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Pastures Can Provide Habitat for Grassland Birds!

Grasslands in the eastern United States rank as one of the country’s most endangered ecosystems. Populations of many grassland birds eastern meadowlark at WSGWMA(parke)in North America have declined significantly during the last 30 years. Although population trends of many groups of breeding birds vary across geographic regions, the declining trend for grassland birds is consistent across much of North America, including the Northeast.

Since remaining grasslands in NJ are almost entirely embedded within agricultural landscapes, they are also one of the only habitats in New Jersey, that face an almost immediate threat of disappearing from the State.  This is primarily due to the fluctuating market demand for commodity crops thereby hay land and pasture are, in some years, converted to row crops (corn, soybean, etc.).  As expected, wildlife dependent upon grassland habitat has declined dramatically. In New Jersey, this is readily evident from severe population declines experienced by savannah sparrow at RC field(PARKE)grassland birds who make up 25 percent of the state’s endangered bird species, 55 percent of its threatened birds, and 16 percent of its birds listed as special concern.

Pastures can serve as habitat for these birds and possibly stabilize or even increase their declining populations, while still meeting farm needs for profitability, forage quality, and overall productivity. To achieve all these goals, producers with livestock will need to modify some activities, learn how active pastures provide a surrogate habitat for long-gone native grasslands, and work birds into their overall pasture plans.

Several common pasture management practices that are incompatible with grassland bird conservation include:

  • Mowing or clipping pastures during the peak breeding season (early-May through early July).
  • Overgrazed pastures are similarly unfavorable for most grassland bird species by eliminating the taller grass structure these birds require.
  • Stocking rates, the number of animals, in the pasture must be closely managed to protect from overgrazing and to ensure that sufficient grass cover is available during the breeding period.

P4190075Pasture management goals can be compatible with grassland bird habitat goals, and, if planned carefully, can help improve soil health and water quality.

Several key aspects to grassland bird conservation in pastures includes the size of pasture, use of rotational grazing, the stocking density, and by maintaining a variety of perennial grasses along with minimizing woody vegetation.

NJ Audubon staff started grassland bird surveys last week in conjunction with a William Penn Foundation funded, sustainable grazing project that includes the Musconetcong Watershed Association and North Jersey RC&D and a private livestock producer (Cotton Cattle Company of Asbury, NJ). Many State Threatened species as well as State Species of Special Concern have been detected on the surveys, including Grasshopper Sparrow, grasshopper sparrow at RC field (PARKE)Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark and Field Sparrow.

NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners and producers for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, including pasture management. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org or your local USDA-NRCS Service center.

To support NJA Stewardship work on habitat restoration, species recovery and natural resource protection throughout NJ, including work associated with riparian restorations, you can donate to their team participating in the 2017 World Series of Birding at: http://worldseriesofbirding.org/teampage.asp?fundid=1067#.WN-8j9LDHIU

All photos by John Parke taken at 2017 pasture study sites

References

  • KNOPF, F. L. 1994. Avian assemblages on altered grasslands. Studies in Avian Biology 15:247–257.
  • PETERJOHN, B. G., AND J. R. SAUER. 1999. Population status of North American grassland birds from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, 1966–1996. Studies in Avian Biology 19:27–44.
  • JAMES, F. C., D. A. WIEDENFIELD, AND C. E. MCCULLOCH. 1992. Trends in breeding populations of warblers: Declines in the southern highlands and increases in the lowlands. Pages 43–56 in Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Landbirds (J. M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, Eds.). Smithsonian Institution Press,Washington, D.C.
  • HERKERT, J. R. 1995. An analysis of Midwestern breeding bird population trends: 1966–1993. American Midland Naturalist 134:41–50.
  • SAUER, J. R., J. E. HINES, G. GOUGH, I. THOMAS, AND B. J. PETERJOHN. 1997. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, version 96.1. [Online.] Pautuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland. Available at http://www.mbr.nbs. gov/bbs/bbs.html.
  • BOLLINGER, E. K., AND T. A. GAVIN. 1992. Eastern Bobolink populations: Ecology and conservation in an agricultural landscape. Pages 497–506 in Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Migrant Landbirds (J. M. Hagan III and D.W. Johnston, Eds.). Smithsonian Institution Press,Washington, D.C.
  • ASKINS, R. A. 1993. Population trends in grassland, shrubland, and forest birds in eastern North America. Current Ornithology 11:1–34.
  • http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/tandespp.htm
  • Ochterski, J., 2005, Enhancing Pastures for Grassland Bird Habitat, Cornell Cooperative extension of Schuyler County, NJ

DRWI Riparian Buffer Restorations Instrumental in Clean Water in Highlands Region

As part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI) New Jersey Audubon (NJA) supplied, and provided labor to install,Wood Turtle sussex county(PARKE) over 1,900 native trees and shrubs to five different riparian restoration projects in the NJ Highlands Region. Used in the restoration were 12 different native species that have exceptional habitat value, including, arrowwood viburnum, pin oak, silky dogwood, willows, American sycamore and buttonbush. These five restoration projects in total accounted for over 1 mile of stream bank stabilization and buffer areas to two major water courses in the region, the Paulin’s Kill River and the Musconetcong River. Ultimately the plantings will benefit water quality, soil health and floodplain function, as well as significantly enhance habitats for bird species, trout and other aquatic species, as well as threatened and endangered species, including the Wood Turtle and Brook Snaketail dragonfly.

With funding from the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for the DRWI, NJA aligns conservation efforts of multiple partners to accelerate protection and restoration efforts of the water quality in the Delaware Basin. The five restoration sites that received the NJA plant materials for buffers were properties that other conservation organizations, agencies, contractors and fishing clubs were the lead organization in implementing the projects as part of the DRWI. These entities included, the Wallkill Watershed Management Group, Musconetcong Watershed Association, North Jersey RC&D, Trout Unlimited, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Trout Scapes River Restoration LLC, Warren County Rod & Gun Club and the Musconetcong Trout Club.

“Conservation is a collaborate effort,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for NJA. “Projects of this size and scope are possible because of a multitude of partners working together for a common goal – conservation of New Jersey’s natural resources. Buffer plantings along water courses such as these are instrumental to water quality, biodiversity, and ecological health of freshwater systems and the ecosystem services they provide to a community.”

One of the many benefits of a vegetated buffer is the filtration of sediment. By filtering sediment from runoff, the buffer is removing pollutants that bind to soil. buffer planting at Warren county Rod and gun on musky (Parke)The vegetation in the buffer removes these pollutants from runoff through plant uptake and by helping bacterial degradation of the contaminants. An example of this is, excess phosphorus from fertilizer binds to soil and is normally found in the top few inches of the soil, which can be susceptible to erosion. Trapping and filtering out these sediments from runoff in the buffer vegetation is a very effective way to reduce pollution entering the water body. The minimum width needed for an effective riparian buffer depends on the purpose you want the buffer to serve. However, the general rule for buffer width is, “wider is better”.

“It was very important to significantly increase the riparian buffer at these farms to prevent chicken manure which is used to fertilize the adjacent crops, as well as any herbicides sprayed on the crops, from entering these important water bodies that supply drinking water and provide critical habitat to trout and other species,” said Brian Cowden, NJ Trout Unlimited Conservation Chair and Co-Owner Trout Scapes River Restoration.

Although buffer plantings are essential to the protection of water, with the demand for land for other uses, the importance of buffers are sometimes forgotten and in some cases buffers are reduced significantly to accommodate other land use activities. Compounding the problem of buffer use on the landscape is that for the average landowner or farmer finding the money, time and most especially the labor, to restore buffer areas correctly.

NJYC buffer on Musky (Parke)To address the labor and time issue with correctly installing buffer plantings, NJA secured additional funding in 2016 to contract the NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg to be an “on-call” work force to perform river bank and wetland restoration and other stewardship activities associated with the DRWI. The NJ Youth Corps is a year-round program that helps young adults (ages 16-25) earn a high school diploma while developing employment skills through community service projects. For projects associated with NJ Audubon, the Corps participants have been trained through the Waders in the Water program, which students receive classroom instruction on developing work skills in ecological restoration projects and environmental science. Specifically, through NJA’s outreach and conservation planning in the region, NJA provides the Corps with Service Learning projects in support of the DRWI which increases the pace of project implementation in the field, and the projects also provide Corps njyc-live stakes (Muckle)members with valuable employment skills associated with their training.

When asked her thoughts about the work performed by NJ Youth Corps at the five restoration projects in the Highlands region, NJ Youth Corp student, Ciara Ecchevaria (17) said, “This was awesome.  I didn't think it was possible for me to participate in something like this.  I would love to do this for a career!'

Although water is an essential resource and we obviously need it to survive, unfortunately its availability and quality are often taken for granted. By engaging our youth in opportunities regarding water and science and having them become more informed can help create a future generation of stewards.

"I realized and learned from participating in the restoration work that there's a lot of things in this world that we don't see and we can do more to help the community.....but doing small things can help the world out a lot more than we think,” said NJ Youth Corp student Austin Tigar (17) about participating in the riparian restoration work at the Paulin’s Kill and the Musconetcong Rivers. “It was fun and it made me feel better to make something in this world a little better."

 NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, as well as distribute more free native plant materials. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands region (the Lower Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Upper Paulin's kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org.

To support NJA Stewardship Department’s work for overall habitat restoration, species recovery and natural resource protection throughout NJ, including work associated with riparian restorations, you can donate to their team participating in the 2017 World Series of Birding at: http://worldseriesofbirding.org/teampage.asp?fundid=1067#.WN-8j9LDHIU

All photos by John Parke & Mike Muckle

Wild Northern Bobwhite Released in Pine Barrens

Northern Bobwhite quail were released for the third consecutive year at the Pine Island Cranberry property as part of the multi-state male bobwhite at PIC (PIC)initiative to re-establish Northern Bobwhite in the Mid-Atlantic States. Lead by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy , Pine Island Cranberry, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware, 80 wild birds (40 males and 40 females) were captured in Georgia, translocated, and released, at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. The New Jersey portion of this project has the unique role of releasing only wild quail (translocation). Other partners to the multi-state project are evaluating methods of raising captive bred and parent reared quail, however no captive bred quail will be released in New Jersey. Ultimately, the results of the NJ study will be compared to findings from the other participating states in the initiative.

“The research we are embarking on in the New Jersey Pine Barrens is pivotal to understanding the limits of translocation as a population recovery tool for Bobwhites in the northern fringe of their range. If we are to truly ‘hold the line’ for this pint-sized bird that so many have come to know and love, we must be willing to attempt the impossible, think the unimaginable, and be prepared for a moonshot in Bobwhite history,” said Project Collaborator Dr. Theron M. Terhune of Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

P3260006After receiving health screenings and testing and attaching leg ID bands along with radio-signal transmitting collars to each wild bird, the quail were released in groups across the study site. This is the 3rd release of wild Bobwhite at the study site since 2015.

“We're looking forward to another great year and there are already some indications that it will be. P3270047The birds released last year that still have functioning radio collars have already joined up with this year's released birds,” said Phil Coppola, Project Research Assistant. “The translocation went smoothly and now we can just let them pair up and progress into the breeding season. There are few things more exciting than finding the first nest of the season!”

In the previous two years of the project, a total of 18 nests were confirmed by the project researchers on site, as well as, successful hatching and overwintering by the quail that were translocated to the study site.

"These Bobwhite translocations have provided valuable information on the habitat quality and forest management practices implemented thus far on Pine Island. We are looking forward to seeing what we can learn from this year's release of Northern Bobwhites to aid in future habitat management, as well as, forest health in the New Jersey Pine Barrens," said Project Researcher Kaili Stevens of the University of Delaware.

Active forest management, implemented under a State approved Forest Stewardship Plan written and directed by Pine Creek Forestry , has been the key element in creating high quality habitat conditions for the Bobwhite. Although the intent of the forestry work at the site is focused on forest and watershed health, these same forestry practices also create critically needed habitat for wildlife and have been instrumental in the translocation efforts.

PARKE QUAIL 2017“Opening those boxes and seeing the quail flush out and take flight back into the wild is a feeling that never gets old,” said John Parke, NJA Project Stewardship Director. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity. The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management,” Parke added.

The success of the project at Pine Island, combined with years of habitat restoration work lead by NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in Cumberland County has, for the first time ever in New Jersey, lead to the allocation of federal funding through the USDA-NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Program specifically for quail habitat restoration. “This is a major opportunity for private landowners and farmers to be part of the recovery of this iconic species. Landowners and farmers that take advantage of this cost share program will help establish habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” said Parke.

“This has been a great chance for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again,” said Stefanie Haines of Pine Island Cranberry.

To learn how you can support the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative go to NJ Audubon's Quail webpage http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipInAction/NorthernBobwhiteRestorationInitiative.aspx

To support NJA Stewardship Department’s work for overall habitat restoration and species recovery throughout NJ such of Bobwhite Quail, you can donate to their team participating in the 2017 World Series of Birding at: http://worldseriesofbirding.org/teampage.asp?fundid=1067#.WN-8j9LDHIU