Introducing Canada’s 29th New Noah

Amélie Roberto-Charron

Meet Amélie

Neither of my parents are particularly outdoorsy. I’m sure they were concerned when their daughter would come home with all sorts of critters, such as water beetles, wolf spiders, wasps, and minnows, insisting on keeping them as pets. This rarely turned out in my favour! I also went through a strange phase as a child where I tried, unsuccessfully, to hatch a chick in my sock drawer from a chicken egg taken from the fridge. Thankfully, my parents supported and encouraged me even when I insisted on sleeping in our backyard in Edmonton rather than in my bedroom.

My passion for wildlife and the outdoors led me to an adolescence filled with camping and hiking, and eventually resulted in my pursuing an undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta. During my undergraduate degree, I became very interested in plant ecology and botany, which led me to work for the Herbarium and a Plant Ecology lab, and to become president of the University of Alberta Botany Club.

Only in the final year of my degree did I become interested in ornithology. I was required to take a 400-level zoology course as part of my program requirements. I recall pleading with my academic advisor, asking her to allow me to take an ecology or botany course. Naturally she refused, citing that it was good for students emerging from the program to be well-rounded. I have since gone back and thanked my academic advisor, as her insistence that I take this class shaped my life.

So I went on to register for the 400-level zoology course, and the only course that fit in my schedule was ornithology. I went to the first class with a lot of trepidation and let all my preconceived ideas on the class be confirmed. Birders were in fact an odd bunch. I begrudgingly went to class for the first few weeks. It was only when a well-known ornithologist came and gave a presentation on migration tracking did I come around to the idea that birds were pretty neat, after all.

A rapid shift took place once I let go of my stubbornness and prejudice. I not only became engaged in lecture; now it became the highlight of my day. I promptly joined the local Wildlife Society Chapter, started going on bird walks with the Edmonton Nature Club and the University of Alberta Magpie Club, and became a volunteer at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory (BBO).

Towards the end of the class I even took a leap and applied to be a banding assistant at the BBO. Surprisingly I was contacted for an interview, but I was informed that there would be an identification quiz. Not knowing many migratory birds yet, as we had yet to cover bird ID as part of my ornithology class and I had only been exposed to winter birding, I asked the ornithology Teaching Assistant for help. He patiently spent hours running through study skins with me, noting the differences between similar species and recommending audio recordings for me to reference.

I was absolutely thrilled when I got hired! I had one of the most amazing summers: banding songbirds in the morning, going raptor banding or catching butterflies in the afternoon, monitoring nest boxes in the evenings, and watching for owls at night.

This position led to a fall contract banding northern saw-whet owls at the BBO, and then a position as a Junior Biologist with Fiera Biological Consulting Ltd. After working for Fiera, I chose to return to the BBO and became the executive director.

My experience as the Executive Director was an incredible one. I worked on numerous projects. I conducted and coordinated spring and fall songbird migration monitoring, fall owl migration monitoring, Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) programming, nest box monitoring of mountain bluebirds, house wrens, tree swallows and northern saw-whet owls, and searched for and monitored naturally-occurring nests. I also led and participated in additional programs including butterfly surveys, autonomous recording unit monitoring, bat box monitoring, mammal surveys, and amphibian surveys. It was an incredibly diverse job that I thoroughly enjoyed. Although it was a difficult decision to leave the organization that had been so influential to building my identity as a wildlife biologist, I wished to further develop my analytical skills. I was the Executive Director for two years prior to deciding to pursue an M.Sc. at the University of Manitoba with Dr. Kevin Fraser.

My M.Sc. was a remarkable experience. My research was focused on tracking the Canada Warbler, a small threatened neotropical songbird using light-level geolocators. The Canada Warbler migrates from its breeding grounds in Canada and the north-eastern United States to wintering grounds in northern South America. Geolocators are lightweight tracking devices that record ambient light and Greenwich Mean Time to determine the daily locations of an individual year-round. As they don’t transmit any information, to retrieve the data you must recover the tag. I deployed geolocators using a backpack-like attachment on Canada Warblers at sites across their range, in Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick. I also organized the deployment of tags at additional sites in New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Quebec. I returned the subsequent year to recover units from returning birds. This project permitted me to travel across Canada, live out of a tent for months at a time, spend my summers in the boreal forest, and to be surrounded by incredible migratory songbirds every day. I think the only way to surpass such an amazing experience is to be chosen as Canada’s New Noah.

I feel so fortunate to have been selected as the 29th Canada’s New Noah by Wildlife Preservation Canada. I know that this once in a lifetime opportunity will be a formative one and I look forward to everything that I will learn on this incredible adventure.

Follow along with Amélie as she explores Mauritius!

About the Canada’s New Noah Scholarship

Canada’s New Noah is a prestigious scholarship that been bestowed annually to one promising young Canadian wildlife biologist every year since 1990. New Noah’s spend six months on the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, home of the fabled but ill-fated dodo, where they are embedded within a work internship program with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, a world-renowned conservation organization carrying out hands-on recovery programs for some of the world’s rarest species.

During the six-month internship, New Noahs learn the practical aspects of being part of an integrated conservation program focused on invasive species, small population management, and endangered species reintroductions. This is followed by a three-month course at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in the U.K. where the Noah is enrolled in a course in Endangered Species Management run by the Durrell Conservation Academy in partnership with The University of Kent.