‘Very meaningful work’ | Spare News
CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – Recent research conducted by a nonprofit conservation group has found several new colonies of a PEI endangered bird species.
Some 42 colonies of sand martins, also known as sand martins, were discovered by the Island Nature Trust in 2022 along 53 kilometers of PEI’s shoreline.
This brings the total number of registered colonies in the province to 142 from 100 in 2020.
“They’re doing really well on PEI,” Shannon Mader, the trust’s species risk manager, said in an interview with SaltWire Network last month.
“This year we wanted to reach some areas that we couldn’t survey in 2020 and re-survey some of the areas where large colonies are located,” she said.
Strategic shoreline surveys have not been conducted regularly over the years. When the Island Nature Trust began conducting these surveys in 2013, little information was available on PEI Bank Swallow populations as no other group in the province had done this work.
The biggest year to date was 2020, when 320 kilometers of PEI shoreline were surveyed and over 100 colonies discovered.
Sand martins were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2017.
When a new species is added to the list, Environment Canada is tasked with developing a recovery strategy that will help identify the cause and factors.
“We need to have a lot of background information first. How many of them are they, where are they, what is their critical habitat,” Mader said.
Monitoring efforts have increased in recent years, with staff, partner groups and volunteers focusing their efforts on conducting shore surveys for swallow colonies.
“A lot of hard work and miles of walking goes into locating colonies,” Mader said.
When staff and volunteers arrive at a site, the work begins with walking down the beach in search of Sand Martin’s distinctive burrows, which are typically found on sheer cliffs.
From there, photographs are taken, the area surveyed, and estimates of how many birds live in the colony are collected and recorded. The Island Nature Trust then logs the coordinates and forwards this information to Environment Canada and Birds Canada.
“We haven’t seen that many new colonies in many years, so this is very good news,” Mader said. “That’s in large part because of our highly erodible soil, as they can burrow deeper.”
In recent years, climatologists have identified accelerated erosion as one of the leading climate change threats in PEI
When it comes to sand martins, however, erosion offers a silver lining, Mader said.
“Erosion itself isn’t a bad thing for this species. They need a fairly steep slope and an angle of at least 75 degrees. They can’t have a gently sloping bank to nest in, they need that kind of straight cut and that only comes from erosion.”
However, due to severe erosion from post-tropical storm Fiona, many of the colonies were likely damaged.
“Many, if not most, colonies and dens will be gone,” Mader said.
Sand Martins generally do not get very far when the colony is damaged and often only move a short distance along the shore.
Whether the colonies will return to the same location or move up the coast after Fiona remains to be seen.
“There has to be living space. It can’t have hard armor, for example,” she said.
The Island Nature Trust is currently looking for volunteers interested in becoming Sand Martin coastguards for the 2023 season.
Examples of Warden activities include finding active Sand Martin colonies, speaking to members of the public about Sand Martin conservation, and reporting relevant data to the Trust for inclusion in a larger, Atlantic-Canada-wide dataset.
Bank swallow numbers have declined by 98 percent across Canada in the past 40 years. This is due to several factors the federal government is now trying to address, wrote Leanne Tol, sand martin conservation coordinator at Birds Canada, Atlantic Region, in an article published on Birds Canada’s website on June 25, 2021.
“Our goal was to establish a formal working group tasked with developing a sand martin conservation strategy for the region,” Tol wrote.
“Many threats are likely to contribute to the decline in swallow numbers, including loss of breeding and feeding habitats from erosion control and flood control, excavation of gravel and sand from pits and quarries,” Tol wrote.
Tol also explained that it’s important to encourage healthy insect populations by maintaining natural areas on your property and avoiding the use of pesticides whenever possible.
Mader said she feels the same way.
“There is always significant challenge and sadness working with endangered species, but it also gives you an opportunity to really connect with the natural world and these species,” she said.
“It’s very meaningful work.”
SaltWire Network contacted Enviroment Canada several times but was unable to receive any comment before the deadline.
PEI residents who discover a sand martin nest may report it to the Island Nature Trust by calling 902-892-7513 or emailing [email protected].