Author Archives: usfwsnortheastblog

Father and Son Take a Volunteer Vacation

Today we’re hearing a great story from guest blogger, Larry Miller, the Hatchery Manager at Allegheny National Fish Hatchery in Warren, Pennsylvania.

Volunteer Vacation, or voluntourism, is becoming an attractive way to travel around the globe for those looking to get away, make an impact, take a career break, or investigate a new career path. Voluntourism is a great way to see and become immersed in a new town or country, and offers a unique opportunity to have fun, while giving your trip a sense of purpose. Recently, we welcomed a son and his father a vacation together volunteering at the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery. Not only did the men provide valuable assistance to the hatchery, they got to spend quality time together and fish the Allegheny River.

Craig Gaviglia is a student at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania studying environmental science with an interest in natural resource management. Dave Gaviglia, Craig’s dad, works for an engineering firm as an environmental consultant working on investigating groundwater contamination and its clean-up. Craig wanted to gain some experience in the natural resources field so together we worked out a plan for Craig to volunteer at the hatchery for a week. Craig’s dad, Dave, thought this sounded like a neat idea, so he decided to accompany Craig for a father-son adventure and also volunteer for the week.

Photo by Dace Gaviglia

Craig and Dave spent their week feeding fish, cleaning raceways, and conducting fish inventories of growth and survival. Craig’s most memorable task was adipose fin clipping the bloaters,a native prey fish being restored to Lake Ontario to help restore lake trout and land-locked Atlantic salmon. Fin clipping helps biologists in the Service, State, and Canadian natural resource agencies identify the hatchery-stocked bloaters and evaluate the success of bloater restoration efforts.

Craig told staff “This was a great experience. I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know the staff and I gained a greater appreciation for the fish restoration work occurring at the hatchery.” Indeed, the work seemed right up Craig’s alley. He said “It’s almost like a hobby, not a job,” much like the adage by Mark Twain “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

As for his favorite part of the experience Dave said “I enjoyed working side by side with my son. I also enjoyed learning about the hatchery and how meticulous the work can be caring for the fish. I would do it again if given the chance.”

It was certainly not all work and no play for Craig and Dave. Both are avid angling enthusiasts and plied the waters of the Allegheny River and its tributaries in the Kinzua Dam area. Craig caught a nice brown trout and a palomino trout in some feeder streams to the Allegheny, and he also caught a nice rainbow trout just downstream of the hatchery on the Allegheny River.

Click here to learn more about the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery.

Weathering the storm: piping plovers flock to Long Island beaches

If you live in the Northeast, you won’t soon forget 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. But there is one storm story you may have yet to hear.

Along some areas of the Long Island coast, strong winds and waves washed over the beaches, spreading out sand to create the sandy, open spaces that the island’s winged residents rely on for nesting. For biologists, the restored beach habitat was a sign of hope for the threatened piping plover, whose numbers had been precariously low in New York.

An example of an overwash area on Fire Island Wilderness area Photo credit: USFWS

Researchers from Virginia Tech investigated the effects of Sandy on Long Island with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Suffolk County, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In comparing 2010 and 2015 plover habitat areas and population abundances, they found a substantial increase in suitable habitat and a modest population increase. Notably, more than half of the new habitat on Fire Island and Westhampton Island was created during the storm, with the rest of the habitat engineered by the Corps.

Outreach Coordinator Bret Serbin with Long Island Field Office biologists at the Fire Island Wilderness area. From left: Steve Papa, Kerri Dikun, Bret Serbin, and Steve Sinkevich. Photo credit: USFWS

This increase in available habitat likely contributed to the 40.6 percent increase in plover population on Fire Island and Westhampton Island since the hurricane. This boost is a welcome addition for the bird, which faces numerous threats and is struggling to reach the goal of 575 pairs set out in the federal recovery plan. The researchers also found that the number of nesting pairs in the area has increased over the past 5 years, and they are optimistic that 2018 will be a year of continued productivity for the birds in the area.

Since piping plover chicks have to forage for themselves, plovers like to build nests on flat open beaches close to the shoreline where they have easy access to the tiny invertebrates that they feed on. By creating a number of new overwashes and breaches, Sandy helped expand the territory where plovers and their chicks can live, eat, and grow before their winter journey.

A rare sight: an abundance of piping plovers! Photo credit: USFWS

The reaction from the local plover population has been telling: among new and returning plovers at each beach in the study area, more than 80 percent chose the newly-created habitats to build their nests. And the new plovers exclusively nested in these new areas, completely avoiding the less favorable habitat that existed before Sandy’s contributions. The Hurricane Sandy beach redesign seems popular among the plovers.

This new habitat inches the birds one step closer towards recovery. But what the researchers call a “modest increase” in population is still a long way off from the desired plover population on Long Island. And since much of the newly created habitat is not in protected areas, only time will tell how long and how much the birds will really be able to enjoy these new spaces. To recover this species and others that depend on storm-generated habitat, we must look for solutions that balance shorebird habitat creation while protecting human infrastructure so that we can both weather the storm.

Giving songbirds something to sing about

For birds, migration is hard. Really hard. Many migratory species travel thousands of miles through all weather conditions with limited food resources. While many mysteries still remain around bird migration, scientists are learning more and more about the whys and hows of this incredible phenomenon. And it has a group of scientists in the Northeast asking: can we make migration a little easier for some songbirds by enhancing their favored habitats?

In 2015, a collaborative project began between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Massachusetts, and the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. By collecting data on bird health and by tracking movements of migrating songbirds in the Connecticut River Valley, the team hopes to determine the best habitat types for certain migratory birds that stop over in the area.

To gather this information, the team has been capturing woodland birds during spring and fall migrations using mist nets. Once captured, birds are banded and several measurements are taken including wing and beak size. Blood is drawn from some target species and brought back to a lab for analysis. The research team is getting a picture of the birds’ overall health by determining body composition (fat, lean mass, and water content), and instantaneous refueling rates which help determine if birds are gaining or losing mass during a stopover.

Additionally, select birds are fitted with NanoTag transmitters which allow biologists to track the birds’ movements. NanoTags are tiny tags that emit a signal that can be tracked with telemetry equipment. Biologists can identify individual birds and their locations for months using the devices that are attached to the birds with a tiny elastic harness. Among the species targeted in this study are Swainson’s thrushes, northern waterthrushes, yellow-rumped warblers, Lincoln’s sparrows, and white-throated sparrows. Data collection for this project wrapped up this spring; and over the past four years, biologists were able to band nearly 3,000 birds and fit over 200 target birds with NanoTag transmitters.

This study has been taking place within the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge encompasses an impressive 36,000 acres of the Connecticut River watershed in the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The team has focused its capture and banding efforts on old-field sites within the Conte Refuge for this study, including the Fort River Trail area in Hadley, MA and the Orchard Hill section of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. Each site is less than 1/3 of a mile from the Connecticut River.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist, Troy Wilson, says, “We are interested in how physiological condition affects performance during the life stage of migration. Condition metrics – fat, lean mass, water – are used as indicators of the heath of birds, as well as a means to determine the quality of the habitats they occupy as they refuel from one location to the next.” The end goal is to determine how the Connecticut River Valley and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge can be a better host for migrating birds. The team hopes to be able to make recommendations for habitat management, specifically where forested areas should be converted to early successional habitat through forest management, and where old fields and shrublands might be managed for specific plant species and habitat structure that provide the highest benefits to birds during migration.

Jennifer Lynch-MurphyJennifer Lynch Murphy is a wildlife biologist with C&S Engineers, specializing bird-aircraft collisions. She lives in Sunderland, MA with her husband, Kevin, and dog, Levi.