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‘Like a little treasure hunt’: Christmas bird count marks 100 years




The light chatter about loving nature at Ottawa’s Rockcliffe lookout gives way to action as someone in the group spots another prize in their treasure hunt.

That hunt is the 100th annual Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count, a joint effort of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) and the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais (COO).

And Sunday, more than 100 bird watchers scoured the national capital region, counting as many birds as they could.

The local Christmas count was founded in 1919. Counts also take place throughout North America, with about 2,000 of them occurring each year.

The data compiled gives a snapshot of bird populations and migration patterns. Locally, bird watchers try to count every bird they can within 12 kilometres of the Peace Tower. 

Photographer Tony Beck has been taking part in the bird count for more than three decades. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Binoculars ‘more valuable than a gun’

The event has roots dating to 1900 in Massachusetts, when people would shoot birds on Christmas Day.

“It’s replacing the original tradition of the Christmas hunt,” said wildlife photographer Tony Beck.

“Now we’re learning that binoculars [are] actually more powerful, more valuable than a gun.”

This northern cardinal was one of the birds spotted during the annual Christmas bird count in Ottawa. (Nina Stavlund/Always An Adventure )

Beck has been birding for more than 35 years, and said it’s encouraging to see the count and citizen science take off. 

“It’s quite euphoric. It’s a connection to nature. And it’s also like a little treasure hunt … and if [the birds are] rare and unusual it can be quite exciting,” said Beck. 

Interesting and alarming finds

Rachelle Lapensee says the tracking produces valuable data that can help with conservation efforts. 

“These bird counts are important to me because the numbers can help. The numbers give us a better idea of our winter birds in this area, of what kind of migrants might stay and why,” she said. 

Lapensee added that she’s noticed trends both “interesting” and “alarming.”

“Especially when you see specific zones where there used to be massive populations and, for example, development comes into those areas — and our population by the next year alone drops significantly,” she said. 

Not all serious

But it’s not all serious: the count, Lapensee said, is also a great opportunity to socialize with other bird enthusiasts. 

We joke in a bird nerd sense and we have a good time.— Rachelle Lapensee

“It’s fun. We joke in a bird-nerd sense, and we have a good time, lots of laughs,” she said.

“And finally [I have] someone to talk to who actually knows what I’m talking about when I use four-letter band code.” 

Rachelle Lapensee says she was introduced to birds at a young age and has had a passion for them ever since. She was one of more than 100 bird enthusiasts who took part in Sunday’s annual Christmas bird count. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

After a day full of sightings, participants nested in for a diner buffet to compile numbers and earn bragging rights for their sightings. 

Bernie Ladouceur, the main organizer and compiler for Ottawa-Gatineau, said he’s taken part 47 years in a row. 

“It’s pretty amazing, especially when you look at the old records,” Ladouceur said.

“In 1919 … it’s just [incredible] how drastically different then is to now,” said Ladouceur.

The numbers will now be tallied and submitted to the Audubon Society. 


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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton




OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training




Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test




While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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