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The Belleville Intelligencer

Area drivers urged to watch out for endangered loggerhead shrike

Saturday, March 20, 2004

By Bill Hunt

Blessington - An interpretive display at the corner of Blessington Road and Shannonville Road aims to raise awareness of the endangered loggerhead shrike songbird that nests in the region.

There are fewer than 100 pairs of loggerhead shrikes in all of Canada and the north-eastern U.S.

Chris Grooms, eastern regional co-ordinator for Ontario Nature - Federation of Ontario Naturalist was present for the unveiling ceremony at the Blessington General Store, owned by Paul and Bridget Sartoretto.

The area is part of the Napanee Limestone Plain and is one of only five areas in Canada where the songbird is found to nest.  The other four are Smith Falls, Cardin Plain (near Lindsay), the Grey Bruce - Manitoulin region and eastern Manitoba, said Grooms.  Manitoba has very few of the birds left.

The Napanee Limestone Plain stretches from Belleville to Kingston and from Prince Edward County to Erinsville.  It has been designated an Important Bird Area by the Ontario Nature Federation.  The designation is a non-binding way of raising public awareness and encouraging public stewardship of the bird's habitat.  There are almost 600 IBAs in Canada.

The number of loggerhead shrikes in the region fluctuates.

"Two years ago we had 25 pairs.  It's gone up and down over the years," but in 2003 there were only 12 pairs in the area, said Grooms.

"Our display is intended to raise awareness of the shrike's situation, the existence of the Important Bird Area and the important role landowners play in habitat stewardship.  It also promotes responsible eco-tourism by birdwatchers that come to see shrikes and the many grassland birds of the area," said Sid Andrews, president of the Kingston Field Naturalists, which erected the display board.  A second display board was placed in Newburgh.

The Napanee Limestone Plain provides good habitat areas for the birds because they prefer to hunt and nest in open pastures and grasslands.  However, their habitat is being encroached upon by development and the growth of shrubs and trees that occurs after farmland is divided and sold for other purposes.  The birds are also being killed in significant numbers by vehicles because they nest on fence posts and utility wires and often hunt the open road for insects.

"Grasslands birds are declining in general because of the loss of habitat," said Grooms.

The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program is an attempt to reverse that trend.  It involves private landowners, Kingston Field Naturalists, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Wildlife Preservation Trust Canada, Toronto Zoo, McGill University and several other organizations.

Along with providing information about the endangered bird, the display board asks motorists to slow to 50km per hour in the region so shrikes can have enough time to get out of the way of motorists.