Snapshots that help conserve shorebirds in decline

Scientists collect a snapshot of a bird’s life when they capture, band, and release it. Each coded band and any data collected at the same time like date, location, sex, age etc. are recorded in a database that can be shared by scientists around the world. When the same bird is seen somewhere else, that observation location provides another snapshot that is added to the database, helping scientists to reconstruct the movements of individual birds. This continuously growing database makes it possible to study dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth.

Environmental Science & Policy Master’s candidate Tom Prestby is observing shorebirds migrating along the lower Bay of Green Bay (Brown County, Wisconsin, USA) in order to provide much needed information about the importance of near shore habitat for numerous species of conservation concern including three species in high peril and 12 in high continental concern.

Semipamated Sandpiper photo by Tom Prestby
Semipalmated Sandpipers on the shore of the Bay of Green Bay.

He photographed the Semipalmated Sandpiper shown here in late May 2015 at his research site in Green Bay. The code on the blue band on the bird’s leg allowed him to discover that it was banded on January 14, 2014 in Maranhao, Brazil, and so had traveled nearly 2000 miles to get to Green Bay. Semipalmated Sandpipers, so-named because their toes are webbed for only part of their length, breed on open tundra, so it’s journey is only a little more than half finished. It still must travel another 1200 miles or more to northern Canada and Alaska to breed this summer, resting at along mudflats, sandy beaches, shores of lakes and ponds, and wet meadows. These birds make that incredible 3000 mile journey in only about two months time and rely mostly on stored fat reserves to power them through migration.  Summer is short in the arctic, so after they breed they begin their fall passage in July at a more leisurely pace and typically arrive back in their South American wintering grounds by mid-October.[1]

Unfortunately, this species is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists species most in danger of extinction without significant conservation action. Even though populations appear to be stable at some arctic breeding grounds in Alaska, surveys by researchers in Canada and the United States indicate that the numbers of birds reaching South America wintering grounds have declined by 80% over the last 20 years. Canadian scientist Stephen Brown who has been tracking the birds as they arrive on Coats Island in the far north of Hudson’s Bay explains, “We need to understand the migratory pathways of the species in order to know where the decline is occurring, and what can be done to reverse it.”[2]

Prestby’s observation is helping other scientists to do just that. He is continuing to monitor shorebirds at his research sites including the recently restored Cat Island Chain in person and through the use of remote cameras. He is enthusiastic about his graduate experience. “It is fascinating to be able to look into the life of one of these birds and very satisfying to contribute to a great database!” His master’s research will provide important information about shorebird migration and use of wetlands encircling the bay of Green Bay that will help scientists to better understand and conserve these trans-American travelers.

References

1. All About Birds: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Semipalmated_Sandpiper/id

2. Manumet Center for Conservation Studies:  https://www.manomet.org/newsletter/first-ever-geolocator-results-semipalmated-sandpiper-show-remarkable-year-long-odyssey

 

Considering a career in Environmental Science? Learn more educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, the Original #EcoU!

 

 

 

2012/2013 Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count is 113 years old and is the longest running citizen science survey in the world! Groups of birders get together to count birds over a single 24 hour period between mid December and early January.

This year counts will be held on any day from December 14 to January 5 inclusive. You can find a Christmas Bird Count for your area in Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology in Wisconsin, there are over 100 counts that take place from mid-December through early January. http://wsobirds.org/?page_id=2353

The Cofrin Center for Biodiversity will be joining the Dykesville Count on December 16th as this circle includes the Point au Sable Natural Area.  Contact graduate student Tom Prestby at prestbyt@uwgb.edu for more information. A Green Bay count that includes the UW—Green Bay campus will occur on December 15th. Contact John Jacobs at Jacobs_jp@co.brown.wi.us for more information.

Horned Lark, photo by T. Prestby
Dykesville birders will be on the lookout for Horned Larks, like this one in the farm fields around Dykesville, WI (photo by Tom Prestby)

The Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count arose out of a 19th century tradition of competitive holiday hunts where groups of hunters competed to see who could kill the greatest number of birds and mammals killed in a single day.  The participants of an 1896 side hunt in a small community in Vermont shot more than 550 birds and mammals. Frank M. Chapman, noted ornithologist and American Museum of Natural History curator, proposed an alternative contest. In the December 1900 issue of his new magazine “Bird Lore” he proposed that people go out and count rather than kill birds and then send their lists back to the magazine.  The first year 25 lists were made by 27 people across the country.

Today, people are participating in the Christmas Bird Count all over the world. Last over 64 million birds were counted in over 2200 areas across 20 countries including Antarctica. That number represents one quarter of all known bird species. Everyone follows the same methodology regardless of country. “Count circles” with a diameter of 15 miles or 24 kilometers are established and at least 10 volunteers count in each circle. Birders divide into small groups and follow assigned routes counting every bird they see along the way. In most count circles individuals are assigned to watch feeders instead of following routes.  A supervisor is designated for each circle and supervises, compiles, and submits data after the count.  The circle that tallied the highest number of species last year was Yanuyaca, Equador, whose team reported 492 species. In the United States the highest count was 244 species reported by Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh, Texas.

More information:

Visit the National Audobon Society’s website for links to Christmas bird counts throughout North America and the Caribbean http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count

Christmas Bird Count data summaries  http://birds.audubon.org/american-birds-annual-summary-christmas-bird-count

Can’t make the Christmas Count this year? Consider participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 15-18, 2013. http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Origins of the Christmas Bird Count from the North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier VT http://www.northbranchnaturecenter.org/cbc.html

Birder Certification Online

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)

Ever wonder how sharp your bird identification skills are? Now you can put them to the test using the Birder Certification Online website.  This free web-based program offers a rigorous method for verifying field identification skills of both professional and amateur bird observers. One of the main goals is to ensure that volunteer, as well as professional birders develop the skills they need for bird inventory and monitoring projects. The program allows participants to practice and to test their visual and audio bird identification skills through a series of online tests. This program is also a helpful educational tool for students and recreational birders. Getting certified is a great resume builder and can help birders obtain many exciting outdoor jobs.

There are three levels of certification that a birder can earn for different combinations of bird conservation regions (BCR) and habitat types. A BCR describes a defined North American region that has similar bird communities and habitat types. Currently there are tests for eight BCRs including regions in the Midwest, New England, and parts of the southeastern US and for four habitat types (forests, grasslands, wetlands, and comprehensive) per region.  Therefore, a birder can earn different levels of certification for the many different combinations of BCRs and habitat types. Birders can be tested in both visual and audio bird identification and can earn certification levels accordingly.

audio recorder.

A birder who earns a Certification Level 1 is capable of visually identifying typical backyard birds and at least some of the common species found in natural habitats. A birder who earns a Certification Level 2 is an experienced field observer who can visually identify most/all the birds of this region and habitat type without the help of a field guide and can identify most commonly observed species by song and call. A Level 3 certified birder is capable of conducting complete and accurate bird surveys using point counts, transects, or other standard methods and providing scientifically rigorous data. For more information on certification levels click on the link: http://www.birdercertification.org/Levels.htm.

 Birders can also take a newly added specialty test called BCR 101, also known as the Great Lakes Waterbird Visual Test. A birder can be certified in BCR 101 simply by taking any habitat category in the BCR 101 visual test module. There are  no audio test modules for this category.

The Birder Certification Online program is a project coordinated by the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, with funding and collaboration from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Check out the birder certification website and put your birding skills to the test!

Spotting scope.
A spotting scope makes visual identification of distant birds easier.

June 11-13, 2010: Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey by Erin Gnass

Every year since 1987, a large group of ornithologists have performed breeding bird surveys within the Nicolet National Forest (NNF; see the Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey: (http://www.uwgb.edu/birds/nnf/) in northeastern Wisconsin, now contributing to well over 40,000 records of birds consisting of over 200 total bird species. Whether you are an ornithologist by profession, a volunteer, a student, a back-yard birder, the state’s best expert, or a complete novice who has never seen a Canada Goose in your life, absolutely anyone can come and assist in the survey! Luckily, I was able to be one of the group leaders and engage myself in the survey for the very first time. Having heard about how much fun and exciting it is to participate in such a wonderful annual event, I was not disappointed in the slightest!

On the first day of the survey, I led a small team birders consisting of a young couple and another woman to pine and hardwood forests and a few beautiful bogs. Although the sites were not as biodiversity rich as other sites within the Nicolet National Forest, we were able to observe many interesting but “usual suspect” birds, such as the Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Robin, Brown Creeper, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and many others. After this first morning of surveys, a large group of us, including (some of my favorite ecologist/biologist friends) UWGB undergraduate student, Aaron Groves, former UWGB Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, Kathryn Corio, Ron Eichhorn (who helped the Nature Conservancy and me with the WRLF project), and a few others went out to a bog near the NNF to look for interesting plants and birds. A few of us chased down a Palm Warbler while others observed uncommon plant species. Please see the photographs that I took down at the bottom of this posting. Thank you to all of the botanists in this group who showed me these beautiful plants.

On the second day, graduate student, Nick Walton, joined our group and helped to lead the surveys.  Near the end of one of the last surveys of the day, we heard a nearby soft chickadee-call where we discovered two Boreal Chickadees—the highlight of my entire summer. Not only did these individuals continue singing throughout the remainder survey, they flew low in the trees only ten meters away from us for quite a few minutes. Not many people have the opportunity to view this species in particular because they are considered an uncommon, northern U.S./Canada dwelling species. Thus, when we shared the news with other birders upon returning to the field houses, everyone expressed their surprise and excitement to us. What a thrilling day it was.

I look forward to next summer’s bird surveys at the Nicolet National Forest.

My photographs:

Me, Erin Gnass, leading one of a few bird surveys in a bog within the Nicolet National Forest
One of a few beautiful bogs that we surveyed.
After the first day of surveys, a small group and I went in search of plants and birds around the bog pictured here.
UWGB undergraduate, Aaron Groves, bird watching at the bog.
Ron Eichhorn and Aaron Groves trying to identify a plant.
Aaron Groves, and his mother, former UWGB Environmental Science & Policy graduate student, Kathryn Corio
A stunningly gorgeous carnivorous pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
Another carnivorous plant, the sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
Aaron Groves and I found a previously made teepee-like structure on a hill leading down to the bog.

Nature Conservancy Bird Survey: May 26, 2010 by Erin Gnass

Because I have been in the process of preparing for my graduate thesis field work this summer, I have not had a chance to perform any additional bird surveys at Point au Sable. I will be heading to the northern hardwood forests of Wisconsin on Saturday to assist in performing over two-hundred bird surveys with the Nature Conservancy (TNC) for my thesis research. For my thesis project, I am developing a probability-based ecological indicator model for over 65,000 acres of forested land that is managed by TNC, the state of Wisconsin, and timber investment management organizations in the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest (WRLF). Based on an environmental gradient (ranging from degraded to pristine forest conditions), this ecological indicator will utilize the presence and absence of assemblages of bird species to indicate the ecological condition and conservation health of the forested lands of the WRLF. This indication of ecological condition will provide timber managers within the WRLF assistance in monitoring and managing these forests in a sustainable manner for both humans and wildlife.

In preparation for the model, TNC surveyed sites in the northern hardwoods of Wisconsin for forest bird species in the summer of 2009. This summer, I will be fortunate enough to join the team of ornithologists and survey the same sites as well as others, starting this Sunday. Additionally, in order to survey sites across the entire environmental gradient, my graduate advisor, Dr. Bob Howe, and I are surveying additional areas of varying forest condition including fragmented, isolated, and/or human-used areas in the Brown County area in order to most appropriately create this ecological indicator model. Therefore, we started these additional surveys yesterday morning in areas including and surrounding Brown County. All of this data will then ultimately contribute towards the conservation, protection, and sustainable use of northern Wisconsin hardwood forests.

Yesterday, we went to the managed forests of the Reforestation Camp in Suamico, Wisconsin and found 31 total bird species, including many species of particular interest:  Mourning Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. We also found American Crow, American Goldfinch, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brown-headed Cowbird, Blue Jay, Canada Goose, Common Yellowthroat Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Ovenbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-winged Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Wild Turkey.

Although I will be in northern Wisconsin for the next few weeks, I will provide a few reports about my thesis work and  the annual Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey (June 11-13) when I return to Green Bay. Then, once I am back from field work, I will survey Point au Sable again and provide weekly updates. So please stay tuned!