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Interview :30 - 1:29:15 Play :30 - More
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Richard Thomas  

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Boreal birds  

Yellow-rumped Warbler -- Setophaga coronata 6:00 - 6:03 Play 6:00 - More
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Winter Wren -- Troglodytes hiemalis 8:30 - 8:53 Play 8:30 - More
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Winter Wren -- Troglodytes hiemalis 13:07 - 13:53 Play 13:07 - More
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Yellow-rumped Warbler -- Setophaga coronata 17:28 - 17:31 Play 17:28 - More
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Canada Warbler -- Cardellina canadensis 50:43 - 50:47 Play 50:43 - More
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Magnolia Warbler -- Setophaga magnolia 52:18 - 56:44 Play 52:18 - More
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Canada Warbler -- Cardellina canadensis 58:29 - 1:00:51 Play 58:29 - More
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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- Sphyrapicus varius 1:04:24 - 1:04:38 Play 1:04:24 - More
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Black-throated Green Warbler -- Setophaga virens 1:18:30 - 1:19:43 Play 1:18:30 - More
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Red-breasted Nuthatch -- Sitta canadensis 1:23:22 - 1:23:26 Play 1:23:22 - More
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Magnolia Warbler -- Setophaga magnolia 1:23:22 - 1:23:26

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
7 Jun 2003

    Geography
  • Canada
    Alberta
    Locality
  • Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park; Lily Lake Trail
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 55.46389   -114.79778
    Habitats
  • Forest
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
  • HHB PORTADAT PDR 1000
    Microphones
  • Sennheiser MKH 50
  • Sennheiser MKH 30
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH50 Hypercardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic

NPR/NGS
RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Show: Boreal Songbirds
Log of DAT #: 3
Engineer: Marcia Caldwell
Date: June 7, 2003

0:05
MC: So this is Saturday, tape number 3, MS again, this time I have the MKH50 on the top and the MKH30¿it's early morning, well, 6:30ish. The Lily Lake Trail.

0:26
Ambi. Walking on gravel.

1:00
MC: We're near a large radio station aren't we? Or, we're near..

1:06
RT: We're near where Peter¿

1:08
MC: Take these head phones off and listen

1:11
Ambi. Buzzing.

1:17
EA: Oh¿so we need to go further away?

1:21
MC: It's coming and going. A lot of interference. bzzzzzz. It sounds like a big bug.

1:30
RT: Yeah, let's just walk quite a bit. A kilometer or so.

1:33
EA: Let us know when you get away from it maybe.

1:35
MC: Ok, like now it's gone, now it's back. It's coming and going.

1:41
Ambi. Walking with talking and birds in the background. Mike sounds.

2:23
RT: ¿Psh, psh, psh. Watch for movement. Psh, psh psh¿

2:33
Ambi. Forest sounds.

2:45
Ambi. Walking.

3:01
Ambi. Mike sounds.

3:13
Ambi. Bird sounds.

3:34
Ambi. Walking with some bird sounds.

3:39
Ambi. Mike sounds. Walking and talking.

4:45
Ambi. Louder walking and talking.

5:32
RT: Red-breasted Nuthatch.

5:36
RT: That's a really nice bit of Three-toed woodpecker work.

5:40
EA: Oh

5:41
RT: That red barking, as I call it.

5:43
EA: Wait a minute, I didn't hear the Nuthatch and that's the one bird I know.

5:46
RT: Uh oh

5:50
EA: Did you see it or hear it?

5:51
RT: Hear it. It was off here somewhere.

5:55
Ambi. Forest sounds.

6:03
RT: It's a Yellow Warbler

6:05
Ambi. Forest.

6:16
RT: Sounds like a little toy trumpet.

6:25
EA: You were saying yesterday that Roger Tory Peterson was the man when it came to describing some of these sounds.

6:30
RT: Oh yeah. Well a lot of upstart birders that wrote field guides after him tried to out do the master, but he was a supreme observer, just excellent¿His description of birds like the purple finch looks like its been dipped in raspberry juice is perfect. And his description of a Western Tanager as, you know, a robin that's got a sore throat is perfect and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak as a robin that's been taking singing lessons is just excellent. It's interesting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, which we may hear, has a very sort of sharp squeak-like call and a friend of mine has described it as a training shoe turning sharply on a wooden gymnasium floor and it describes it exactly. Once you've heard it you know it. So there are all sorts of tricks you can use to try and remember calls and songs like that.

7:46
Now, I was thinking about you last night and was thinking¿

7:48
Well, that's nice..

7:53
Oh yeah¿cause I was listening to loud noises. But, I was thinking that you could be anywhere doing this you know so much about birds, why, why?

8:07
RT: Mostly, I'm good at bullshit and bullshit baffles brains.

8:13
EA: No really, and I want this on tape.

8:14
MC: Hold on..

8:18
EA: Why are you here? Why the Boreal?

8:21
RT: That's a good question. The Boreal's easier to answer than Alberta. Alberta, I got a job teaching geology¿[pause for a very good bird sound] Perfect, before I answer the question we've got a Winter Wren singing and that's a tiny bird that produces a very loud song and here in Alberta, at least in the Boreal [bird sound] it's old growth dependent. Funnily enough, the same species in Britain occurs in my Mum's backyard and it's one of the commonest birds in Britain, you know it's quite strange. Why the Boreal? Well, I started birding seriously about 20 years ago and I made my first trip up to the Boreal and I just fell in love with it. Not only the birds, but the old growth forest in particular is just so fascinating. I love it. If it wasn't for the Boreal, I think, Alberta with its politics, I'd be out of here like a shot, but I don't know. I just fell in love with the Boreal. The more you know, of course, the more you appreciate and it's just a wonderful subtle and very under respected forest.

9:42
EA: Subtle is really the key there isn't it?

9:44
RT: It is, absolutely. Absolutely. You have to spend time with the Boreal. You don't have the giant cathedral-like groves you do in the west coast or the rain forest. If you're lucky a really large tree in the Boreal will get up to a hundred feet, thirty three meters, or something so, but when you look at everything that's connected, the birds, the other animals, the very structures in the forest, the trees, it's just a marvelous place. I don't know, it's just got a hold of me. And you have to appreciate things that can survive somewhere where the winters are seven months long. Some people would call it the snow forest, it's a snow-adapted forest, but I just love it.

10:28
EA: Out of the frigidity here, there's incredible life.

10:31
RT: Yeah, yeah, it's remarkable and I don't know if we talked about this, but the contrast between tropical rainforest and Boreal forest, that's very interesting too because tropical forest, biodiversity is in your face because it's all above ground. The soils are very poor in tropical areas so there's just this incredible profusion of life above ground. In the Boreal, again, it's much more subtle. You don't have 200 species of trees within one square kilometer, or within a hectare, I should say. Here in the Boreal you're lucky if you've got eight major species of trees and most of the life is underground. It's things like Microrisal fungi which we know there are about 500 species in the soil of the Boreal and we're learning more all the time. Interestingly this is the poorest known large biome or eco-region in the planet. It's a very under appreciated forest as well, and that's part of its attraction for me. You can come into the Boreal and see and find new stuff, still.

11:41
EA: Is that the Wren that's been calling?

11:46
RT: Yup, the bird that's been calling is just, oh it's just over five centimeters, just over a couple of inches long, it's tiny. It's quite a rich brown color with a tiny cocktail and they sing their heart out. They like areas where you've got a lot of deadfall which is why they like old growth forests here because that's one of the characteristics of old growth where you've got gaps in the canopy where trees have fallen, there's a lot of downed woody material, as it's termed. They forage through that, but they'll sit up and perch twenty to twenty five feet up to sing this amazing song.

12:31
EA: Are they residents or do they migrate?

12:33
RT: No, um, they're resident in the west coast, in the rainforest, but here the winters are too severe for them because they are mostly insectivorous birds so they have to get out of here. They have to get out of here. They're so tiny they couldn't survive the temperatures.

12:52
EA: Can you hear?

12:53
MC: Yeah, let's just stay¿

12:57
Ambi. Forest with birds .

13:!5
MC: Where is it? Point it. Ok, I'm going to turn around.

13:20
Ambi. Birds.

13:55
MC: ok.

13:58
Ambi. Walking on gravel and talking.

14:38
Ambi. Cuts in to talking

14:43
EA: Is that that same wren?

14:44
RT: Yes, it is.

14:47
EA: What a beautiful song.

14:48
RT: Yeah, it is, but it's interesting because the wrens here are eastern winter wrens so on some of the commercial tapes you can buy of bird songs, the winter wrens on the west coast sing quite a different song and the first time I heard this guy I didn't have a clue what it was, when I first got up to the Boreal, because I had listened to the wrong race on the tape¿

15:18
Ambi. Walking.

15:31
RT: ¿Larvae of a beetle¿the name varies, but they call it the Black-Sawyer Beetle and these larvae particularly in Balsam Firs. They're chewing away inside the trunk and when I first heard it, and when most people first hear it, you're just standing, the forest is quiet, and you hear this "chomp chomp chomp"

15:51
EA: And it's the beetles?

15:53
RT: It's the larvae of the beetles and they do come to the surface and they kick out all the chewed up cellulose and it looks like shredded coconut on the trunk of the tree so I'll keep my eye open for it, but that would be wonderful if we could hear some of that.

16:10
EA: That would be an amazing sound.

16:11
RT: I don't know if they are in this part of the Boreal.

16:16
Ambi. Walking.

16:30
Ambi. Talking.

16:47
EA: Is that the same wren? I mean¿something different?

16:52
Ambi. Soft bird sounds.

17:09
RT: That could be a Magnolia Warbler, a very colorful Warbler. It'd be nice if we could¿well, this is the problem with Boreal birding. It's very hard to see the birds.

17:23
Ambi. Birds.

17:31
RT: That one sounds like a Yellow Warbler.

17:36
EA: Yeah, how much is it sound and how much is it sight when you're birding in the Boreal?

17:42
RT: Well, when you're doing a bird survey and when you're in the groove 80-90% of your identifications will be based on sound because you simply don't see most of the birds unless you're wiling to spend a lot of time looking for them. A lot of them are in the canopy and are hard to see and others are bobbing around in the under grove, equally hard to see, so you've gotta learn your bird sounds. It's a tricky business. I don't bird half as much as I'd like or half as much as I used to so each spring I have to relearn a lot the songs and it seems to get harder with age and of course when you're older and when you've got a misspent youth and you spent a lot of time listening to rock concerts, you lose the high frequency sounds so there are at least 6 Boreal species now with very high pitched calls that most of the time I just can't hear which is VERY frustrating, but it's age, that's life.

18:57
EA: How would you know we were in the Boreal right now? Just looking around.

19:00
RT: Just looking around? You'd see the various tree species, you'd know we're here at 6:30 in the morning and it's quite cold, but we're looking at Aspens, Balsam Poplar, White Spruce, Black Spruce, up here in this particular part of the Boreal, Large Pole Pine and Paper Birch and then you could look at the undergrowth and see various species that would give you the clue. Also, we're not in a towering coastal rainforest by any means, but we've got some pretty significant trees here. We've got a lot of tall Balsam Firs and those in combination with the other tree species I mentioned, give you this, we're in quite an old patch of mixed wood forest, and that gives you the clue. You also know you're in an old growth forest here because of a number of key features. You've got tall, live trees, you've got a lot of standing dead tress that are vital for many birds and animals. You've got gaps in the canopy now where trees have died, fallen over, so you've got undergrowth coming up, young trees coming up in those gaps where there's more light and you've got an awful lot of wood on the forest floor. And if you look at the forest floor here you can see that it's very uneven, there's a lot of topography, all sorts of ages of fallen dead wood, and they're in the process, many of them are in the process, of rotting and if you look at that one there you can see all sorts of mosses and lichens on it and you can see small trees are growing up along that log that is rotting and we call that a nurse log because there is more moisture in that log. It's slightly above the forest floor so that literally gives those seedlings a leg up to get started in competition with all the other plants there. And this structure in the forest, because it's more complex than, for example, a plantation of even aged trees, it attracts many more species and that's the key to diversity in old growth. And where you see these fallen trees you'll see the Red Squirrel, which is a very characteristic squirrel up here. They use them as track ways through the forest, runways, because it's much easier to zip across the forest floor than going up and down, up and down, through all this topography. So, fascinating place.

21:37
EA: So, all of that, plus all these mosquitoes that are swarming around our heads is what attracts the birds here?

21:42
RT: Well, of course. The bloom of vegetation in the short Boreal summer attracts a heck of a lot of herbivores in the form of leaf eating insects. Unfortunately we also have a lot of blood sucking insects here. The only way around it really is keep slapping and just, psychologically, you've got to say "ugh, the bird food's pretty annoying this morning." But, it just makes me think, when we didn't have repellents, when we didn't have the clothes we have today, you read the tales of people hundreds of years ago literally being driven mad by the biting insects because I have to tell you, although these are a little annoying, it's nothing compared to further north, nothing, so you can imagine what it was like for pioneer explorers. Unbelievable¿

22:39
EA: Most of these birds, most Americans, would see at one time or another in their back yards, am I right? Or some of them?

22:45
RT: Some of them certainly. The migrants that over winter in the tropics, many of them pass, obviously, they all pass across the US, but a lot of them migrate at night so most people won't see them, but they land during the day, and their migration spots, for example, in Boston or in Central Park, for example, in New York is a great migration watching spot. So if the birds are unlucky you can get lucky because if there's poor weather, if there's rain and low cloud, it often forces the birds down and you'll see what's called a fallout. Now, a lot of these birds, yes, Americans will see in their backyards because of what are termed short distance migrants and they spend the winter in the central and southern US and a lot of the resident birds here will move out of the forest if conditions are not favorable, particularly during the winter, if there's a lack of food or if the weather is particularly severe. And you can get mass movements of Boreal Finches for example, such as Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpoles, Pine Siskins, and people in the southern states will sometimes see large numbers of these which is quite an unusual phenomenon down there.

24:11
MC: Name those again for me please. The mike slipped and I want you to..

24:15
RT: Ok, and people in the states there are a number of Boreal Finches up here; many of them are resident, things like Pine Grosbeak, White-wing Crossbill, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin and a number of other species that will move out of the Boreal Forest if their food supply fails or if the winter is particularly severe and then people in northern, central, and even sometimes the southern states will suddenly see these eruptions of Finches that they usually don't see and that's their link to the Boreal Forest and it's very difficult to predict those sorts of movements.

24:56
EA: I guess my point was that most Americans have no idea the critical importance of the Boreal. They just sort of think the birds are passing through and they don't really know where they go and they don't really know where they breed or¿

25:07
RT: Yeah, the Boreal, in many ways, now at last there's interest in the Boreal Forest. It's about time. Yeah, the Boreal is critical to bird life on the continent and it's a classic case of out of sight out of mind. It has been a well-kept secret really, but FINALLY, thank goodness, it's starting to get the attention it deserves.

25:37
EA: Should we move?

25:38
MC: Let's just stand here for a second for a scene¿No, just stand here for a minute or so.

25:49
Ambi. Forest. Some movement.

25:54
MC: That doesn't help. It's defeating the purpose. Sorry.

26:00
Ambi. Forest. Bird sounds.

26:24
MC: Ok¿

26:25
Ambi. Forest. Birds.

26:34
RT: We might as well keep going. If we get near the lake we might get some¿

26:41
Ambi. Walking with good birds.

26:57
RT: Sounds like another one of those Canada Warblers that we heard in the sky, that we heard last night, but there are some higher pitch calls too¿There might be a Boreal chickadee here which is very typical of the Boreal Forest¿.Psh, psh, psh, psh¿

27:27
Ambi. Forest.

27:40
RT: You can hear that high

27:44
Ambi.

27:48
EA: That one? That beep beep?

27:52
RT: Yeah. It'd be nice if we can get a look at that guy.

27:55
EA: What do you think it might be?

27:58
RT: I think I'm hearing a Boreal Chickadee which is a gorgeous little bird, but it has..the Black-capped Chiackadee has a "chicka-dee-dee-dee" call, but the Boreal Chickadee has a much more sneezy, or a little nasal, call. And Boreal Chickadees are old growth dependent, a good indicator of an old growth forest up here and they've been in decline now for a number of, several decades here in Canada so it's a species of concern.

28:30
Ambi. Forest. Birds.

28:37
EA: Is that one?

28:38
RT: No, that's¿

28:39
EA: Beep, beep¿

28:44
RT: What we're going to do¿if we want to take a little break here and I'll go try and identify these guys and so..

28:49
EA: Sure, sure

28:53
Ambi. Walking, some talking, cracking sticks.

30:18
Ambi. Forest. Birds. Wind in the trees.

31:25
Ambi. RT Coughs.

31:40
Ambi. Walking.

31:43
RT: I had a mental blank. It's a song I've heard a million times and I just¿

31:52
EA: Is that another one of is it the same one?

31:55
MC: Same one.

31:57
EA: We moved back up? I was going to say¿Some strange things going on here¿Tell me this, though. I've been in a lot of old growth forests and this seems, you know, I think of old growth forests and I think of ancient cedars and, but these are old trees?

32:15
RT: Yeah, they are. Of course old is a relevant thing. There's been a lot of argument about, you know, are there such things as old growth forests, you know mostly from the forest industry, but yeah, a lot of these trees for example, Aspen Poplar or Trembling Aspen, as it's called, if it's a hundred and twenty years old or so here, it's regarded as old growth and so we're looking at some pretty large Aspens there that are old. This is a mixed wood forest, of course, there're six or seven major tree species here, but a key is there are some sizable Balsam Firs here and they are the last species, they're a shade taller in species, they grow up under the deciduous canopy and under the White Spruce that follows that and if you see them in this area it's a good clue there that you're in old growth forest, but one of the most interesting things that's been happening there in the last couple of years is people have been looking at some old growth stands and now believe that they are actually self perpetuating through gap dynamics, I'll sort of explain that quickly. The standard story in the Boreal is that fire resets the successional clock and happens on a very regular basis in the Boreal. One prediction was every thirty-seven or so years. No, people are looking at these old mixed wood stands and it appears that via gap dynamics they constantly are perpetuating themselves. So, the trees in an individual stand may only be a hundred and twenty, a hundred and sixty years old, but the stand itself as old growth may have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. It's a fascinating concept because it turns, so called forest management in the Boreal on its head and it seems clear in areas that I have worked in, especially where there are lakes that act as fire barriers, that some of these old growth stands are extremely old. So, yeah, the trees themselves may not be the giants you're used to but, for the Boreal here, we've got Balsam Poplars and Trembling Aspen up to a hundred feet high and that's big for the Boreal. And you can see there are lots of gaps in the forest and in the forest canopy. This is good old growth mixed with¿

34:53
EA: You know, it may be implicit to you, but it isn't to me, you probably can feel when you're standing in a place like this, you can feel development knocking at the door. What signs have you had in the last several years that species are in decline or that development is taking a toll on places like this, or could?

35:20
RT: Well, the study I did for the government in 1998 on the Boreal Forest of Alberta showed quite clearly that Alberta now and its Boreal Forest zone has only something like eight percent that can be regarded as wilderness. There are multiple layers of disturbance by which I mean agriculture, forestry, oil and gas, that are threatening the Boreal Forest. It's being cut up by seismic lines, roads, and pipelines. So that's one aspect. On the landscape you can see that the Boreal Forest is shrinking and that it's being cut up. From the bird view point, when you're out in the field a lot, and you've been birding for a couple of decades in the Boreal, you notice that certain species are becoming much harder to find. For example, Rustic Blackbirds are a classic example. It's undergone a very precipitous decline over the last couple of decades and there're many other species you can mention, a lot of the very colorful Wood Warbler species, particularly those that are old growth dependant seem to be in decline. Cape May Warbler is a classic example. It has fairly strict habitat requirements here in the western Boreal and it's losing its habitat both here and in the tropics. So, there are a number of clues. The very unfortunate thing is that the research on basic bird distribution isn't being done. We don't know what a NORMAL, quote unquote, population level is for most Boreal birds here. We don't know the exact distribution for most Boreal birds and we certainly don't know with good data what the trends are in population. A lot of experienced birders have a bad feeling about a lot of species in the Boreal that seem to be in decline, but when we're sitting facing industry we can't say there's been x percent decline, but if we wait until that point it'll be too late. I mean, the signs are very clear, particularly with the looming threat just under the horizon, or it's right here now, really, of global warming. So, better to act on the safe side, adopt the precautionary principle and protect as much old growth Boreal forest as we can. Of course, the big problem is, virtually all of it has been allocated to the timber industry.

37: 44
EA: You know, in your gut, that something's happening?

37:48
RT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you can tell just the number of migrants that come through each year. Again, it's very difficult to quantify and one of the major problems is that from year to year, bird populations go up and down so how do you know that you are dealing with a long-term statically real trend? But, yeah, gut feeling. You know, birds like Common Nighthawk, American Kestrel, further north in the Boreal, and a host of others certainly seem to be in decline. I mean, that's the reason I do what I do. I'm extremely worried about the future of the Boreal and its birds and I feel that old growth conservation is possibly, well it is, the most urgent issue of conservation in Alberta right now. If we don't get protection for sizable areas of old growth forest then the species that are totally dependent on that forest are going to be lost.

38:51
EA: Your baseline tells you that things are in decline?

38:56
RT: No doubt in my mind at all.

38:58
Ambi. Birds.

39:04
EA: So you used to be able to see these birds more frequently? Common Nighthawk, things like that?

39:11
RT: Yeah, I've birded in a wonderful little park in northeast Alberta called Sir Winston Churchill, for a number of years now and species there like Cape May Warbler which I mentioned, have become much much harder to find. And this is over a period of, for example there, twelve years, and birds just don't seem as numerous as they were. So, to me, it's very worrying. And, I can't image life without birds. It's almost like we've learned no lessons. For a different reason, I mean. Think back to 1963, it was Rachel Carson's silent spring and look at the volume o f pesticides that are still used. You know, we don't seem to learn our lessons. In terms of forest management in Canada, we're making all the mistakes that Europe made and blindly following that path when we have the opportunity to do something different here and hang on to a marvelous asset to the people of the planet, which is Boreal Forest Wilderness.

40:20
EA: What's happening here in Alberta in terms of the Boreal? It's sort of a sentinel for what could happen in other places, isn't it?

40:28
RT: Well, Alberta, because of, some would say very luck or but others would say very unlucky, serious of geological structures, it sits on top of the western Canadian sedimentary Basin. We have very rich soils for agriculture as well so we not only have at thriving oil and gas industry, there's a huge forest industry here and agriculture nibbling at the southern margins of the Boreal Forest. The combination of all that means that Alberta's Boreal Forest has been more fragmented than any in Canada really. There are more roads into the Boreal Forest here, there is less wilderness left, then almost any other providence in Canada and despite that we still have a chance to set aside large areas. The problem I see it is all the research that is coming online now, we needed that 25 years ago. I don't think that because of the scale and pace of development that we can wait for the results t be in. I mean, common sense tells you what's happening. If you look at satellite images and air photos it tells you what's happening. So, what we need is a safety net for the Boreal. We need very large areas set aside and they're protected. No industry in there, just let them function naturally. And it's a safety net for our species too. Not only all the species that depend on the Boreal, the Boreal's there home, but we and the whole planet depends on the circumpolar Boreal zone for all sorts of ecological services. I don't know how we're going to change what's happening; I think about it a great deal because, you know, in this society, we worship economic growth. Until we start worshiping nature and the ecologic services it provides, our perspective is going to continue to be warped and, I don't know, maybe it's the Celtic streak, but I don't feel very optimistic at all, especially with Canada and more so, the United States failure to really get to grips with the problem of global warming.

42:51
EA: I don't want to belabor this, but people tend to think that what's going on is only going on in their backyard and things happening not in their backyard don't really have anything to do with it, but I think of the birds we've talked about, Tennessee Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Cape May Warbler, you know to a lot of Americans, these are American birds, by god, but they spend a lot of time up here.

43:19
RT: Yeah, I often say we rent them from the tropics for three months a year and we think of them as our birds, but they are tropical birds and they're our ecological connection to the tropics. It's a very profound lesson really, that on the planet, the real global picture is that everything is interconnected and simply because we're on the other side of the world from an environmental problem doesn't mean it's not going to come back and bite us you know where. Yeah, everything is interconnected and what we do to the Boreal today, we'll regret as a planet wide species tomorrow. We simply cannot get away from that. The birds, they're the canaries in our environmental coalmine and they're telling us we're not doing a very good job as stewards of the planet.

44:13
EA: And what's happening here could actually affect what someone in the southern US might see or not see at their feeder.

44:23
RT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, old growth dependent species up here, certainly some of the Boreal Finches that we've mentioned, if they continue to lose habitat, then people in the States as well, will notice they appear far less frequently at their feeders. The likelihood of them seeing an eruption, as we've described, of these species will be lower and lower. And birders in the United States have reported for years now, that the river of migrants coming up from the tropics, the songbirds, in the spring is being reduced gradually to a trickle. I mean it's anecdotal evidence, although we do have hard scientific evidence now that this is happening, but you know, the first alarm bells were sounded by birders noticing in their backyards or in their local patches, as we say in Britain, that they bird, that their familiar species simply weren't there in the numbers they used to be or in some cases those species just didn't show up anymore. But birds, because they're so mobile, they're very difficult to census, if you like, so you have the age-old problem that gives the nay-sayers the chance to say "Oh, it's just a year to year variation." But now, particularly through some very elegant work using coastal radar images over a couple of decades on the gulf coast of the states, it's been shown that the number of migratory flights in spring crossing the Gulf of Mexico of these neo-tropical birds has been reduced by fifty percent over the last couple of decades so it's extremely significant. And of course these birds have their own ecological functions as well. I mean, they're incredible for insect control, you may not believe it since we're being bitter to death at the low, but they are. They're very important to the continuing health of the Boreal Forest because they glean an incredible amount of caterpillars and catch an incredible amount of flying insects every year. So, everything has its place and we're doing a very poor job of looking after the Boreal, particularly up here. Canada isn't the wilderness that most Americans think it is, the untraveled wilderness. We're in a lot of trouble here and we need help conservation-wise.

46:55
EA: What were we just hearing over there? Did you hear it?

46:57
RT: No¿

46:58
EA: Beep, beep, beep

47:00
RT: Let's try and hear some birds¿

47:03
Ambi. Talking.

47:15
RT: Well, we've got the Canada Warbler singing over here. We've still got the Winter Wren singing, or one of them.

47:26
RT: You need some time Marcia?

47:28
MC: Yeah, but, um yeah.

47:32
Ambi. Mike sounds.

47:39
EA: So what do you do? Do you look up while you walk? Do you look down and just listen? What are your tricks of the trade?

47:50
RT: Yeah, most of the time, I'm a total swivel head. I mean, you've got to be. You've got a bazillion leaves rustling and moving in the wind. Movement is key.

48:05
EA: So you're always looking for movement?

48:07
RT: Yeah, always looking for movement. And song and calls are so important, you know, you tend to immediately focus on an area where you can hear a bird and try and pick that bird up, but it's difficult. You just fall into a pattern. When I'm driving along, I'm always checking out fence posts. My funniest episode was in TX where, I was married at the time, maybe this is why I'm not married anymore, because we were hurtling down this four lane highway in TX and I saw this incredible bird, that looked like a huge black woodpecker perched on a fencepost so I did a U-turn very quickly across this highway and it was a high-heeled woman's shoe sitting upside down on a fence post. [laughing] I don't think my ex-wife ever forgave me for that one.

49:03
EA: But it could have been something amazing¿

49:05
RT: Well, if you don't check them out, how do you know? You know those bumper stickers "We stop for birds?" They're true!

49:16
EA: Ok, I just heard a bee, deet, deet, deet, bee, deet." What is that?

49:23
Ambi. Birds and a little talking.

49:55
Ambi. Walking with good bird sounds.

50:27
Ambi. Whispering.

50:45
RT: That's the Canada Warbler still. Now this one up here is probably a Yellow Warbler¿.Sounds like a Warbling Vireo.

51:10
EA: Wait a minute! There's Warblers and there's Vireos and there's Warbling Vireos?

51:15
RT: I'm afraid so.

51:17
EA: I think you're messing with me!

51:20
RT: Yeah, I'm making it all up¿Well, I had this friend. He saw a Red-winged Blackbird fly by. He wasn't a birder, and he said, "What's that Blackbird with the red wings?" I said, "It's a Red-winged blackbird." He said, "That makes sense."

51:35
Ambi. Laughing.

51:43
RT: Man, I'd love to see some of these things. Why don't we try to see something¿you want to take five and we'll go..

51:50
MC: Sure, sure

51:55
EA: How do you differentiate¿

52:00
Ambi. Talking, walking, birds in the background.

52:12
Ambi. Birds.

52:38
Ambi. Mike sounds

52:47
Ambi. Birds

53:14
Ambi. Birds with some buzzing around the mike. Whistling in the distance (bird or RT?)

54:03
Ambi. Mike sounds.

54:14
Ambi. Birds with buzzing

55:52
Ambi. Birds, talking, and buzzing

56:41
Ambi. Talking and mike sounds.

57:30
Ambi. Birds.

58:29
Ambi. Loud bird sounds.

1:01:01
Ambi. Birds. Different sounds now, more like a gull with tweeting in the background.

1:02:29
Ambi. Buzzing.

1:02:32
Ambi. Frog.

1:02:52
Ambi. Birds.

1:04:03
Mike sounds.

1:04:12
MC: Ok, that was about five minutes of the forest sounds for where the interviews have taken place on this tape so far.

1:04:25
Ambi. Squeeking sounds. Birds.

1:04:47
MC: Don't know what that was, but I wanted to get it. I hope you guys can use that one, unless it was a squirrel.

1:04:57
Ambi. Walking talking. EA and RT back from looking for birds.

1:05:33
RT¿If you wait that long here, you're going to be too late.

1:05:37
Ambi. Bird sounds.

1:05:42
EA: What's that?

1:05:43
RT: Which one?

1:05:45
MC: The crying one? The kind of mewing one?

1:05:48
RT: That's a Yellow-bellied Sap Sucker.

1:05:49
EA: ok.

1:05:50
MC: I just got it on tape really well a minute ago. It was right by where I was.

1:05:51
RT: Oh good, good. You know, one thing we should talk about, I don't know if you want to or not, is¿

1:05:56
EA: Go for it.

1:05:58
MC: I'll have to have¿you guys can't walk too much around because it really picks up, so

1:06:04
RT: is, ask about what birders are doing for conservation. You know, the whole listening thing instead of tithing for birds if you like.

1:06:23
EA: Well, let's talk about that right now while we can, while it's on your mind.

1:06:27
RT: Ok, well basically, it's why do I do what I do.

1:06:30
EA: Yeah! Well, let me ask you this then, before that. When did you first realize that you just love birds?

1:06:40
RT: Well what really switched me on was going down to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in TX and seeing the Whooping Cranes, which, as you know, breed in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern most Alberta in the Northwest Territory.

1:06:55
MC: Just hold on one second, let's just wait until she gets out of the woods cause it sounds like we're being circled by a bear or something. You can just hear someone roaming around; it's kind of distracting¿

1:07:07
EA: You guys want to go above us or below us?
1:07:11
MC: Thank you! You sound like a bear in the woods¿

1:07:22
EA: How did you first get turned on to it all?

1:07:26
RT: The thing that really tipped me over the edge was going down to TX, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and seeing the Whooping Cranes there, which of course are extremely endangered. There're less than 200 left in the wild and they breed in northern Alberta and the northwest territories and Wood Buffalo National Park and that was such a thrill and there's such a diversity of bird life on the Gulf Coast in Texas so I sort of went a little bizerk and came back to Alberta and was totally hooked and it's been downhill ever since.

1:08:03
EA: But you really just love birds.

1:08:05
RT: Yeah, I always say I never met a bird I didn't like. And the thing is, I don't know, a lot of birders go through an intense listing face where your list is the focus of your life and it's numbers numbers numbers and I think that's really a problem in terms of birders not getting involved enough in conservation these days. I went through that listing faze, but when you come out on the other side of it, you can go for a walk almost anywhere and watch the most common birds and everyday you'll learn something new, you'll see something new. I don't know, it's reconnecting with birds, enjoying them in a very basic way. Yeah, I can't imagine life without birding in it. That would be too horrible to contemplate. But, I do have, one know, one of my soapboxes, one of many, as you gathered, is what the heck is happening with the birding community? Why aren't they at the forefront of conservation the way they used to be, you know, at the start of the twentieth century, with the foundation of the Audubon Society and the rest of it? Birders were right there. And now, most birders seem to be too involved playing listing games. I'm amazed at the ecological illiteracy amongst birders. They don't seem to understand the ecological equation. No habitat equals no birds equals no birding and no birders. As I keep saying, we're all connected. You would think they would be to protect the very basis their passion, their hobby. That is something that I and a number of other people simply don't understand. People are whizzing around the world, so called world-listers, and the game seems to be, well I want to see this nearly extinct bird before my rival does and if the bird goes extinct after I've seen it well, I'm one up on him which is, what a ridiculous attitude and the thickness of your wallet seems to determine the number of specie you can see around the world. And, quite frankly, I think, a lot of birders and ornithologists, a lot of people are going to squirm when I say this, are parasites on the bird world. They take, but they give nothing back. And the reason I do what I do is because I derive so much pleasure from birds and wandering around in the Boreal Forest I feel like I have to tithe a certain amount of my time an energy, put that back into trying to conserve the things I love. It just seems common sense to me.

1:10:55
EA: Walking out here, for you, seems like taking so you feel like you need to give back?

1:11:00
RT: Well, I, despite us being bitten to death, I am deriving a great deal of pleasure being out in the Boreal Forest and listening to these fantastic birds singing away and yeah, yeah, I mean, in the end, if we're saving birds and forests we are saving ourselves simply because, and we get back to it yet again, everything is connected. So, it's pure common sense. I don't know, I feel it's what all birders should be dong and there are so many ways you can get involved. If you're just monitoring birds in your local area, keeping counts on them from year to year, these days, that's valuable information and most government organizations just aren't putting together those sort of data, just baseline information that we particularly need, particularly up here in the Boreal. We just don't have it. And if you don't know what a normal population is for a given species and where it's supposed to be, then how the heck can you measure change, particularly if it's a population decline. Yeah, there are a tremendous number of things birders can do and I'd urge any birders listening who aren't really involved in conservation to get out there and get in the front lines. Of course, a lot of people for many birders, and you'd understand it with our busy lives today it's such a release and a relaxing pastime, when they're out there birding they want to forget all those nasty issues about habitat loss and stuff, but you know, you can't. If you want birding to continue and the birds to survive, you've just got to get involved.

1:12:44
Ambi. Birds.

1:13:04
EA: What was that? Did you hear that? Hoot hoot?

1:13:07
RT: The best thing for you to do is point where it came from.

1:13:12
EA: It was very distant, though.

1:13:15
Ambi. Talking about setting up.

1:13:46
RT: Thanks for allowing me to get in all my soapboxes.

1:13:50
EA: No, no, we needed that.

1:13:52
RT: I just don't understand it. Thomas Low Joy, whose a big wheel, he's got a great, I quoted it, I think in connection¿He says he simply does not understand who birders can NOT care¿

1:14:16
Ambi. Walking. Mike sounds.

1:14:35
Ambi. Talking about Alaska.

1:15:07
RT: Can we go ahead Marcia or?

1:15:08
MC: Yeah, go ahead.

1:15:10
Ambi. Forest.

1:15:26
Ambi. Setting up.

1:15:50
Ambi. Birds.

1:16:30
MC: That wasn't it?

1:16:31
EA: We couldn't hear it.

1:16:32
RT: It shut up, but we should hear it.

1:16:36
EA: We have to hear it.

1:16:37
MC: That wasn't it?

1:16:38
EA: No, no. It's a real pretty¿

1:16:42
RT: Oh see see, Canada, Canada, Canada..[whistles] It was out here. They should be singing their heads off¿

1:16:54
MC: Ok. We'll get him.

1:16:58
Ambi. Talking, setting up.

1:17:18
Ambi. Birds. Creaking tree. Some buzzing

1:17:44
EA: Black-throated Green what?

1:17:46
RT: Warbler.

1:17:47
EA: Ok

1:17:51
MC: I can hear the trees creaking.

1:17:53
RT: I know, maybe if you got it, though, right?

1:17:55
MC: Yes

1:17:58
Ambi. Talking, setting up for recording the bird.

1:18:25
Ambi. Birds.

1:18:32
MC: Hold on, I have to change batteries, but I go it.

1:18:37
EA: Do you need batteries from here?

1:18:39
MC: No, I have one right here.

1:18:43
Ambi. Walking, some talking.

1:19:35
Ambi. Mike sounds.

1:19:58
Ambi. Talking.

1:20:08
Ambi. Birds.

1:20:22
Ambi. Walking and talking.

1:20:27
MC: What's that?

1:20:28
RT: Red-breasted Nuthatch

1:20:30:30
MC: Ok, let me just¿

1:20:32
RT: We could talk about that for two seconds if¿

1:20:34
MC: Ok, good, let me have you do that and I'll have you switch places to keep you consistent. Let me get set here¿

1:20:41
Ambi. Mike sounds.

1:20:47
RT: That little toy trumpet sound we're hearing is a Red-breasted Nuthatch, another interesting species because that's one that will sometimes erupt southwards into the States during the winter and it's a cavity nester and it's peculiar foraging habit is that it often comes down trunks and down big branches headfirst, but it needs dead and decaying trees in which to dig its nest cavity and up here again its an old growth dependent species, usually conifer dominated mixed woods. So, all these species with their habitat specialties are key to Boreal forest, old growth forest, I should say, and they've coevolved with that forest. Some birds can adapt, the generalists can adapt and they're the ones that's populations are increasing as we lose Boreal Forest at the expense of the habitat specialists, like the Wood Warbler, like the Black-throated Green Warbler we just heard.

1:22:06
EA: So the Red-breasted Nuthatch is a generalist whereas the¿

1:22:12
RT: No, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is, well it can survive in urban areas with a lot of Spruces, it's just like the American Robin, it can adapt somewhat, but primarily it's an old growth specialist. Again, that does require for nesting, these standing dead and decaying and diseased trees. So, in that sense it is a habitat specialist.

1:22:41
Ambi. Birds.

1:22:44
EA: I'm hearing so many birds now.

1:22:48
MC: I would like to get the Nuthatch, just in the clear because it got close¿

1:22:54
Ambi. Birds.

1:23:05
MC: It's not cooperating.

1:23:07
RT: There's another really nice one up here called a Magnolia Warbler¿.We'll go and look for that one.

1:23:13
MC: Ok.

1:23:14
Ambi. Walking, talking, coughing.

1:23:25
Ambi. Birds.

1:23:36
MC: Ok, I'm getting it really well now.

1:23:39
Ambi. Birds.
1:24:21
Cuts out.

1:24:22
Ambi. Birds.

1:24:47
MC: Alright, there's your Nuthatch.

1:24:50
Ambi. Talking about finding a bird.

1:25:05
Ambi. Walking.

1:25:20
Ambi. Talking.

1:25:30
Ambi. Walking

1:26:04
Ambi. Talking.

1:26:26
EA: ¿that moss¿This is kind of more classic sort of old growth when I think of old growth.

1:26:35
RT: Yeah, we're standing on the edge of this little creek valley and this is a real hotspot for birds, particularly in old growth because you've got open areas where trees have fallen, terrific topography on the forest floor, lots of standing and fallen dead trees and really massive Aspens here and lot of secondary growth of birches and Aspens, so if we were hanging around to bird, this would be one place to stake out and wait to see what we could hear. And you can see the topography on the forest floor, tremendous covering of mosses and all sorts of rot of the fallen logs and of course the Boreal Forest is a very efficient recycler, not as rapid as the rainforest because the rainforest depends for its nutrients on recycling very quickly because the soils are so poor, but here the recycling is slower paced, but just as remarkable all the same. So, all those fungi that foresters see and are not very fond of are all part of the Boreal's rich pattern as it were. And here we can see some more Balsam Firs and they do have the holes excavated by Black Soil Beetle Larvae and unfortunately I don't hear any, but they're remarkable because when the larvae are chewing through the insides of the trunks of these firs, they make such a loud noise you could hear it yards away if it's a calm day and you hear this chomp chomp chomp and see this shredded coconut coming out of a little hole in the side of the trunk. And if there's a lot of them in a Balsam Fir trunk, it looks like someone's showered the branches with shredded coconut. Amazing, so they're very busy recycling the Balsam Firs as well.

1:28:48
Ambi. Birds.

1:28:53
EA: Is that the wren again?

1:28:54
RT: That's the winter wren again, yeah.

1:28:56
EA: Man, that Winter Wren following us¿

1:28:58
RT: No, well, we're walking¿

1:28:59
MC: Everyone wants to be on the radio, I'm telling you.

1:29:52
RT: Well, I don't think you're going to be able to avoid it because everywhere we go there's one, which is another great indicator, that this is a super bit of healthy old growth forest, yeah¿

1:29:15
Ambi. Walking

1:29:42
MC: I'm going to get a bit of this stream just for fun.

1:29:44
EA: We'll walk ahead.

1:29:45
MC: Ok.

1:29:46
Ambi. Stream close up.

1:31:16
Sound ends

1:32:47
Tape ends

Close Title