Author Archives: debrareynolds2014

About debrareynolds2014

Debra Reynolds is the Communication and Outreach Coordinator for the Division of Migratory Birds and the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture. She has a passion for sharing her love of birds and their habitats with people so they can enjoy them too.

Winter Birds: The Northeast is Actually South for Some Species

Today we are hearing from Division of Migratory Birds volunteer Lee Halasz.

Today we are hearing from Division of Migratory Birds volunteer Lee Halasz.

The Northeastern U.S. experiences large seasonal differences in temperature, and has among the most marked seasonality in the world. The four distinct seasons that we enjoy provide opportunities for a great diversity of bird life to thrive here. Some birds are residents and live in the northeast all year round. Common resident birds include chickadees, northern cardinals, blue jays and house sparrows.

However, most species that occur in the northeast are not residents and only spend a season or two locally. These birds are called migrants and live a good portion of the year somewhere else. For example, in late spring and summer there are a whole range of birds in the northeast that you will not see at other times of the year, such as hummingbirds, swallows, catbirds and warblers. During winter these birds are typically found in the southern U.S., and Central and South America.

There are many duck species that spend the warmer months breeding in northern Canada and beyond, which migrate south to be in the northeast during winter. Species like common goldeneye and ring-necked duck will only be found in the northeast in the colder months. During a winter walk along the coast you may see large ‘rafts’ of ducks bobbing and diving in the swell, including scoters, mergansers, eider and scaup.

Raft of Surf Scoters

Raft of Surf Scoters, Andrew Reding

For many duck species it is here in a northeast winter that pair bonding and mating occurs. Later, when waters in the far north of the continent begin to thaw, they fly north to lay their eggs and raise ducklings.

There are many other birds which spend the warmer months breeding in the tundra or boreal forests of the north, and are only seen locally when they come south in the colder months.

Snowy Owl, David Mitchell

Snowy Owl, David Mitchell

During the 2013-2014 winter, snowy owls irrupted spectacularly and could be readily seen during the day in many coastal areas of the northeast. The large numbers of this huge owl really captivated people.

Dark-eyed juncos, small boldly marked gray and white birds, are also called snowbirds by some, as their arrival at a bird feeder is one of the prominent signs that winter is on the way. Their reappearance is often announced with “Oh, no, the juncos are back”.

Winter also brings large numbers of gulls to parking lots and garbage dumps. These birds make a living finding food that is dropped or inappropriately disposed of. They have adapted to this new food source and have found a place to be during the colder months.

In late winter, early returning summer migrants like red-winged blackbirds reappear, bringing hope that the end of winter is near. Though there is often some waiting yet…

Meet Pam Toschik, Chief of Migratory Birds

Pam Toschik, Chief of Migratory Birds, Northeast Region

Pam Toschik, Chief of Migratory Birds, Northeast Region

Today we’re hearing from Pam Toschik, our new regional chief for the Division of Migratory Birds. I recently had a chance to ask her several questions about her past experience and what’s she’s looking forward to in her new position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

What is your professional background?
I have a passion for bird conservation that started at a young age. My grandfather was a wildlife artist, hunter and conservationist, and his paintings and sculptures of birds filled my home. I attended Audubon Expeditions Institute, learning about consensus decision making, and communities and conservation challenges across the United States. During my undergraduate studies at Cornell University I researched the impacts of contaminants on waterfowl habitat to inform management at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. My graduate work looked at how contaminants and habitat availability impacted on ospreys in the mid-Atlantic. As a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow, I worked on Antarctic policy with the National Science Foundation. I then went to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work on international policy on Antarctic policy, trade and the environment. I also worked with international teams to prevent bycatch of seabirds and to develop large-scale marine protection initiatives in Antarctica. I am proud to now call myself a part of the migratory birds team here in the northeast.

What are you goals as the new Chief?
My primary goal is to support the outstanding team of people, including our Service staff and our many partners, working to manage, protect and understand migratory birds in the northeast. I will work with the team to continue their great work to address key conservation issues impacting migratory birds in the northeast region. Our partners in other programs of the Service, other U.S. government agencies, states, and non-governmental organizations are critically important to our success in conserving migratory birds, and as such, supporting and fostering these already strong partnerships is a priority for me.

How will you bring your international partnership experience to the program?
My experience in international policy gives me strong sense of the importance of consensus building to identify and achieve shared objectives. Migratory birds know no political boundaries, and therefore conservation requires successful regional and international partnerships. Many migratory birds in the northeast region spend the majority of their year in migration and wintering areas across North and South America, making international cooperation essential for effective conservation.

What priorities of the MB program are you most excited about sharing?
Conservation that works! As the State of the Birds 2014 reported, the northeast region’s migratory bird team and our partners have a successful track record of identifying conservation priorities and working with partners to address them. Some of our top priorities right now include:

  • implementing landscape scale conservation
  • implementing the Atlantic flyway shorebird conservation business strategy
  • supporting strategic habitat conservation through bird joint ventures and partnerships
  • supporting habitat and conservation through federal grant programs
  • connecting with urban youth and engage people with nature
  • supporting conservation of petitioned/listed species through full life-cycle planning
  • supporting and informing decision making regarding energy development
  • providing high quality public service through permit issuance and compliance
  • looking to the future to identify future needs and priorities.

We are excited to have Pam leading our migratory bird team. Welcome Pam!

Pam and her husband Evan Grant learning the ropes from her grandfather.

Pam and her husband Evan Grant learning the ropes from her grandfather.

Neighborhood Nestwatch: Citizen Science in Action

Measuring a chickadee captured in a mist net in my neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Beth.

Measuring a chickadee captured in a mist net in my neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Beth.

Today we are hearing from guest blogger Beth Goldstein who participated in Neighborhood Nestwatch with her family.

Today we are hearing from guest blogger Beth Goldstein who participated in Neighborhood Nestwatch with her family. Photo courtesy of Beth.

Three years ago, as I was climbing the stairs in my office building, something caught my eye on the staircase bulletin board. It was a flier inviting volunteers to enroll in Neighborhood Nestwatch, a citizen-science program that offers opportunities to be a biologist in your own backyard. It was late spring, the school year was winding down and I was looking for something fun to do with the kids over the summer.

Soon I was contacted to schedule a date for the crew to survey birds at my house. I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew what they were getting into. I live just a couple blocks away from downtown Northampton, Massachusetts. Both my front and back yards are tiny with one large silver maple and a half-dead red bud tree. But I wanted – needed – something fun and preferably educational for my kids to do that summer, so I told them to come on down!

At 7 a.m. sharp on the appointed day, the crew arrived at my house. They spent the first hour walking around my neighborhood listening for and recording bird songs. Afterwards they got down to the difficult task of setting up mist nets in an urban neighborhood. By this time the kids had straggled out of bed and were watching the crew navigate their way through closely spaced shrubs, trees and impervious surfaces to erect the nets. Once the nets were erected, the crew set up audio recordings of bird songs to call in certain species. (Note: This is a great way for your kids to learn bird calls!)

Last year the crew caught a pine siskin but did not band it because it is not one of the targeted species. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Linda Tanner.

Last year the crew caught a pine siskin but did not band it because it is not one of the targeted species. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Linda Tanner.

For the next several hours, we hung out on our front porch listening to recorded bird songs, watching birds fly around the nets, and talking about Neighborhood Nestwatch. The project recruits volunteers who work with scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to find and monitor bird nests and record and report their observations. Scientists are especially interested in comparing nest success in urban, suburban and rural backyards. Biologists have been marking target bird species with a unique combination of colored plastic leg bands so that individual birds can be identified. Participants keep a watchful eye out throughout the year to identify “their” birds and report their sightings either on paper or electronically.

Banded chickadee

Banded chickadee. Photo courtesy of Beth.

That first year we did not catch any birds, and last year the crew caught a pine siskin but did not band it because it is not one of their target species. This year we caught a young chickadee. After documenting the bird’s weight and wing length, it was banded. The other highlight of this year’s visit was when the crew noticed an abundance of birds in my neighbor’s yard. They asked my neighbor if they could set up a net in her backyard. She loved the idea of participating in the program and the crew was excited about having another volunteer in the neighborhood.

A couple months after the Nestwatch crew visited us this year, I heard a story on New England Public Radio about the program. I was thrilled to hear it was getting increased local attention. Participating in the program is a great way to learn about birds and an ideal summer project for kids!