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Happy Valley-Goose Bay woman working on a guide to the birds of Nunatsiavut

Hundreds of viewers visited the Sheffield Mills Eagle Watch site Jan. 27 to catch a glimpse of the birds perched in nearby trees and swooping for food left in a field at the corner of Bains and Middle Dyke roads.
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Michelle Saunders is a young woman from Happy Valley-Goose Bay who is in the process of leading a one-of-a-kind project.

A student in the field of biology, Saunders has spent the last several years living in St. John’s for her studies. The project she is working on is building a guide to the birds of Labrador, with a focus on birds from Nunatsiavut.

It was after taking a class in ornithology under Dr. Ian Jones where she first came up with the idea of creating this guide. Jones is a respected biologist who has focused on ecology of seabirds and has done work that has taken him to Alaska amongst other places, and a number of his students have gone on to work in the fields of environmental conservation and zoology.

“I thought about how there isn't currently a guide to birds of Labrador and especially with Nunatsiaviumiut knowledge in it. Being a Nunatsiavut beneficiary, I thought this was a niche that needed to be filled and very nervously asked Ian if we could write a book and to my surprise he thought this was the best idea he's heard in years!” says Saunders.

She said the plan is to make a normal field guide (ex. Peterson's Field Guide to Birds) but with a specific focus on Nunatsiavut culture including Inuttitut names, cultural significance and subsistence use of birds.

Saunders describes this project as an even mix of traditional and scientific knowledge.

“The guide will have all the Nunatsiavut traditional knowledge like names, subsistence use, etc. but will be like a western field guide with biological information on birds including identification tips, range, etc. as well.”

She has said it has been surprising how much knowledge they have been able to gather already through a variety of sources.

“We have received huge interest and great entries from the community and are hoping for more entries and to meet with more of the community when we visit this summer.”

Many people from Labrador are learning more about the project through social media and have begun to make contributions of photos and information for the guide.

This upcoming summer in a still to be announced date in July, Saunders and Dr. Jones will take their project on the road and visit a variety of communities in Labrador, including Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rigolet, Hopedale and Nain. She says that if people are interested in helping with this project, they can do so by coming to the community meetings that will be held. For those looking to contribute more quickly, they can do so by emailing their photos of the birds being hunted and prepared, along with a description of where the photo was taken and the name of the birds in English or Inuttitut to michelleks@mun.ca

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