Tag Archives: young forest

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!

New England cottontail. Credit: Peter Paton

What’s hopping down the bunny trail?

A female bluebird perches close at the Peck and Callahan preserves. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Rabbits aren’t the only ones that use young forest habitat. Here’s a female bluebird enjoying the restored area at the Peck and Callahan preserves. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

DID YOU KNOW?Photo from Great Bay refuge
The rare New England cottontail is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It’s different than the non-native eastern cottontails that people brought to New England for hunting years ago, and that you commonly see on roadsides and in gardens. A huge team, including our agency, is out to save it. Learn more.

We’re sharing a post from our partner, Beth Sullivan at the Avalonia Land Conservancy in Connecticut. Avalonia is helping us make more habitat for the New England cottontail and other wildlife that depend on young forest. See the original post at their blog.

Last year at this time, we were in the middle of a giant project on our Peck and Callahan Preserves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in combination with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, had helped us plan and prepare for what was one of the biggest projects Avalonia had undertaken to date other than acquisitions.

We’re taking a new approach to stewardship. Over the years, the goal of environmental stewardship has shifted from pure preservation to more active conservation and management of land entrusted to us, for its best usage and greatest value.

We were convinced that turning 22 acres of mature forest, past its prime for supporting diverse wildlife, into a young forest restoration area was the best use for the land and our best action for the future of many species.

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The active cutting part of the project was completed in August of 2013 (see photos above). In the fall there were several trips to the site for fine-tuning the landscape, opening a passable trail for machinery and work parties, and a huge effort to plant and then protect nearly 100 native shrubs, installed to add diversity to the landscape as it regrew.

Shrubs were protected by netting to prevent deer nibbling. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Shrubs were protected by netting to protect from nibbling deer. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

The ideal way to plant new shrubs was in groups of eight or nine, and then erect fencing around the whole plot to keep deer from browsing on them. Well, in rocky, upland Stonington, there were no places where we could dig nine adequate holes in a fashion even close to ideal! Then, trying to cart fencing material, more than a half mile into the rocky preserve which was now covered with slash and brush, became an impossible feat. So we improvised and used a light netting, draped tepee style over stakes near each plant. Then more branches were piled around the plant to make it even more difficult for deer to get close enough to eat the desirable shrub. The effort served its purpose for the winter.

Turkeys forage in the open and retreat to woodland edge. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Turkeys forage in the open and retreat to woodland edge. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Checking on Progress. We returned several times in the spring to check on different areas and were pleased at the progress. Tree stumps were re-sprouting robustly. There were shades of green covering what had been bare earth. Almost all the plants were showing signs of life and regrowth. Not many had been nibbled by the deer. Some were even blossoming, a promise of berries to come. We were, however, dismayed to find a snake had become entangled in the netting at some point and had perished. We knew the netting had to come off.

Well, the job to remove the netting was far harder than putting it on. First we had to find all the plants! With all the new growth surrounding them, even many of the orange tags and flags were hidden. Weeds and vines had grown up into the netting and the plants themselves were happily sending out new branches and leaves, so removing the netting became a surgical operation.

The ground is now covered with green. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

The ground is now covered with green. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

We spent hours back tracking through all corners of the areas as we worked, examining new growth, becoming excited over resurgence of vines and thrilled at the ground cover of low bush blueberries.

It was a wildlife heaven.

Wild turkeys foraged in the brush and took dustbaths in the trail. There were grasshoppers all over as well as dragonflies, bees and uncountable other insects.

Native shrubs grow up through protective branches. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Native shrubs grow up through protective branches. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Fly-catching birds of several species were using the brush piles and tree snags to swoop and catch the insects. There were bluebirds singing everywhere. Eastern towhees chorused from spots low and high throughout the area. The little vernal pond was still cool and shady, having been protected during the project. We found a small wood frog in the fern glade nearby. The clear stream ran fresh through the moss covered boulders in the low land.

We ran out of energy before we had found and uncovered every bush. We will return again soon. But it was a reaffirmation, to me, that this project will bring new life and rejuvenation to an opening in the forest. It may be a while before the New England Cottontails find it, but a lot of other wildlife already has.

Much of ground cover is lowbush blueberry. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Much of ground cover is lowbush blueberry. Photo courtesy of Beth Sullivan, Avalonia Land Conservancy.

Follow the project at the Avalonia blog.

A planting effort on the Cutts Island Forest Management Unit of Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Harvesting homes for wildlife at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

At Brave Boat Harbor and Upper Wells, trees had grown too mature to provide habitat for cottontails. Their leafy crowns cut off sunlight, causing ground-covering food plants to die off. Leaving plenty of other middle-aged forest, trees were harvested on less than 5 percent of the forest as part of an effort to manage young forest across 25 acres. The area is now growing into a dense thicket and becoming great habitat for cottontails and other wildlife, such as gray catbird, a type of shrubland bird. Credit: USFWS

At Brave Boat Harbor and Upper Wells, trees had grown too mature to provide habitat for cottontails. Their leafy crowns cut off sunlight, causing ground-covering food plants to die off. Leaving plenty of other middle-aged forest, trees were harvested on less than 5 percent of the forest as part of an effort to manage young forest across 25 acres. The area is now growing into a dense thicket and becoming great habitat for cottontails and other wildlife, such as gray catbird, a type of shrubland bird. Credit: USFWS

Today you're hearing from writer Charles Fergus, who manages the New England cottontail website, newenglandcottontail.org.

Today you’re hearing from writer Charles Fergus, who manages www.newenglandcottontail.org, www.youngforest.org, and www.timberdoodle.org for the Wildlife Management Institute.

Saws whined and trees thumped the ground as loggers harvested oaks and pines.

Using shovels, digging bars, and plenty of elbow grease, volunteers planted native shrubs in old fields of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

These efforts are creating much-needed young forest homes in the Pine Tree State for the rare New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and a host of other wild creatures, from tiny flycatchers to furtive bobcats.

The New England cottontail once thrived in the brushy thickets along rivers and coastlines, and was also abundant as abandoned farms grew into young forest in the early to mid-20th century. Then, increased development and reforestation caused the rabbit’s population to plummet as the thick habitat it needed became increasingly rare. Now, the New England cottontail is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and is already protected as endangered by the State of Maine.

New England cottontails aren't easy to photograph. This photo was taken just after the rabbit was released by biologists. It was raised in captivity as part of our program to conserve the species. Credit: USFWS

New England cottontails aren’t easy to photograph. This photo was taken just after the rabbit was released by biologists. It was raised in captivity as part of our program to conserve the species. Credit: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, with support from the Defenders of Wildlife Volunteer Corps and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, manages almost 100 acres (40 hectares) of habitat for the rabbit. Work takes place in the Brave Boat Harbor Division and Upper Wells Division in York County, as well as in the Spurwink River Division in Cumberland County.

Planting these native shrubs helps create habitat for the New England cottontail, which uses thickets, young forest and shrubland for its home. These young forests are generally less than 25 years old. Credit: USFWS

Planting these native shrubs helps create habitat for the New England cottontail, which uses thickets, young forest and shrubland for its home. These young forests are generally less than 25 years old. Credit: USFWS

At Brave Boat Harbor and Upper Wells, trees had grown too mature to provide suitable habitat for the cottontail—their leafy crowns cut off sunlight, causing ground-covering food plants to die off. Leaving plenty of other middle-aged forest, trees were harvested on less than five percent of the forest as part of an effort to manage young forest across 25 acres (10 ha). The area is now growing into a dense thicket, which is ideal habitat for the cottontail which needs places to hide from and escape predatory birds.

“Most people don’t tolerate natural processes that historically created shrubland, like fire and beaver-created floods,” says Kelly Boland, Maine’s New England cottontail restoration coordinator. “If we don’t replace these natural processes, we will lose those critters that need shrublands to live, including the New England cottontail.”

To add habitat next to the cleared trees, volunteers planted native shrubs including juniper, staghorn sumac, Virginia rose, and three kinds of dogwood. …Keep reading this story!