A baby bird in a nest.
An undated photo of a baby loon next to an egg; loons are among the migratory bird species for which ornithologist James Munro advocated. Photograph taken by James Munro’s nephew, Maurice Munro.
A person wearing glasses and a suit.
An undated photograph of James Munro (public domain image).

Nature’s champion

On April 22, Earth Day will be commemorated in 192 countries around the world. Since its inception in 1970, the event has sought to raise awareness of the need to protect Earth’s natural resources and foster a global environmental movement. Over the years, Vernon has been home to many environmental champions, one of whom was considered a leading authority on waterfowl in western North America.

James A. Munro was born in Kildonan, Manitoba, on November 8, 1884. He grew up in Toronto, where he was introduced to naturalists including Dr. William Brodie, Sam Wood, and John Edmonds. Munro moved to Okanagan Landing in 1910 with his wife Isabella, who was recovering from tuberculosis.

Here, Munro crossed paths with fellow ornithologist Major Allan Brooks. While they reportedly went on numerous field expeditions together and held each other’s abilities in high esteem, their strong-willed and opinionated natures often led to disagreements.

Chief federal migratory bird officer

Here, Munro crossed paths with fellow ornithologist Major Allan Brooks. While they reportedly went on numerous field expeditions together and held each other’s abilities in high esteem, their strong-willed and opinionated natures often led to disagreements.

In 1913, Munro became a member of the American Ornithological Union, and by 1920, assumed the role of Chief Federal Migratory Bird Officer for the four western Canadian provinces. He held this position until his retirement in 1949, during which period he authored more than 175 publications on the birds of British Columbia.

a LEGACY RECOGNIZED

Over the years, Munro’s concern about the human-induced degradation of waterfowl nesting habitats across the province grew steadily. He was deeply trouble by the observed pollution of lakes and streams and was one of the first to draw attention to this issue. His advocacy spurred further field studies investigating the effects of economic expansion and population growth on migratory birds, fish populations, and mammals.

Munro passed away in 1958, and a decade later, the Canadian Government erected a monument commemorating his achievements at Summit Creek, near Creston. This marked the federal government’s first acknowledgment of the accomplishments of one of its dedicated conservationists. On the occasion, Ian McTaggart, Dean of Graduate Studies at UBC, remarked that Munro “had been the chief spokesman in western Canada for the cause of migratory birds for 38 years.”

If you are interested in reading more about James A. Munro, click here for a comprehensive obituary by James L. Baillie. 

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Gwyneth Evans, Archives Manager

 

Frank M. Chapman, ornithologist. Image courtesy of Britannica.

The World’s Longest-Running Citizen Science Project

Around this time each year, hundreds of North Americans participate in Christmas Bird Counts to evaluate the health of their local bird populations in what is the world’s longest-running Citizen Science project. Counts take place in around 2000 locations across the continent, including here in Vernon.

Origins

The tradition began in 1900, when American ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed that instead of the long-standing Christmas hunt, birds should be observed and counted in an effort towards conservation. Chapman was a member of the then-nascent National Audobon Society, and it is this organization that continues to direct the project to this day.

Wood Duck (male), photographed by Jack VanDyk. Courtesy of the North Okanagan Naturalist’s Club.

The Count is on

Each local bird count is accomplished in the same way: over the course of a single day between December 14 and January 5, groups of volunteers venture out to count and identify all the birds they observe within a 24-diameter zone. The information is then compiled, and sent along to the Audobon Society to contribute towards a continent-wide snapshot of the health of avian populations. 

The Vernon bird count is organized by the North Okanagan Naturalist’s Club which was founded in 1951. Although these dedicated birders have not been able to gather as a large group to discuss and celebrate their findings since 2019, they continue to participate in the count and contribute towards the scientific observation of North America’s birds.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator