In order to characterize the bird community at Elm Hill, point count surveys were performed at 24 locations within forested areas of the sanctuary. During a ten minute period, the species of each individual bird is recorded, as detected by sight or sound, within 50 meters. This gives us information on the abundance of each species and the overall species richness (number of species). As is typical, each location was surveyed 3 times, and this yielded 789 detections of birds representing 51 species!
As discussed in previous blog posts about the development of a Foresters for the Birds demonstration site at Elm Hill, these surveys were done to establish a pre-management baseline, which will then be compared with conditions after management. Wait a minute… 51 species!?! Is management really necessary?
51 species may sound like a lot, leading to the conclusion that the forests are already providing good habitat. That may be true, but for what species? Upon closer examination of the data, we can see that many of the species we recorded (e.g., nuthatches, titmice, and catbirds) are quite common, thriving in our woodlands and backyards alike. Others, such as Barred Owls, naturally occur at low densities, so we wouldn’t expect to find many of them.
It’s those species that we conspicuously did not detect, or recorded very few of, that we are managing for. For example Black-throated Blue Warbler and Ruffed Grouse were not recorded. These species rely on some degree of disturbance to the canopy, creating vegetative growth in the understory and a mix of tree ages in the forest. These are conditions that can be created through sustainable forestry, and it would not be unreasonable to expect these, and other species of conservation concern, to show up at Elm Hill after appropriate habitat management. Time will tell.