Science Program Manager

Why does RPBO need a Science Program Manager?

For almost 30 years, RPBO has been gathering information on bird movements over southern Vancouver Island and beyond.

Since our initial fall migration monitoring project at Rocky Point in Metchosin, we have expanded to

  • two fall monitoring stations for songbirds,
  • two fall migration monitoring stations for owls,
  • two spring songbird MAPS sites (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship),
  • more than a dozen sites throughout BC and one in Alberta for hummingbird migration and breeding studies, and
  • a seawatch project gathering data on seabird movement through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We have participated in many collaborative studies with, and for, other researchers such as gathering bird parasites (ticks, flat flies), collecting blood samples to track West Nile virus, deploying tracking tags to monitor migratory routes of Northern Saw-whet Owls and Fox Sparrows, collecting hummingbird urine samples for pesticide analysis, and contributing feather samples for DNA barcoding. As one of the most western bird observatories in North America, RPBO receives several requests each year to provide data and/or samples to researchers from across the continent to support studies on a wide variety of species.

We have built an impressive database of more than 130,000 records containing information about local species and individual data such as bird age, sex,  weight, wing length, detection dates, and more. This data can contribute to the understanding of population trends, survival rates, demographics, species’ ranges, and effects of climate change or natural disasters such as forest fires, floods, and heat domes.

Volunteers contribute 8000 hrs per year to the collection of this data.  By following our established protocols and techniques, some volunteers have learned to be skilled field technicians, regardless of their professional backgrounds.  Seasonal banders hired during the migration monitoring season oversee, and provide the balance of, the data collection effort, and are also responsible for training and monitoring the volunteers, and checking the integrity of the raw data.

We have excelled at getting data into the system. However, once the field staff and volunteers finish the season, there is no one left with the skills and time to do the next step: pull the data out of the system and share the knowledge that professional analysis will reveal.

In a way, this is a lot like building your own home.  Rocky Point Bird Observatory has done a fantastic job of building the structure and filling the rooms. At the end of the day, though, a DIY home builder still has to rely on hydro to come and connect the power. This is the primary role of the biologist – to bring power to the database we’ve built over the last 30 years.

Meet James Kennerley

James has been fascinated by birds for as long as he can remember. Growing up in the UK, he was fortunate to have mentors and role models who helped to nurture these interests, including providing the opportunity to study birds in the hand. Becoming a bander while still in elementary school, James has never looked back.

As a keen traveller, James has sought opportunities around the world to learn about birds and how to study them. His travels have taken him from the cloud forests of Honduras to the deserts of Uzbekistan: however, it was a visit to Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario in 2012 that ignited a profound connection with Canada and its avifauna. The following year, we were delighted to welcome him to RPBO as an Assistant Bander.

Now with a PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge (UK) and a decade of professional experience under his belt, we are thrilled to welcome James back to RPBO as our inaugural Science Program Manager. Drawing on his expertise, James will lead RPBO’s research program to new heights. His focus will be on interpreting and analysing the extensive dataset RPBO has amassed since the observatory’s inception in the 90’s, to inform conservation efforts of our regions’ special and threatened birds.

In his spare time, James is an avid birder and keen naturalist and enjoys spending as much time as he can outside with his binoculars, camera, sound recording gear, and the eBird app running.

Whether you meet him while birding or at one of our banding stations, he’d be delighted to talk all things brood parasitism (cuckoos and cowbirds) and the birds of Australia, which were the subject of his PhD.

James Kennerley

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