Author Archives: Margo Servison

Old Baldy Gets a Haircut

By Tom Lautzenheiser, Central/Western Regional Scientist

Mass Audubon’s Old Baldy Wildlife Sanctuary in Otis offers visitors with a rare view in south Berkshire County: a near 360-degree panoramic view from the summit of its eponymous hill. The landscape below is nearly entirely forested, with few interruptions. The clearing at the summit itself was expanded around 2000, when a previous landowner sought to subdivide the property, and at the same time the forest growing on Old Baldy’s sides was heavily logged. The resulting overlook is a gem in the Berkshires.

The forest harvesting, while completed for economic return, resulted in a conservation benefit because it created much needed habitat for young-forest associated wildlife species—many of whom are experiencing steep long-term population declines throughout the region due largely to habitat loss. In the years following the harvest young-forest species like Chestnut-sided Warbler, Indigo Bunting, White-throated Sparrow, and Eastern Towhee, thrived in the thicket.

Female Eastern Towhee © Susan Wellington

However, in recent years the canopy has been closing as the trees grow, and this crucial habitat has been disappearing.

With the successional clock ticking, Mass Audubon sought and was awarded a Habitat Management Grant from the state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, which funded the maintenance and expansion of the clearing at Old Baldy in the early spring of 2017.

Old Baldy following the 2017 clearing of trees to create habitat

The loggers did their work well, though the transition appears shocking, with stumps and downed tops strewn as after a storm, and the remnant trees seeming thin and lonely over the slash. Importantly, however, increased sunlight on the ground will stimulate a flush of sprouting, and within a growing season or two the cleared area should be lush with brambles and tree sprouts, again forming the dense cover favored by many species of conservation concern. Within a few years the site will again be prime habitat supporting populations of young-forest birds. Many other wildlife species, including white-tailed deer and black bear, will also find food and shelter in the cleared area.

Until the dense regrowth sprouts up, visitors may notice large brush piles scattered throughout the site. These brush piles are supplemental habitat for New England cottontail, our native rabbit species that is of critical conservation concern.

Mass Audubon’s decision to maintain and expand a forest clearing at Old Baldy was not made lightly, but was made in recognition that without concerted effort, populations of dozens of wildlife species reliant on young-forest habitat will continue to dwindle in the state. Just as the views from the summit of Old Baldy were beginning to be obscured by maturing trees, habitat quality for young-forest species was also declining, and active intervention was necessary to secure the area’s value for these species.

It was time for Old Baldy to get a haircut. And like a haircut, the trees at Old Baldy will grow back, without substantially affecting the land underneath.

 

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

The Bobolink Project: 2017 season update

 

Male Bobolink © Allan Strong

The Bobolinks are arriving in New England and we’re finalizing the contracts with our participating Bobolink Project farmers. Thanks to the generosity of our Bobolink Project donors, we can protect over 630 acres of farmland this year! In return for some compensation, the Bobolink Project farmers will delay mowing on their hay fields until the young grassland birds have had time to fledge.

As in past years, we had more acres submitted into the project than we could cover with the available pool of donations. This year, we received 40 applications from farmers in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and New York—but our donation pool, as of April 1st (our deadline for donations), could cover only 17 of the farmers’ fields. This may sound disappointing, but we are able to cover 20% more acres this year at a lower per acre price of $60 (vs. $75 last year).

We are glad that the project is continuing to grow and look forward to welcoming grassland birds to fields enrolled in the program this summer and sharing our results with you. Keep up to date with The Bobolink Project by signing up to the mail-list or follow us on Facebook.

The Bobolink Project donations are accepted all year. The 2018 donation pool is already growing: since April 1st we have received over $8,000 in donations that will be saved for next year. Donate now to help us protect more acres and birds next year.

 

Eastern Meadowlark Citizen Science Project May 15–June 15

Eastern Meadowlark © Phil Brown

Calling all birders and bird enthusiasts!

We have launched a multi-year citizen science project to study Eastern Meadowlarks. The project aims to collect presence-absence data for Eastern Meadowlarks at randomly selected sites throughout Massachusetts from May 15 to June 15, 2017. Eastern Meadowlarks are in serious decline, both in Massachusetts and elsewhere in North America, and in order to better help this species we need to know more about their status in Massachusetts. The data collected through this project will provide valuable information about this species’ current distribution in the Commonwealth, and will form the basis for a better assessment of meadowlark habitat requirements and future conservation needs.

To get the information we need it is critical that we get help from citizen scientists. There are a lot of potential sites where Eastern Meadowlarks could be nesting, but there are only a few of us! The results of this work will help us develop models for use in evaluating potential sites that have not been visited.

Project data can be easily entered through the Anecdata website on a computer or in the field on a mobile smartphone device. The surveys required are simple and quick (10 minutes!) to do. We’ve provided our citizen scientist volunteers with “hotspots” where we specifically need a volunteer to do a meadowlark survey on three separate dates (with preferably at least 3 days in between each date) during the period of May 15 and June 15. Many of these hotspots will likely not have Eastern Meadowlarks, but knowing where Eastern Meadowlarks are not is just as valuable for scientific analysis as knowing where Eastern Meadowlarks are.

More information about how to get involved is available on the project website.

Not familiar with Eastern Meadowlarks? Check out our quick guide and listen to their song.

Questions? Contact us at birdconservation@massaudubon.org.

Blackpoll Warbler: an impressive sprinter

Male Blackpoll Warbler © Kenneth Cole Schneider

“Its activity is pleasing, but its notes have no title to be called a song. They are shrill, and resemble the noise made by striking two small pebbles together, more than any other sound that I know.” – John James Audubon, Birds of America

The Blackpoll Warbler is a very common migrant in Massachusetts, and it is often located by its high-frequency song as it passes through the state. The sound is so high that many birders claim that being unable to hear the Blackpoll Warbler’s song is one of the first signs of hearing loss. From June through August, however, there are precious few places in the Commonwealth where even observers with the keenest hearing can hope to hear a Blackpoll Warbler sing. Given that we are on the extreme southern edge of this species’ breeding range, it is not surprising that breeding pairs of this subalpine specialist are few and far between in the Bay State. Mount Greylock is most likely place to see a breeding Blackpoll Warbler in Massachusetts.

Did You Know?

During migration the Blackpoll Warbler—weighing in at just 12 grams (lighter than a soda can)—flies for three straight days over the Atlantic Ocean before stopping in Colombia or Venezuela. In addition, Blackpoll Warblers that breed on the northwest coast of the U.S. first fly across the continent to join up with their eastern counterparts before flying south. This is one of the most impressive migrations of any animal.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

What is it like to participate in Bird-a-thon?

Bird-a-thon, Mass Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser, features a 24-hour team birding competition where birders and team supporters raise money to support Mass Audubon programs and sanctuaries. What is it like to be a part of Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon? Michael Pappone, longtime member of the Bird Conservation team and Mass Audubon board member, shares his experiences from Bird-a-thon 2016:

“My team is up by 3:30 a.m. to gather well before dawn at the Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area in Worcester County. The mist lurks around the cat-tails and willows. The Eastern Phoebe’s ‘vree-bee’ call rings out in the near distance (check!), and then the ‘oonk-a-dunk’ of the endangered American Bittern crouching somewhere out there in the wetness signals that it was time for another (check!) and that it is going to be a great day in the field. Then suddenly a Sandhill Crane floats by. Is he mistaking the Worcester County wetlands for Nebraska? Big (check!).

Bird-a-thon is in full swing! Behind us, a Scarlet Tanager let loose with his robin-with-a-sore-throat imitation. (Check!) At this rate our palms will be smarting from all the high-fiving before sunrise. Over at the sandy end of the Flats, another endangered fellow greets us from the heights of his very own 3-foot shrub sticking out of the sandy soil: a Grasshopper Sparrow, sounding very much like a grasshopper that just touched a high-voltage wire. With about 40 check marks on our list, we obey the law of diminishing marginal returns and split for new territory.

Next stop is Wachusett Mountain, where our ascent is rewarded with not only a good number of (checks!) but amazing numbers of Ovenbirds (teacher-Teacher-TEACHER!), Scarlet Tanagers, and Black-and-White (te-tsee te-Tsee-Te-TSEE) and Black-throated Green Warblers vocally squabbling over territory. The (non-check!) bonus is the sighting of a few remaining snow patches. Really good ‘gets’ here are the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Winter Wren. The last of the Dark-eyed Juncos has favored us with a delayed trip north just so we could be the team who gets to count him. Nice.

It’s on to the Quabbin Reservoir: a totally new venue for me out in Hampshire County. The reservoir was formed by a dam built in the Depression years from 1930-1939. The public works project flooded a number of communities to make way for 420 billion gallons of water and a new 181 miles of shoreline. It’s a big hit with the birds, that’s for sure. We revisit a number of previous species – in broad daylight this time; and notch a good number of new ticks on our checklist.”

©Michael Pappone

Join the Bird Conservation team as either a Booster or an Official Birder!

Audubon’s “Extra Warbler”

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler © Mark Peck

“This is a real wood warbler. It loves the woods.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

The Black-throated Blue Warbler has a relatively small breeding range that extends from Nova Scotia westward to Lake Superior. Some of these warblers breed in suitable habitat as far south as Georgia, but almost all “suitable habitat” south of Pennsylvania exists only in the Appalachian Mountains. Black-throated Blue Warblers reside primarily in mature hardwood forests, where they make their nests in dense understory growth, particularly where mountain laurel abounds. Predictably, this species suffered a significant decline in Massachusetts when much of the old-growth forest was cut down to make way for agriculture.

Black-throated Blue Warbler range map © Birds of North America

Trend in Massachusetts

The Black-throated Blue Warbler is increasing in MA and expanding their range eastward in the state.

Did You Know?

The male and female Black-throated Blue Warbler look so different from one another that they were originally thought to be two separate species. The female Black-throated Blue Warbler is also know as John James Audubon‘s “extra warbler” because he painted a separate plate for his Elephant Folio of the Birds of North America of what he thought was a “Pine Swamp Warbler” but was actually a female Black-throated Blue.

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler © Kenneth Cole Schneider

Meet “Fire-throat”

Blackburnian Warbler (male) © Kevin Bolton

“When the low morning sun shines full upon its gorgeous frontlet, backed by the dark recesses of the pines, it flashes out like a burning flame as the bird turns its breast suddenly to the light.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

The fiery throat, face, and breast of the breeding Blackburnian Warbler set it apart from its fellows. A boreal forest warbler, most of the species’ breeding range lies in northern New England and eastern Canada. Although Blackburnian Warblers require fairly substantial areas of intact mature forest, they will tolerate some “edge” in that habitat, and have managed to keep their fires burning brightly throughout the past few centuries in Massachusetts.

Trend in Massachusetts

Increasing west of the Worcester Plateau.

Did you know?

The Blackburnian Warbler is the only North American warbler with an orange throat.

 

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

A New Bird Song ID App

As most beginning—and even intermediate—birders can attest, learning to identify bird songs is a daunting, but crucial undertaking as oftentimes a bird is heard and not seen.

The folks over at Wildlife Acoustics, in collaboration with David Sibley, have created an app called SongSleuth that will open up your birding world. The app listens to the songs of birds singing around you and suggests three birds that you are likely hearing. While it is not yet springtime in Massachusetts, we’ve tested the app this week and it has correctly identified some early-singing Black-capped Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos.

The features don’t stop there, though. The app also includes bird ID references by David Sibley, allows you to store your bird song recordings in your own personal library, and it even shows you what the song looks like on a spectrogram.

To help users quickly become experts at using the app, Wildlife Acoustics and David have put together a detailed walk-through video and FAQs. They strongly advise that first-time users thoroughly read through the instructions and watch the video.

Fun fact: the Bobolink’s song sounds a lot like R2-D2! Photo © Knut Hansen

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Meet “Maggie”

Male Magnolia Warbler © Laura Gooch

“The Magnolia Warbler is to my mind the most strikingly beautiful warbler that makes its home in New England. The Blackburnian with its orange front may be preferred by many, but that bright front is its chief glory, while the Magnolia Warbler’s beauties are distributed to every part of its graceful little form.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

A favorite of early 20th century master birder, Edward Howe Forbush, the striking and distinctive Magnolia Warbler (sometimes called “Maggie” by birders) is an iconic breeding species of young coniferous woods. Indeed, this species breeds almost exclusively in boreal conifer forests dominated by spruce, fir, hemlock, and cedar. This might prompt one to wonder why the bird is named for a distinctively southern plant family. Alexander Wilson, the man responsible for many common names of North American birds, is the person behind this name. Magnolia Warbler is so called because this conifer-loving species was christened after Wilson first collected a migrant individual in a magnolia tree in Mississippi in 1810.

Trend in Massachusetts

According to our second Breeding Bird Atlas, Magnolia Warbler has made steady gains in the central/west part of the state.

Did you know?

Magnolia Warblers often spend their winters on shade coffee farms. Shade coffee farms are important habitat for many birds—a discovery which spurred the creation of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly certification. The next time you buy coffee, look for “Bird Friendly®” on the package. One popular brand is Birds & Beans, which can be found at some Whole Foods Market locations, our Mass Audubon shop, and a few other places. Search for a retailer who carries it near you here. We’ll be serving Birds & Beans coffee at the Birders Meeting.

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Male Magnolia Warbler singing © Victor Fazio

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!

Have You Seen a Pine Warbler?

Pine Warbler © Andy Morffew

“The Pine Warbler is the gentle, modest minstrel of the pines…Its sweet monotonous song harmonizes well with the sighing of the summer wind through the branches, while shimmering heat-waves rise from the sandy soil.”Edward Howe Forbush, 1929

As its name suggests, the Pine Warbler typically shuns deciduous woods or high-altitude stands of spruce and fir. Rather, it goes where the pines are, and pre-Colombian Massachusetts certainly had plenty of pines. Tall White Pines, intermixed with resinous Red Pines, covered large portions of the state. Gnarled but venerable Pitch Pines dominated the sandy forests of Cape Cod and the Islands. Of course, after the arrival of colonists, homes and farms sprang up as the trees went down. Even as acres upon acres of pine forest disappeared across the state, Pine Warblers persisted for many years on Cape Cod.

Trend in Massachusetts

The Pine Warbler has had extraordinary success in Massachusetts since our first Breeding Bird Atlas in the late 1970s. Pine Warblers persisted on the Cape and significantly increased in almost all of the rest of the state. The Breeding Bird Survey also indicates an increasing population of this short-distance migrant.

Pine Warbler change in presence between Breeding Bird Atlas 1 and Atlas 2.

Did You Know?

Pine Warblers are one of two warbler species that regularly stick around in Massachusetts in the winter. They can often be seen at suet feeders, so keep an eye out!

Attend our Birders Meeting on March 19 to learn more about warblers.

Please consider supporting our bird conservation work by making a donation today. Thank you!