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

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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 more 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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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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