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Arthur Kill Birds and Invasive Plants

 

The Arthur Kill as seen from Prall's Island, New York City.

  Purpose

A citizen science-based study to build upon historical bird surveys in the Arthur Kill watershed and provide updated information on bird use and habitat quality. The results will be useful for setting site acquisition priorities and directing management and restoration activities related to reducing fragmentation and improving wildlife habitats.

  • Document the abundance and distribution of breeding birds in the Arthur Kill watershed
  • Evaluate change in bird life since surveys in the early 1990's
  • Collect information about invasive plant species and forest health
  • Draw attention to remaining natural areas in this urban area through active public involvement

     


 

A resident Bald Eagle soars over the NJ Turnpike and Morses Creek.

 

 

The Arthur Kill: Urban, Yet Wild

The Arthur Kill is tidal waterway and major shipping channel connecting New Jersey and Staten Island, New York. Its watershed in New Jersey encompasses approximately 160 square miles dominated by dense residential and industrial development. However, a substantial network of high-quality green space remains. The 75 miles of tributaries that define the watershed in New Jersey contain varied habitats ranging from freshwater and saltwater marshes, to extensive wetland forests. Over the last few decades, a number of conservation organizations including New Jersey Audubon have begun to focus more attention on these remaining habitats (Greiling 1993).

A yearlong survey effort led by New Jersey Audubon’s former Vice-president of Conservation Richard Kane in 1990 resulted in a surprisingly long list of over 195 bird species for the watershed, including 88 breeding species (Kane et al. 1991). Open water habitats serve as vital foraging areas for the heron and egret colonies found on New York Harbor islands, and more recently to resident Ospreys and Bald Eagles. Forests and marshes provide breeding habitat for common and less common birds, from Wood Thrush and Kentucky Warbler, to Clapper Rail and Least Bittern. They also provide rare refuges for migrating birds in a largely urban landscape. Kane and his colleagues Paul Kerlinger and Rick Radis found over 20 species of warblers (100+ individuals) using a single small patch of forest along the Elizabeth River!

 

Greiling, D.A. 1993. Greenways to the Arthur Kill: A Greenway Plan for the Arthur Kill Tributaries. NJ Conservation Foundation, Morristown.

Kane, R., P. Kerlinger, and R. Radis. Birds of the Arthur Kill tributaries, 1990. Records of New Jersey Birds 17(2): 22-33. [PDF]

 


 


 

Threats and Opportunities

The remaining natural areas in the Arthur Kill watershed are threatened by further development and by diverse factors such as contamination, oil spills, shoreline armoring, overabundant deer, and invasive plant species. But much diversity remains. New Jersey Audubon has been actively involved in documenting and protecting urban habitats for birds and other wildlife for over 30 years. Our pioneering survey work in the Meadowlands, the lower Raritan watershed, and the Arthur Kill watershed starting in the mid-1970’s revealed much of what we currently know about New Jersey’s urban avifauna.  More recently, our Research and Monitoring Department has completed systematic studies in the Meadowlands (2004-2006), Gateway National Recreation Area (2006-2007), and the lower Raritan watershed (2009-2013). In all of these efforts, the goal is to document and protect the rich biological diversity still present in the backyards of the state’s millions of urban-dwelling residents.

 


 

Scenes from Linden's Hawk Rise sanctuary in the heart of the Arthur Kill watershed.

 

The Study

In summer 2014, trained citizen scientists will fan out to nearly 200 points covering 22 sites throughout the Arthur Kill watershed (see an online map of points here) to collect data on birds, invasive plants, and deer abundance. Sites were chosen to represent all accessible natural areas remaining within the urbanized watershed, including the sites originally surveyed by Kane, Kerlinger and Radis in their 1990 survey. Habitats include wetland and upland forests, salt and freshwater marshes, and capped landfills. Threatened and endangered species including Least Bittern, Bald Eagle, and even grassland species such as Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrow have been documented in these areas.

Two citizen scientist training sessions will be held in spring. To participate or learn more, please contact Laura Stern (citizen.science@njaudubon.org) or Mike Allen (michael.allen@njaudubon.org). For survey materials, including protocol and datasheets, click here

 


Funding

Funding for this study was provided by TogetherGreen.

 

Linden Landfill and salt marshes along the Rahway River, a tributary of the Arthur Kill. The site is home to Box turtles. (photo: Bruce Michael)