Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ursinus Students Help with Invasive Plant Removal at Meng

Valley Forge Audubon Society would like to give a special thanks to Ursinus College's Professor Patrick Hurley and his Environmental Science class. On September 27, the group, under the supervision of VFAS' Phil Smith, worked to remove invasive plants from the Eva R. Meng Bird Sanctuary and Wildlife Preserve. Among the invasives removed were Multi-flora Rose, Oriental BitterSweet, Japanese Honey Suckle, and Russian Olive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Open Air" a Possible Danger to Migrants and an Opportunity to Learn More

Open Air is a public art display by Canadian artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer that will be presented September 20 through October 14. The main feature of this display is a series of powerful robotic searchlights that will respond to input from people's mobile devices to create light sculptures that will illuminate the night sky over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. But, despite the artist's and his backers' best intentions, the timing of this display could not be worse. Late September is the peak of fall migration, when thousands of birds will be flying south through the night sky. Recent evidence has shown that migrating birds can become severely disoriented, even to the point of exhaustion and death, by artificial lights on their migration, and Open Air presents a danger to these birds. Upon learning of Open Air, Audubon Pennsylvania has been working with Lozano-Hemmer to lessen its impact, and in the process has been given an opportunity to further study the effects of artificial light on migrating birds.

Science is just beginning to understand how birds navigate during their complex migration. Songbirds and other smaller species of birds migrate at night (as opposed to raptors and waterfowl, which can be seen migrating during the day). When flying at night, birds use the light from the setting sun, moon, and stars as reference points. They are instinctively drawn to sources of light, including the artificial lights of cities and urban areas, and become reluctant to leave these areas. Floodlights and searchlights can be especially dangerous to migrating birds. The birds fly into the lights and, driven by instinct, refuse to leave, essentially becoming "trapped" in the light. The birds will continue flying, often to the point of exhaustion. Disoriented birds also run the risk of dying from collisions with windows and buildings. This was seen in New York City at the Tributes in Light display at the Ground Zero Memorial in 2004.

There is still a lot to learn about the dangers artificial lights pose to migrating birds and most people are completely unaware of it. In fact, most people are unaware of the fact that birds fly at night during migration. The artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer was among them when he created Open Air. By the time Audubon Pennsylvania learned of the display, it was already too late to reschedule it to a time after the peak of fall migration. Since then Lozano-Hemmer has been working with Audubon to lessen Open Air's impact on birds, and Audubon has taken the event as an opportunity to learn more about artificial light's impact on bird migration.

Working with three scientists who have extensive experience researching how birds respond to light, Dr. J. Alan Clark (Fordham University), Dr. Susan Elbin (NYC Audubon), and Dr. Chris Sheppard (American Bird Conservancy), Audubon Pennsylvania will have a three pronged monitoring system in place during Open Air's displays. Volunteers and birders will be on the ground looking for birds through their binoculars and spotting scopes, keeping a close eye for any birds trapped in the beams of light. Acoustic recorders will also be in place to track any of the calls birds use when migrating. A small-scale avian radar system, MERLIN XS25200e Avian Radar System, will also be used to track the movement patterns of individual migrants, including altitude and flight direction, as well as the total number of migrants passing through its radar beams. The objective of using this radar equipment is to quantify the magnitude, direction, and altitude of migrants over Philadelphia. In addition to the possibility of helping understand any potential impact of the Open Air installation on migrating birds, this deployment will be one of the very first studies showing how birds respond to urban landscapes during migration and help understand the magnitude of migration through a major metropolitan area. Such information is sorely needed to help scientists and urban managers understand and mitigate the impacts urban landscapes have on migrating birds.

Following Audubon Pennsylvania's recommendations, Lozano-Hemmer has planned several precautions that should lessen the impact Open Air will have on migrants.  The light show will feature regular black-out periods when no lights are lit, so that any trapped birds have an opportunity to fly away. The display will also refrain from using static light beams since birds are probably less likely to become trapped by moving lights. The light beams will also avoid buildings and other structures that birds could collide with. The engineers operating Open Air will be in contact with the Audubon staff and volunteers on the ground so the display can be shut down if any birds are reported as being in danger.

Hopefully these measures will prevent any birds from dying. But at least the situation has given scientists a unique opportunity to study artificial light's impact on birds and a chance to better understand what happens when birds migrate through urban landscapes. The information these scientists hope to gather during this project may lead to significant advancements in the field – and the stakes are very high for migrating birds and for people, plants, animals, and ecosystems that depend on the birds.

You can help. Audubon Pennsylvania is looking for volunteers who will be able to monitor the area for birds during Open Air. They are also seeking donations to cover the costs of the radar and sound equipment. You can learn more on their website.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 Spring Bird Count Results

Vincent Smith, Compiler

On June 2, 2012 Valley Forge Audubon Society conducted it’s 27th Spring Bird Count. I would like to thank each of the 11 Section Leaders and 63 Volunteers for making 2012 a major success. The weather was great and the birds came in with a good showing. This year brought in 94 species which is slightly higher than the 27 year average of 92 species. The total number of birds counted was the second highest on record with 11,299 birds (previous high total was 2008 with 11,497). Most exciting is that our volunteer numbers have been 60 people or more since 2008, (average is 50 volunteers).

This year demonstrated some of the highest totals ever counted for some species. Some of those increases reflect real increases in birds, but some is probably attributed to the hard work and commitment of our section leaders and volunteers. We have more eyes and ears out there finding the birds in their territories. In my time as compiler, I have been amazed to see the consistency of our leader reports. For many, the species numbers for each section are within few of years past (exceptions are species that have large fluctuations such as Canada Geese and American Robin).

First the good news. Numerous species observed this year were the highest counts ever recorded. The chart listed below shows the numbers for each species and the average over the 27 year count.

Great Blue Heron4011
Black Vulture8912
Turkey Vulture14354
Cooper's Hawk92
Red-tailed Hawk6732
Belted Kingfisher2912
Hairy Woodpecker2410
Pileated Woodpecker7 (ties with 2011)1
Eastern Phoebe5929
Great-crested Flycatcher5730
N. Rough-winged Swallow13354
Barn Swallow166101
Tufted Titmouse226110
White-breasted Nuthatch8426
Song Sparrow422245
Indigo Bunting10655
Red-winged Blackbird627273
Baltimore Oriole184103

Species that appear to be trending up are as follows:

Double-crested Cormorant6 (late migrants- since 2003)3
Common Merganser2 (Present last 4 years)(Has bred)1
Bald Eagle2 (Present since 2006)0 (Breeds in our area)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird12 (double digits since 2007 - except 9 birds 20106
Fish Crow197
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher6123 (50 range last 4 years)

Now the bad news. Field nesting species, secondary growth species and warblers seem to be in decline. Field and secondary growth nesters appear to be trending down due to either natural succession or changes in habitat. Field nesters like Eastern Meadowlarks have few large expansive meadows left in our area. Any hayfields or meadows are either succeeding to brush or the mowing cycle prevents a successful nesting (Hayfields managed for birds should not be mowed until Mid-July to allow meadow species to nest. Unfortunately, in todays world, most farmers are mowing in June to get extra fodder). Successional species like Yellow-breasted Chat, Field Sparrow, Blue-winged Warbler and White-eye Vireo are losing habitat as brush returns to forest through natural succession (Valley Forge Audubon has recently received a grant to create early sucessional scrub habitat at three locations in the Ridely/Crum Creeks IBA). Wood Warblers appear to be in decline due to a combination of factors such as, broken forested areas, over-development, suburban sprawl, invasive species (plants and animals) people and their pets. Keep those kitties inside and dogs on leash. Common Grackles are in significant decline. Their decline may be tied to threats on their wintering grounds, namely the use of avian controls of blackbirds. Unfortunately, Common Grackles appear to be following the same trend as Rusty Blackbirds did in the 1990’s.

Here is a list of species either in decline or trending down:

American Kestrel126 (In decline since 1995)
Ring-necked Pheasant05 (In decline since 1995)
Blue-winged Warbler510
Kentucky Warbler02 (Not observed since 2009)
Yellow-breasted Chat01 (Not observed since 2003)
Eastern Meadowlark48
Common Grackle173345

Two of the rarer species observed on this year’s count were 2 Broad-winged Hawks, (Section 1 & 4) and a late White-throated Sparrow observed at a feeder in Section 5.

Again, I would like to thank all the section leaders (Mike Coulter, Rick Keyser, Bruce Piecukonis, Jan Gordon, Barbara Hiebsch, Debbie Beer, Lynn Roman, Tom Reeves, Joe Hudson, Edie Parnum ) and volunteers for making this year’s count a success.

Pencil into your calendars the Christmas Bird Count which will take place on December 22, 2012 this year.

Click here to download the complete 2012 Spring Bird Count stats.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Field Report: Bombay Hook NWR, August 26, 2012

On Sunday August 26, VFAS held a special birding trip to Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware. 43 species were spotted, including some good shorebirds such as Black-bellied Plover and American Avocet. The complete list, as submitted to eBird, follows:

Canada Goose  100
Wood Duck  3
Mallard  35
Blue-winged Teal  2
Northern Shoveler  12
Green-winged Teal  12
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  4
Snowy Egret  5
Glossy Ibis  1
Turkey Vulture  12
Osprey  1
Northern Harrier  1
Bald Eagle  4
Clapper Rail  2
Black-bellied Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  12
American Avocet  36
Lesser Yellowlegs  8
Semipalmated Sandpiper  50
Western Sandpiper  1
Dunlin  1
Short-billed Dowitcher  25
Laughing Gull  25
Herring Gull  6
Great Black-backed Gull  4
Caspian Tern  1
Forster's Tern  7
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Eastern Wood-Pewee  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Eastern Kingbird  4
Tree Swallow  8
Carolina Chickadee  4
Carolina Wren  2
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  20
Northern Cardinal  2
Blue Grosbeak  7
Red-winged Blackbird  4
American Goldfinch  6

Field Report: John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, August 25, 2012

On Saturday August 25, Vincent Smith lead a bird walk at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. 43 species were spotted, the highlight being four Red-breasted Nuthatches that were seen and heard in the same Norway Spruce at the same time. This is one of the earliest sightings of the species, which have recently been spotted in good numbers throughout the area The complete list, as submitted to eBird, follows:

Canada Goose  2
Mallard  5
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  2
Great Egret  1
Green Heron  6
Turkey Vulture  2
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Least Sandpiper  1
Mourning Dove  4
Chimney Swift  6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  4
Hairy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  4
Eastern Wood-Pewee  5
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Warbling Vireo  1
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  12
American Crow  4
Carolina Chickadee  6
Tufted Titmouse  3
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
Carolina Wren  7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Eastern Bluebird  3
American Robin  5
Gray Catbird  15
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Common Yellowthroat  2
American Redstart  1
Chipping Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  8
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
Common Grackle  25
Baltimore Oriole  2
House Finch  1
American Goldfinch  12