Tag Archives: Audubon

Calling All Birdwatchers: For the Birds, and for Us

Imagine knowing the abundance, distribution, habitat preferences, breeding ecology, migration pattern, and wintering habitat for 100+ bird species in the State of Connecticut. This is no simple task, but it is one that the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, along with many other partner organizations, citizen scientists, and bird lovers alike are willing to take on. The Connecticut Bird Atlas, starting in Spring 2018, will be the second such atlas conducted in the state, with the first Atlas of Breeding Birds in Connecticut published in 1994.

The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migratory species, was identified as a “Forest Health Indicator Species” by the Connecticut Forestlands Council Forest Ecosystem Health Committee for deciduous woodlands.

Unlike the first Connecticut Breeding Bird Atlas which aimed only to identify breeding distributions of Connecticut’s birds, the new study will survey distribution and abundance patterns throughout year, during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons. “The assessment will give us more detailed ecological information in terms of breeding dates, timing of migration, when wintering species arrive to overwintering areas, and how long they stay in overwintering areas,” says Randy Dettmers, senior migratory bird biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service division of Migratory Birds, and contributor to the Connecticut State of the Birds.

Almost three decades since the first Atlas, the habitat for birds in Connecticut has changed significantly. Development and expanding infrastructure have fragmented habitats, a benefit to birds who are habitat generalists but a detrimental change for species that require large areas of undisturbed forest; reforestation of previously developed land has benefited birds that use both mixed hardwood and coniferous forest, but presents challenges for birds that rely on early successional habitats (young forests); loss or conversion of agricultural lands has negatively impacted birds that prefer the old agricultural fields or grasslands but benefit birds who prefer forested habitat; and more variable climate conditions have resulted in birds with a historically “southern” range to now reside in Connecticut year-round. The new Atlas will capture the changes in abundance, distribution, and species composition as a result of these habitat changes, and the data will have implications for creating sound conservation plans, including the Connecticut State Wildlife Action Plan, that will benefit birds and other wildlife.

Zone land cover change in Connecticut from 1985-2010.

Birds are an indicator species for the health of our environment, meaning the presence, abundance, or absence of birds is indicative of a change in the biological health of an ecosystem.

Birds make an excellent proxy for diagnosing the health of an ecosystem which includes birds, other wildlife, and people. They serve as an indicator for how we are adapting or not adapting to the changing landscape and changing climate, making the new Atlas an essential decision-making tool for land managers, municipal planners, developers, state and federal agencies, and conservationists alike.

The cerulean warbler was identified as a “Forest Health Indicator Species” by the Connecticut Forestlands Council Forest Ecosystem Health Committee for deciduous woodlands. Among the rarest Neotropical migrant songbirds, their populations continue to decline due to loss of breeding, migrating, and overwintering habitat.

As often stated, birds do not recognize boundaries, and can be thought of as having dual citizenship. Therefore, the new Atlas will not only provide important implications for the state of Connecticut, but will be used to develop and implement comprehensive, region-wide conservation management strategies. “The updated information from the new Atlas will help us understand how different bird species are shifting their distributions and abundance in southern New England,” says Randy Dettmers. “When comparing the data to information from surrounding states, we will gain a better understanding of how birds are responding to larger environmental changes, including changes in land use, levels of contaminants in the environment, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.”

The golden-winged warbler was identified as a “Forest Health Indicator Species” by the Connecticut Forestlands Council Forest Ecosystem Health Committee for shrubland and young forest habitats. Populations are declining due to loss of breeding and wintering habitat.

Without citizen science, scientists would not be able to collect the necessary data to accomplish the task at hand.

The CT Bird Atlas project will be accomplished through the collaborative work of professionals and citizen scientists. Interested in taking advantage of this opportunity to learn about birds and their habitats, gain science skills, and connect with nature while giving back? Check out the CT Bird Atlas website here to see how you can get involved!

 

Floating Loon Rafts for Rent: One Occupied This Past Summer

loonnest_withegg

Artificial nesting platform with loon egg.  Photo: NYSDEC.

What does it take to bring back an icon to Northern New York? That’s the question that has left habitat managers scratching their heads for the past decade. After construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, much of the original habitat for shore-nesting birds was flooded out. As it turns out, with four cedar logs, some natural vegetation, and a lot of patience, there might be some hope for restoring the not-so-common loon to the St. Lawrence River.

“Here in the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project area, there are a few loons that nest in the general area, but there’s open water flowing so it’s not necessarily a great spot,” explains Mike Morgan, who manages the Habitat Improvement Projects (HIPs) on the St. Lawrence.

When the Power Project was up for relicensing back in the late 1990s, the Service, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and other agencies identified potential impacts of the power dam that should be taken into consideration. As a result, the New York Power Authority has helped fund, construct, and implement at least ten Habitat Improvement Projects targeting a variety of fish and wildlife potentially impacted by the dam.

loon-with-chick_bri

Common loon with chick.  Photo: USFWS.

One of those species is the Common Loon. “Loons are kind of a charismatic species that people care a lot about and are considered for a lot of hydropower projects” says Morgan. Loons are pretty susceptible to water level fluctuations since they generally nest close to the shoreline. “So a pretty common technique to mitigate that is to put out rafts in suitable areas for loons to nest on because the rafts will float up and down with the water and still be easy for the loons to access,” Mike explains.

After roughly five years of trying this on Lake St. Lawrence with no loons nesting on the rafts, some were ready to give up. Having a “you build it, they will come” mentality doesn’t quite work out for loons and other species, as Mike explains. It has been a process of trial-and-error to find areas where placing artificial nesting platforms most effectively meets the needs of breeding loons. Not to mention the amount of energy it takes to haul these water-logged rafts in and out each season. Some years, geese have taken up residency on the rafts before the loons could, posing some competition for breeding space.

“One of our concerns is actually bald eagles, which is kind of funny because we like to have bald eagles around and they’re a pretty charismatic species in their own right, but they’re big enough to make life unpleasant for nesting loons,” says Mike.

loonchickhatched

First loon chick to successfully hatch and fledge from an artificial nesting platform in the St. Lawrence Power Project area.  Photo: NYSDEC.

Finally, on the tenth anniversary of the start of the HIPs, the first loon chick hatched and fledged from one of the artificial nesting platforms this past summer. That’s not the only good news – 75 osprey chicks hatched on installed nesting poles, and roughly 11,500 common tern chicks hatched on artificial nesting structures during the 10 years of management efforts for St. Lawrence River birds.

Biologists Steve Patch and Scott Schlueter from the Service continue to meet each year with other representatives from the NYSDEC, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Northern New York Audubon Society, the Power Authority, and the local government to review progress and make future decisions about Habitat Improvement Projects on the St. Lawrence River.

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Christmas Bird Counts!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s Christmas Bird Count Season, or as I call, CBC!

Every year thousands of citizen scientist volunteers like you venture out to participate in the nation’s longest-running citizen science bird project of the National Audubon Society. For over 100 years, citizen scientist volunteers have been collecting data on early-winter birds throughout the US, Canada and many countries in the Western Hemisphere.  Important data collected on the Christmas Bird Counts helps fuel the conservation work that helps protect all bird species! Click the link here to join in on the fun or keep up with the results as we enter the 117th annual count.

I participated in my first CBC in 2013 when a neighbor invited me to join the local group. I was only a beginner birder, but after my first morning I was hooked! I was paired up with Jon Dale, a very experienced birder and data compiler, who helped me identify some great birds. We were able to count close to 1000 birds that day, and even managed to spot two Pileated Woodpeckers, a first time bird for me!

“The annual Christmas Bird Count is an exciting way for bird watchers of all ages, whether counting backyard visitors or spending time in the field, to participate in the great “Citizen Science Project” which will provide valuable data for individuals and organizations trying to protect and preserve our avian resource.” – Jon Dale

In the time since my first bird count, I couldn’t help but keep a personal record of all the new species I’ve found and identified. I’ve become a better birder and I’ve continued to volunteer with CBC every year since!

Never birded before? No problem! Sign up in an area near you and get partnered with an experienced birder in your area! You’ll need to bring binoculars and I highly recommend bringing an ID guide or using a bird ID app. The Christmas Bird Counts are free and always looking for the next generation of citizen scientists to join the count! Click here for more information and available locations near you!