Waterton bird numbers near normal after wildfire

​It will take years before researchers are able to determine the overall impact a devastating wildfire had on species in Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park, but an annual bird count is providing reason for optimism.

Annual count shows there's reason to be optimistic

Images of the Waterton Valley, showing how the area looked immediately after, and one year after, fire tore through the area. (Parks Canada)

​It will take years before researchers are able to determine the overall impact a devastating wildfire had on species in Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park, but an annual bird count is providing reason for optimism.

The count in which members of the public tally the number of birds and their species has been a tradition for more than 40 years.

Annual counts done across North America between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 are co-ordinated by Bird Studies Canada in conjunction with the U.S. National Audubon Society, which began the practice in 1900.

Birders in the national park found 15 species and a total of 163 individual birds on one day, with a total of 21 species for the week.

"The results were pretty much on par with averages and fluctuations that take place in the winter over the years here in Waterton," said ecosystem scientist Kim Pearson.

2017 fire

On average, 27 species have been recorded on count day, with the lowest being 12 species in 2013. Pearson said the numbers are likely to jump during the next count in the spring.

"I'm not surprised," she said. "Wildlife are really adaptable and they have been dealing with disturbances on the landscape here for a long time and they're continuing to adapt."

In 2017, a powerful wildfire sparked by a lightning strike in British Columbia moved into Waterton and burned through more than 360 square kilometres, roughly one-third of the park, drastically changing the landscape.

The park, in the deep corner of southwestern Alberta along the United States border, was closed for weeks.

"The Kenow wildfire was of exceptional intensity, so it did have a lot of impact on the ecology and the wildlife of Waterton," said Pearson. "We're taking quite a close look at many aspects of that ecological recovery renewal."

She said it may take many years of collecting data to identify any trends.

"But there's nothing popping out at us so far."

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