Eagle-eyed students set biodiversity record on birdwatching field trip

Sixty University of Windsor biology students set a biodiversity record during a class field expedition on Saturday, September 29.

Students in professor Dan Mennill’s ornithology class observed 64 different species of birds on their day-long trip to Point Pelee National Park and Holiday Beach Conservation Area.

“This is the eighth year that I’ve taught this course,” explained Dr. Mennill, “and we’ve seen anywhere from 38 to 59 species during a full day of birdwatching. But we’ve never broken the barrier of 60 species.”

He suggested that the day’s big count could be attributed to a highly observant group of students and to cooperative weather: “The low clouds and fog on Friday night held a lot of migrating birds back, and these eagle-eyed students were ready to spot them.”

Mennill called Essex County “a biodiversity hotspot.”

“It is so exciting to see this many species of birds during a day-long field trip, and for the students to learn migration biology and field skills close to campus,” he said.

One of the great sights of the day was a juvenile green heron spotted by the students in the marsh at Point Pelee.

“I thought the coolest bird we saw was the green heron,” said Amanda Mamo, a fourth-year biology student. “It was so well camouflaged in its environment.”

Her classmate Angela Demarse was excited to see a little gull, a species observed at Point Pelee only once or twice each year.

“We caught a glimpse of a rare species, the little gull,” she said. “This is the smallest species of gull on Earth!”

After a morning of watching migratory birds in Point Pelee National Park, the ornithologists moved to the Holiday Beach Migration Observatory, learning about hawk and songbird census techniques.

Third-year biology student Matt Watson said he was interested to learn the procedure used for the fall hawk migration count.

And Mamo added: “I thought it was really interesting to see how they caught raptors with mist nets.”

See photos of the students in action on Mennill’s Web page.

students looking up through binoculars

Eyes on the skies: UWindsor biology students set a birdwatching record during a field expedition to local migration hotspots on Saturday. Click on image for full-size photo.

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