Tag Archives: golden-winged warbler

Vermont graduate student Christine Peterson collecting vegetation data along a power line right of way. Credit: Dr. Allan Strong

Birds on a wire: How power lines can help songbirds

Vermont graduate student Christine Peterson collecting vegetation data along a power line right of way. Credit: Dr. Allan Strong

Today you’re hearing from Christine Peterson, a graduate student in the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. Here she is collecting vegetation data along a power line right-of-way. Credit: Dr. Allan Strong

Many people probably never think about power line rights of way or, perhaps, never even hear of them. But for some migratory bird species, rights of way could provide essential habitat, which is why they have become the focus of my research.

Here is a blue-winged warbler nest we found during habitat mapping. Credit: Christine Peterson

Here is a blue-winged warbler nest we found during habitat mapping. Credit: Christine Peterson

An electric power line right of way (ROW) gives an electric company access to areas where power lines occur, even on privately owned land. In order to access, maintain and repair electric power lines, vegetation along ROWs must be managed to prevent interference. This allows for these ROWs to remain in a shrubby state over long periods of time.

Here’s where the Audubon Society and I come in. The Audubon Vermont chapter of the National Audubon Society recruited local citizen science volunteers to look for priority songbirds to see if our feathered friends were using these shrubby areas created along powerlines. It turned out that four priority bird species, including golden-winged warbler, eastern towhee, blue-winged warbler, and field sparrow were visiting these ROWs. So, as a graduate student, I was called in to take a closer look.

You can find eastern towhees in brush, tangles, thickets and along forest edges. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user John Beetham. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dendroica/14018896326

You can find eastern towhees in brush, tangles, thickets and along forest edges. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user John Beetham.

Last summer, I led a field crew to ROWs across the Champlain Valley in Vermont to follow and map these priority songbirds to see which parts of the ROWs they were using. Eighty-seven birds and two months of very early mornings later, we could see where these shrubland birds liked to spend their breeding time. We then revisited all of these areas to collect countless thorn-induced wounds, as well as detailed vegetation data.

With all of this information, my research aims to paint a clearer picture of how these birds use habitat along powerline ROWs. So… why does this matter?

Only about 15 percent of the preserved land in Vermont is publicly owned. That leaves the fate of much of the land up to private landowners.

Because of this, encouraging conservation and management among private landowners is very important. These particular songbirds rely on shrubby (young forest) habitat to mate and reproduce. It is becoming increasingly hard for them to find this habitat, especially in the Northeast region, as forest recovers and matures from the agricultural boom of the early 1900s. Shrubland occurs as a transitional period between when a field becomes forest again, so it requires disturbance to be created. Using areas like ROWs is convenient because they are already managed or “disturbed” regularly and remain in transition.

In order to access, maintain and repair electric power lines, vegetation along rights of ways must be managed to prevent interference. This allows them to remain in a shrubby state over long periods of time. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user mwms16 https://www.flickr.com/photos/mmwm/7926162740

In order to access, maintain and repair electric power lines, vegetation along rights of ways must be managed to prevent interference. This allows them to remain in a shrubby state over long periods of time. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user mwms16.

By examining the patterns of how birds use this habitat and what management is being done, I can suggest management that might better serve these bird species. Audubon Vermont and I collaborated on a report that was submitted to the Vermont Electric Cooperative, which manages over 7,500 acres of ROW land in Vermont. With this information, we hope that future management will create more suitable habitat for these declining shrubland songbirds.

Blue-winged warblers breed at forest and field edges. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Matt Stratmoen. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stratmoen/9553133103

Blue-winged warblers breed at forest and field edges. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons user Matt Stratmoen.

Findings from this research can also help promote important habitat corridors for songbird migration pathways along what is referred to as the “Atlantic Flyway.” This migration pathway is used by a variety of birds traveling to and from breeding grounds that runs along the eastern coasts of North and South America.

During their long migration, birds need places to stop along the way to rest and refuel for their journey. Creating habitat corridors along migration routes can help these birds get to their destinations!

Bog turtle

Working lands for wildlife!

Happy Friday, everyone! Today we’re sharing a fun infographic from our partner in the Working Lands for Wildlife program, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

WorkingLandsinfographic

Working Lands for Wildlife was launched in 2012 as an innovative approach to work with farmers and forest landowners to restore and protect habitat for seven specific wildlife species–three of which are found in the Northeast: the New England cottontail, the golden-winged warbler and the bog turtle. Through this partnership, landowners can get technical and financial assistance by volunteering to restore habitat on their land.

New England cottontail

New England cottontail: This rare rabbit can be found east of the Hudson River in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. It favors habitat with thick, tangled plants, or thickets, which also benefits other species like deer and wild turkey. Partners in the New England cottontail initiative have committed to restoring young forest on 27,000 acres across these states by cutting, shrub planting and prescribed burns, and as of March, we’ve implemented 6,700-8,700 acres. The thickets help ensure the New England cottontail isn’t forced to feed in areas with threats of predators. This photo by Amanda Cheeseman is from a study in Putnam County, New York, where researchers are helping us better understand the population there.

Bog turtle

Bog turtle: The smallest turtle in North America, the bog turtle has been protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1997. The bog turtle’s wetland home has critically diminished because of severe development, which causes draining and filling of its habitat. Bog turtles serve as good indicators of water quality and wetland function. Biologists restore its open canopy habitat by controlling grazing by cows, sheep and goats and by removing some trees and shrubs. Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS

Credit: Walt Ford/USFWS

Golden-winged warbler: The Upper Midwest and Appalachian Mountains were once a fortress for this migratory bird. Like others, the golden winged warbler has experienced threats of degradation to their shrubby, thicket habitat, which has caused its drastic population decline. Through NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative, private landowners have enhanced about 10,000 acres of young forest habitat for this at-risk songbird species. Credit: Walt Ford/USFWS

Own land and want to help? Check out these frequently asked questions. Read the rest of the blog post at USDA-NRCS.

Remembering Flight 93

Photo from Flight 93 Memorial Facebook page. Credit: National Park Service

Photo from Flight 93 Memorial Facebook page. Credit: National Park Service

Today you're hearing from Deb Reynolds, outreach coordinator for the Appalachian Joint Venture and our agency's Division of Migratory Birds in the Northeast Region.

Today you’re hearing from Deb Reynolds, outreach coordinator for the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture and our agency’s Division of Migratory Birds in the Northeast Region.

It’s not too often that I get to participate in fieldwork.

As the outreach coordinator for the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture and Division of Migratory Birds, most of my time is spent working in the office with staff to develop strategic communication and outreach messages for our biological priorities.

So when I came to work recently as I usually do and opened my email, it was with delight that I not only saw some great news, I got to reflect on a remarkable day in the field I had almost 2 years ago.

It was a chilly rainy day in Storystown, Penn., and we were at the Flight 93 Memorial.

The memorial site was part of a project to reforest the previously mined and reclaimed land, as well as provide a windbreak for the memorial. The project was part of the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), which is hard at work reestablishing native forests on former coal mining sites throughout Appalachia for the benefit of migratory bird species, including the golden-winged and cerulean warblers, birds of conservation concern.

That day, I witnessed an emotional remembrance of the tragedy and then watched as the victims’ family and friends joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, multiple partners, and dozens of volunteers to plant trees that served not only to create a beautiful memorial site but would also provide habitat for migratory birds.

It was the perfect blend of partnership, habitat restoration, and working with the community and volunteers. The beauty of the project for birds is that restoration of reclaimed mines benefit golden-winged warblers, and as the forest matures, it will in turn benefit the cerulean warbler and a multitude of wildlife that share similar habitat. Both species are high priority species for our agency’s Division of Migratory Birds.

Nearly two years after the project began, the ARRI Flight 93 Reforestation Project was awarded the Department of Interior’s prestigious Partners in Conservation Award last week. I feel proud to have been a part of a project with the families of Flight 93 and nearly 1,200 volunteers who planted over 35,000 tree seedlings.

This project serves as a beautiful memorial of a great human tragedy and is a testament to the power of partnerships for bird conservation.