BC) Parks is the provincial agency that protects and sustains the network of more than 1000 parks that make those interactions possible. It is a huge responsibility because BC has the 6th largest park system in the world. In recent years the agency really needed a partner to help shoulder the burden. The BC Parks Foundation was formed in 2018 as the official charitable partner; creating  a “happy convergence,” in the words of CEO Dr. Andrew Day. The Foundation is bringing governments, businesses, communities and donors together  to create great parks and park experiences, ensuring long-term protection for the province’s vast natural resource.  According to Day, their “big, hairy, audacious goal” is simply that British Columbia has the best parks system in the world, supported by an active local and international community (yes, that’s all!)

Day is proud of the work achieved in less than three years. “It’s thanks to the goodwill of supporters through donations and volunteerism that we have been able to protect more than 3000 acres on seven parcels of land.” A great example is the Foundation’s purchase of properties in Princess Louisa Inlet – the “Yosemite of the North”– following a $3M fundraising campaign that went viral around the world.  The magnificent, pristine inlet is a world-renowned destination, home to marine life, grizzly bear, cougars, and old growth forests.

BC Parks Foundation

A beach at the southern tip of West Ballenas Island.

The Foundation’s small team  handles much more than fundraising and land acquisition. For example, their  new  “Healthy by Nature” initiative in which the healing powers of nature are delivered through programs such as “Park Prescriptions” and “Outside Unplugged.” The first – a fascinating innovation – involves working with healthcare professionals to prescribe time in nature to those who will benefit most. And the “Outside Unplugged” program provides youth, refugees, and other vulnerable populations with much-needed time outdoors.

BC Parks Foundation

Aerial view of a boat entering Princess Louisa Inlet.

The real estate market in BC is very hot right now, and the Foundation is working on several potential land acquisition projects to expand  BC’s permanently protected natural spaces. This includes the protection of the famous Lonesome Lake – the place where trumpeter swans were brought back from the edge of extinction. That means purchase funding is needed soon. Recently BC Parks Foundation became a grantee of American Friends of Canadian Conservation to make it possible for US taxpayers to support the Foundation’s goals and programs with tax deductible donations.

Dr. Day appreciates the valuable role  American Friends can play in land transactions  or monetary gifts from American donors. “I am so impressed with the spirit of the Friends, bridging the goodwill in both of our countries to achieve great conservation outcomes.” He notes that the American Friends’ expertise and bi-national tax status can influence US donors’  decisions to give. The Foundation may target a property owned by US taxpayers, in which case the partnership with American Friends could be pivotal.

BC Parks Foundation

A Discover Parks Ambassador interacting with two park visitors.

If you are passionate about BC’s wild lands, make a US tax-deductible gift to invest in the future of BC Parks or receive a Canadian tax receipt by donating on the Foundation’s website. To learn more, visit the BC Parks Foundation.

Gathering Of People | Mabou Highlands

Fiddles and bagpipes call people from around the world to the town of Mabou, on Cape Breton Island, at the northern end of Nova Scotia. They are the sounds of the Ceilidh tradition, celebrating Celtic culture brought by 19th-century immigrants. The Gaelic word translates to “Gathering of People.”

In 2019, a Gathering of People celebrated the protection of 2000 acres on the wild coast of the Mabou Highlands and a new tradition of conservation, let by 20th-century settlers from the United States, and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

Protecting Place with Its People

Darkness is increasingly rare in North America but remains abundant in the St. Croix River watershed of Maine and New Brunswick. Nighttime satellite images show it as an inky corridor connected to a broad swath of protected landscapes in northern New England.

This obsidian expanse of intact forest, wetlands, rivers and streams, located within an eight-hour drive of 11 million people in Canada and the US, is a notable transborder conservation and Indigenous reconciliation opportunity.

The St. Croix River is the easternmost boundary between the US and Canada, but the plants, animals, air, water, and people demonstrate it is a continuous and relatively pristine region. The native people with the longest connection to this place are leading an effort to protect it for the future, with support from the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, the province of New Brunswick, American Friends of Canadian Conservation and funders from both countries.

Conservation without Borders – A new initiative in British Columbia

Beautiful, bountiful and balmy British Columbia (BC) has been a magnet for Canadians and Americans alike. Ecosystems, watersheds, wildlife corridors and Indigenous cultures extended on both sides of the 49th parallel north that now divides our two countries. Businesses including timber, shipping, fishing and tourism were relatively borderless, until recently. As a consequence of this interwoven history, US taxpayers own extensive acreage in BC. For example, data from the Islands Trust, the planning entity for the Southern Gulf Islands, indicates that approximately 30% of the private lands are American-owned.

BC land trusts working in some of the province’s most ecologically-significant and scenic landscapes recognize that US taxpayers own high priority conservation properties. In response, the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia and American Friends of Canadian Conservation (American Friends) launched the Conservation without Borders program. We are grateful to the McLean Foundation and Vancouver Foundation for providing core funding for this new initiative.

Our overarching goal is to increase the capacity of BC conservation organizations to secure important properties owned wholly or partly by US taxpayers – referred to as “cross-border conservation.” We will achieve that goal by ensuring that LTABC members know how US and Canadian income tax benefits make gifts of land financially attractive for U.S. owners. Conservation can be an important estate-planning tool!

In the first phase of Conservation without Borders, LTABC and American Friends will be working with land trusts to:

  • assess the opportunities for cross-border conservation
  • determine how best to support organizations serving areas with high levels of American ownership
  • provide resources and education for these organizations, and
  • create a framework and budget for a multi-year program, if we learn that LTABC members feel it would be valuable.

Two BC cross-border transactions – one on Mayne Island, the other on Gabriola Island – offer a glimpse into the potential impact and benefits from our Conservation without Borders program.

We are building on the excellent groundwork developed through a similar program in Ontario that concluded at the end of 2018, after three productive years. One product was Save Some Green: a handbook for US taxpayers who own land in Canada which is the single best resource for anyone interested in cross-border conservation incentives. LTABC and American Friends will be creating BC versions of some of the Ontario materials while also implementing new approaches based on lessons learned.

If our work and outreach during Phase I reveal that there is strong interest on the part of BC land trusts, and opportunities for important conservation outcomes, LTABC and American Friends will initiate additional phases of Conservation Without Borders.

For more information on the program, how to participate or to donate to help the partnership and cross-border conservation, contact Sandra Tassel, American Friends’ Program Coordinator, sandra.tassel@conservecanada.org or Paul McNair, Executive Director, LTABC, paul@ltabc.ca