Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Remember Hurricane Sandy

As we are about to enter the 2013 field season it is important that we remember Hurricane Sandy and what it did to the shoreline of Connecticut. Apart from tragic human losses and horrific property damage Sandy inflicted a great deal of destruction on our coastal waterbird environment. In this regard it was not strictly beneficial or detrimental - it was a mix of both. Some of our beaches have enhanced habitat with larger areas of sand flattened out for breeding far above the high tide lines as the dunes were pushed back from the water. Other beaches have had erosion that now limits habitat where the dune could not or did not go further inland or steep and inhospitable grades along the shore. Some of the offshore islands have had their land and available habitat greatly reduced as well.

While these natural processes would be all part of the dynamic system nature has in place a few centuries ago they are now fraught with complexities as humans have changed the equation. When the beach is pushed back or a dune is further from the water it is more likely to be where people walk or congregate meaning the birds and the public may be even closer to one another in some cases. At certain locations - like Stratford's Long Beach, a thin barrier beach - there is not much room to begin with and it is going to be even more crowded for all this summer. However things turn out in 2013 it is definitely going to be much different than it was even in 2012.

This is all part of why we need even more volunteer monitors in the field to report back to us each week on changes they see at their chosen site or sites. You may find a new tern colony where none existed recently! There may be some spots where Piping Plovers have a hard time nesting between the tides and other disturbances. There may even be new sites we have to monitor that we were not in previous years.

This New Haven Register article helps explain more of what AAfCW did last fall in rapidly assessing some of the most critical coastal habitats in the state for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. This WXedge.com article by Patrick Comins explains more of what happened during and after Sandy and features a bunch of great photos. There are so many unknowns that it will be impossible to say what will happen this season, but what we do know is that the more volunteers we have on board the more successful our work will be in 2013.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Considering becoming a monitor?

Are you considering becoming a Piping Plover monitor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection along with us at the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds to volunteer your time helping to protect the federally endangered species? Please take a look at this press release from USFWS if you have not and let's examine the process a little more closely, from training to the field work you will be a part of this spring and summer. Volunteering as a monitor may sound time-consuming or intimidating but it is a very rewarding experience as can be seen in the ever-growing number of people who participate each season. All you need is a little time each month (two hours at least) and a passion for helping endangered wildlife.

If you look at this blog entry from last year you will find a few videos from the volunteer monitor training session held last March. The first video discusses the job of a volunteer monitor, the role they play on the beach, the limited responsibilities monitors have, and some of the legalities pertaining to this wonderful service. The second video discusses the difference between volunteering some of your time for the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It also goes over your role as an educator on the beach, how best to impart knowledge of the birds and their survival needs, any situations we try to avoid, and how to report disturbances or any issues. The third video delves into beach monitoring details from who to approach or not approach, what to do in troubling situations such as loose dogs, and what the responsibility of USFWS is to you and the municipality is with respect to their property and local ordinances.

After the training session is complete you will receive an identification badge and be set to begin monitoring at your chosen beach and chosen time in April. Those who are new to the program may also be able to have a staff member or master monitor, a veteran volunteer, join them on the beach for their first visit to help to acclimate them further. Apart from what you can view in the videos above it is basically as simple as visiting the beach, passively and carefully searching for target species, recording their numbers, behavior, breeding conditions, and so forth (without them knowing you are even there), and reporting the information back to the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds at ctwaterbirds@gmail.com. You can approach friendly beachgoers and talk to them about the birds if you like, or perhaps kindly request others be watchful for nesting birds or young.

The right-hand column of this blog contains a section named "Important Documents" where you can find a list of various files that you may want to review. AAfCW's information brochure on Piping Plovers helps to serve as a starting point to education the public about the birds on the beach and is available in hard copies as well for you to pass out or use while monitoring. There are two datasheets that can be used in the field for our four focal species with one for Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers and another for Least Terns and Common Terns. Another datasheet is for long-legged wader or other shorebird and tern data as well as disturbance. If you use these in the field you can scan them on your computer and email them directly to us when reporting your data to ctwaterbirds@gmail.com or you can transcribe the information you record and send us a quick email with it. We will take all of your bird data along with any other information such as problems you encountered, questions you may have, disturbances you noted, and people's activities on the beach, and get back to you as soon as possible if you require a response.

The breeding bird survey codes document helps to explain the differences in breeding conditions that we use. Under that are several important USFWS and CT DEEP documents that focus on incidents and legalities and also provide more information on monitoring and the birds which you should read as soon as possible and multiple times in order to be familiar with them. Finally there are International Shorebird Survey documents that are available in case you have decided to participate in them. Here is a post from last season with more information on that endeavor but we will also be posting more on the ISS program soon.

As always, if you have any questions please email us at ctwaterbirds@gmail.com, thanks!

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Volunteers Needed for Piping Plover/Shorebird Monitoring

Below is a press release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. You can also find the original document to download by clicking here. Please note that this year there will be two training sessions, one for past monitors and one for new volunteers, because we have so many tremendous volunteers from past seasons. If you previously volunteered as a monitor you will be contacted by the USFWS for more information about the refresher session soon.

 United States Department of the Interior


Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge
733 Old Clinton Road
Westbrook, Connecticut 06498-1030
Phone: 860-399-2513 Fax: 860-399-2515


To be Released:
Immediately                             Contact: Shaun Roche
                    Phone: (860) 399-2513

Subject:  Volunteers Needed for Piping Plover/Shorebird Monitoring

Spend your summer days at the beach and help protect a federally threatened species! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are seeking volunteers to monitor piping plovers and other shorebirds from early April until late August at beaches across our state.  A training and orientation session for new volunteers will be held on Saturday, March 16th 2013 from 10:30am to 1pm at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point; past volunteers will be offered a refresher from 9:00 to 10:30am.  The sessions will review the following: biology of the piping plover, how to monitor breeding pairs and chicks, volunteer organization and logistics, and law enforcement information. We will also demonstrate the construction of a plover enclosure and provide beach training with simulated plover eggs.

Atlantic Coast populations of piping plovers return to the Connecticut coast in March from their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast.  The cryptic nests of the federally threatened piping plover are extremely susceptible to human disturbance, predation, and tidal wash outs. To enhance the survival and productivity of birds breeding in Connecticut, an annual monitoring partnership is cooperatively sponsored by Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Audubon Connecticut, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy.

Volunteer monitors will observe and record data for nesting plovers and other shorebirds at locations across coastal Connecticut. The primary duties involve assisting with observation and data collection for nesting birds and educating the public. Volunteers work 2-hour shifts from April until the end of the breeding season (usually in August) and must donate a minimum of 2 hours per month. The work can be very rewarding, as volunteers will have the opportunity to positively impact nesting success for shorebirds across Connecticut.

For more information on the training session or for directions to the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center, please email USFWS Ranger Shaun Roche at shaun_roche@fws.gov.  Reservations are not required; but an e-mail letting us know you will be attending is appreciated.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Check out your beach

We have now entered February, and there is no better time than now to take a trip to the beach where you monitor shorebirds and terns to see how it handled Hurricane Sandy. You are very likely to find a much different habitat in many cases. Sean Graesser, one of the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds technicians who did a fantastic job last year and continued working for Connecticut Audubon Society in the offseason, conducted a rapid damage assessment of several of our most important beaches in order to determine what changes had been made and what must be done, if anything, to repair the habitat for the birds. This work was funded by the Manomet Center for Conservation Services and a report was created that will help to move us forward in 2013.

You can see a great article in the New Haven Register about more of this right here: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2013/01/27/news/shoreline/doc5105dd66ac36f628365213.txt

Additionally, you can find a ton of photos of these changed habitats in albums on our Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Audubon-Alliance-for-Coastal-Waterbirds/168520783251234?fref=ts

And if you would like to read even more see this piece discussing coastal waterbirds and some of Audubon Connecticut's work for the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds: http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Robert-Miller-The-Sound-and-its-birds-4224468.php

Next month we will have American Oystercatchers and Piping Plovers returning to Connecticut's shoreline. However, some of the more unusual winter sightings have been an American Oystercatcher here or there in December and January! The species has been spotted rarely by birders in Stratford and Milford with some reports of multiple birds. A warmer than usual winter along with a lack of snowfall probably helped keep them here just as the rare White Ibis remained in Stratford along with a bunch of Great Egrets. These birds have not been seen much as of late when the frigid polar air mass moved in to the region in the latter half of January, and some may have sought refuge further to our south. Even in typical years the American Oystercatcher is often seen in February - see if you can find one when you go check out your beach.

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.