Getting To Know the Birds of Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Conservation Biologist Debra Kriensky reports on our work planting an “Urban Oasis” in industrial Greenpoint to provide much-needed stopover habitat for migratory birds as well as our citizen science outreach efforts to engage the Greenpoint community and learn more about the birds in the area:

 

Beginning in 2014, NYC Audubon received a grant from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) to install a 0.25-acre native plant garden in McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The area surrounding the park is largely urban, industrial, and relatively lacking in green space, making it an important resource for migrating and breeding birds in the area. Our aim was to improve the quality of this stopover habitat by planting a host of native plants that would appeal to not just birds, but to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators as well. We called our garden the “Urban Oasis”.

 

The Urban Oasis in June, with many native plants in bloom

The Urban Oasis in June, with many native plants in bloom

While we knew it was likely that many birds were migrating through Greenpoint and possibly breeding there, there was very little information about what birds could be found in McGolrick Park when we started planting the Urban Oasis in 2014. A search on the public online database eBird showed no reported bird sightings in the park–and only a handful of sightings in the entire Greenpoint area. In 2015, eleven species were recorded in the park by NYC Audubon and others after we completed the Urban Oasis, but we knew this number did not truly represent the diversity of birds we believed were present.

 

In 2016, NYC Audubon received an additional grant from GCEF to conduct six citizen science bird surveys throughout the year. The grant’s goal: to increase knowledge about what birds could be found in the park and when, and to encourage local Greenpoint residents to look for and report sightings of birds in the park and the neighborhood in general.

 

Black-throated green warbler seen in September during fall migration

Black-throated green warbler seen in September during fall migration

We held two citizen science surveys during spring migration, two during the summer breeding season, and two during fall migration. Local residents of Greenpoint were invited to join the surveys, and all results were put on the eBird database. We also held a free nature walk in September for local residents to learn more about the native plants in the Urban Oasis and park, as well as their benefits to wildlife.

 

All in all, our volunteers observed 34 species throughout the year. 19 of these species had not previously been recorded in the park, such as blackpoll warblers, cedar waxwings, and scarlet tanagers. NYC Audubon staff also took note of any conspicuous insects in the garden and park. Observations included an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly, five-banded tiphiid wasp, common oblique syrphid fly, many common eastern bumble bees, and more.

 

Fish crow at its McGolrick Park nest in April, 2016

Fish crow at its McGolrick Park nest in April, 2016

In addition to adding our own bird sightings to eBird, we encouraged others to record sightings as well. The eBird database now has 40 species recorded in McGolrick Park, encompassing warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers, raptors, and more–all in this four-acre park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The full McGolrick Park eBird checklist can be viewed here. During our surveys, we got to observe a nesting pair of fish crows in the park on numerous occasions that have apparently been nesting there for several years. We hope locals were inspired to keep birding in the park and logging what they see on eBird, as well as help maintain the Urban Oasis native plant garden for the birds, bees, and butterflies. The results of the surveys are evidence of the importance of green space in urban environments, and proof that birds are all around us if we take the time to look!

A common oblique syrphid fly on a black-eyed susan in the Urban Oasis

A common oblique syrphid fly on a black-eyed susan in the Urban Oasis

 

Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund

 

Funding for all events provided by the Office of the New York State Attorney General and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund.

 

Tribute in Light Monitoring 2016 Recap

Birds 'trapped' in the Tribute in Light Memorial's Beams

Birds 'trapped' in the Tribute in Light Memorial's Beams

The Tribute in Light memorial once again shone bright over Lower Manhattan on September 11, projecting two beams of light into the night sky to pay tribute to the lives lost on that day in 2001. NYC Audubon has monitored the memorial since 2002 to ensure that night-migrating songbirds, which in some years are attracted in huge numbers to the Tribute’s powerful light beams, are not exhausted and injured during the all-night event.

 

 

NYC Audubon staff, board members, and volunteers monitored this year’s memorial from 8pm Sunday night to 6am Monday morning. At around 11pm on Sunday night, migration activity began to increase and many birds were observed ‘trapped’ in the light, circling and calling to one another. Thank you to Michael Ahern Production Services, Inc. and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum for letting us turn the lights off three times for a brief period during the early morning hours, allowing birds to continue on their migration.

 

Here is a video taken by our monitoring staff of the lights being turned off at one point in the evening because of too much bird activity:

 

 

There were many species observed throughout the night, including American redstarts, black-and-white warblers, Baltimore orioles, and cuckoos. We even saw a peregrine falcon that was taking advantage of the congregation of small birds.

 

A Praying Mantis Joined Us!

A Praying Mantis Joined Us at One Point during Our Long Night of Monitoring!

Birds weren’t the only things we were watching though; we brought along a bat detector that was able to detect six different species of bat flying overhead! We even had a visit from a praying mantis around 3:30am. Be sure to check out NYC Audubon’s Facebook page or our Twitter page for more photos and video from the event.

 

Also, check out this wonderful video produced by NY Daily News about our Tribute in Light monitoring:

 

VIDEO: How Birds Are Saved during 9/11 Tribute in Light Memorial, produced by NY Daily News

 

 

 

To learn more about the work NYC Audubon does to protect migrating birds, visit our Project Safe Flight page.

 

-Conservation Biologist Debra Kriensky

 

Photo Gallery from This Year’s Tribute in Light Monitoring 

Jamaica Bay Project Awarded Prestigious Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant by NFWF

We are very happy to announce that our proposal for a comprehensive program to protect and enhance the habitat for shorebirds and other wildlife in Jamaica Bay, and to foster a commitment to stewardship by local residents, was awarded a grant under National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s prestigious Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program. Our project was one of 58 community-led wetland, stream, and coastal restoration projects awarded grants this year  through the program.

 

Our project will protect migratory and nesting shorebirds in Jamaica Bay by engaging hundreds of volunteers; restoring 22 acres of habitat; and organizing beach cleanups at Plumb Beach and North Channel Beach, a marsh-planting event to plant Spartina on Jamaica Bay’s marsh islands, and a dune-planting event in Averne, in the Rockaways.

 

We will continue our longstanding citizen science program of monitoring shorebirds and horseshoe crabs in the Bay and will also add an educational component: a three-part unit designed to teach Brooklyn middle schoolers about the ecology of Jamaica Bay and the connection between shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. Our project will also continue to increase awareness of and decrease disturbance to nesting birds through “Be a Good Egg” program outreach events.

 

We will announce details on future volunteer events and citizen science opportunities related to our Jamaica Bay project on our volunteer page and our monthly eNewsletter, The eGret.

 

We look forward to working on these efforts with our project partners, which include the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, the American Littoral Society, Sadhana, New York University’s Wallerstein Collaborative, Audubon New York, New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation, and New Jersey Audubon.

 

The Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program seeks to develop nationwide community stewardship of local natural resources in order to preserve these resources for future generations and enhance habitat for local wildlife. Since 1999, the program has supported more than 820 projects, with more than $9.8 million in federal funds, $7.9 million in private and corporate contributions, and $67 million in matching funds at the local level. Programmatic support for 2016 Five Star and Urban Waters program is provided by the Wildlife Habitat Council, and major funding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FedEx, Southern Company, Bank of America and Alcoa.

 

We are grateful to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and their partners for this tremendous support. The Jamaica Bay watershed is a 21,000-acre estuary that supports 325 species of birds and many species of fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Despite its location within the most densely populated city in the U.S., Jamaica Bay is a globally recognized Important Bird Area and is particularly important for shorebirds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway.

 

Horseshoe Crab Monitoring 2016 Recap and Results

NYC Audubon Conservation Biologist Debra Kriensky breaks down the horseshoe crab numbers from this year’s monitoring efforts in Jamaica Bay

 

Horseshoe Crabs Photo by NYC Audubon

Photo: NYC Audubuon

We are happy to report that 2016 was a great year for horseshoe crabs in Jamaica Bay!

 

New York City Audubon once again ventured out during the new and full moons in May and June to count and tag spawning horseshoe crabs. This was our eighth year collecting data on horseshoe crabs in Jamaica Bay, part of a larger project run by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

 

In 2015, a colder than usual spring resulted in unusually low counts at some of our beaches, such as Plumb Beach East. This year, however, the shores were full of mating horseshoe crabs and our counts indicate that numbers continue to stay relatively stable in Jamaica Bay. This is great news, given how important horseshoe crab eggs are to the migratory shorebirds that come through New York City each spring on their way north.

 

With the help of 163 volunteers (a record!), we were able to count spawning horseshoe crabs at four locations: Plumb Beach East, Plumb Beach West, Big Egg Marsh, and Dead Horse Bay. Spawning activity peaked during the full moon around Memorial Day this year. The high counts were 205 crabs at Plumb Beach East, 21 crabs at Plumb Beach West, and 451 crabs at Big Egg (and that was only what we counted in our quadrat samples!). At Dead Horse Bay, where we take a total count of the horseshoe crabs, the high count was 493.

Volunteers Counting Horseshoe Crabs, Photo by Tracy Pennoyer

Volunteers Counting Horseshoe Crabs, Photo by Tracy Pennoyer

We were able to tag 797 crabs this year, making a total of 4,380 horseshoe crabs tagged since we started in 2009. We had 78 re-sightings of tagged crabs this year – 55 of which were tagged earlier in the spawning season, indicating that many of the horseshoe crabs we see stick around at the same beach for several nights and even weeks.

 

We also saw nine crabs we had tagged in 2015, two we had tagged in 2014, and one had tagged in 2013! In addition to all of these horseshoe crabs that are returning to the same beach night after night and year after year, we also saw 10 tagged crabs that were put out by other organizations. So far, we know that one was tagged last year in Cliffwood Beach, NJ and another was tagged in 2012 at Breezy Beach in the Rockaways. It will be interesting to eventually find out where and when the others were tagged.

 

If you ever spot a tagged horseshoe crab, write down the number and report where and when you found it to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service here.

Tagged Horseshoe Crab Photo by NYC Audubon

Horseshoe Crab Tagged "341401"

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers who came out to count with us this year, especially our dedicated volunteer site coordinators, who make it all possible! We’re also very thankful to Patagonia, the Williams Companies, and Investors Bank Foundation for their generous support of this year’s horseshoe crab and shorebird work.

 

We’re already excited for next year’s spawning season! We hope to have another record number of volunteers for next year’s counts. Please email volunteer@nycaudubon.org if you are interested in getting involved in this important (and fun!) citizen science study.

 

New York City’s Common Terns

Common Tern and Chick on Governors Island © Barbara Saunders

Common Tern and Chick on Governors Island © Barbara Saunders

NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science Susan Elbin reports on our work with the New York State threatened Common Tern:

 

The common tern (Sterna hirundo), a native North American waterbird, was nearly extirpated from North America by the millinery trade in the late 19th century, and again by habitat loss and environmental contaminants in the mid-20th century. Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other conservation efforts and environmental regulations, this species has been brought back from the brink of extinction. But populations have not returned to historic levels. The common tern continues to be a threatened species in New York State, and maintaining current population levels requires management to protect the breeding population. The major threats to tern populations on their breeding grounds appear to be space limitation due to habitat destruction and competition with other waterbirds. Common terns are also threatened by specific consequences of climate changes such as warmer summers and severe storms that impact shoreline nesting areas.

 

Common terns have been nesting in the Jamaica Bay area for decades. Just recently, a colony has established itself on the decommissioned piers of Governors Island. Just a ferry ride from lower Manhattan, the birds can been seen plunge-diving for fish to feed their growing chicks.

 

While the majority of our conservation and monitoring efforts occurs during the breeding season, common terns spend less than one-third of the year on their breeding grounds. Threats during the other two-thirds of the year, during migration and wintering periods, are unknown. We have initiated two pilot studies using high-technology techniques: geolocators and nanotags. A geolocator is a tag that the bird wears around its leg. The tag can later be removed from the bird in order to download latitude/longitude data collected over the course of one year. Nanotags are small radio transmitters attached to a bird’s back that send a signal to stationary VHF towers installed along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and across Canada. Results from these two projects will indicate where the birds have spent the winter and how long they stay in a given area, respectively. The goal is to determine what areas New York City common terns are using as stopover sites during migration and over the winter. We plan to expand this project in the coming years, working with partner organizations to increase the sample size and to collect more data about the trends in migratory and overwintering behavior as well as the amount of variation in this behavior within the population. Determining where these birds migrate and overwinter is the necessary first step in identifying threats to the population during these times of the year, when the majority of mortality likely takes place.

 

Join us for the “It’s Your Tern” festival on Governors Island this Saturday, July 16! Learn more here.

 

 

Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count Results Now Available

 

Great Horned Owl © Francois Portmann

Great Horned Owl © Francois Portmann

The results from the 116th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count are in! The 2015 Lower Hudson count took place on Sunday, December 20th, a cold but clear day. The Lower Hudson count circle (code: NJLH) includes Manhattan and parts of Hudson and Bergen counties in New Jersey.

 

With the help of 174 participants, we counted a total of 27,167 birds and 96 species this year. Though a little lower than last year’s numbers (30,641 birds and 111 species), there were still a lot of birds counted, showing that winter can be anything but boring!

 

Counts took place in Central Park, Inwood, Harlem, Riverside Park, Randall’s Island, Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, Stuyvesant Town & Cove, East River Park, Lower Manhattan, and many locations throughout New Jersey (see map below). We thank all of the count leaders who made this year’s count possible, including a count during “count-week” on Governor’s Island.

 

For detailed results on this year’s count and results from previous year’s counts, please visit our Audubon Christmas Bird Count page

 
-Debra Kriensky, Conservation Biologist

 

Black Skimmer Round Up!

NYC Audubon Conservation Biologist Debra Kriensky reports on an exciting new conservation partnership project:

 

By the end of August, we are always sad here in the office that our busy field season is coming to an end. Our American oystercatcher chicks have fledged, there are no more herring gulls to band on the green roof of the Javits Center, and our great egrets are already off and flying around Jamaica Bay. That’s one reason why, when asked to help band black skimmer chicks out at Nickerson Beach in Nassau County, Long Island, just outside our territory, we jumped at the chance! With John Zarudsky and his crew from the Town of Hempstead, along with Jason Smith and his team from NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), we headed out early Tuesday morning to the colony of approximately 600 pairs of skimmers on Nickerson Beach.

 

The plan was to quickly set up a drift fence at the edge of the colony to act as a boundary, to prevent the chicks from running out of the colony where they could fall prey to gulls. Once we set up, it worked better than we could have expected. Within a few minutes, we were able to herd close to 100 chicks inside the u-shaped fencing. We closed off the opening in the fence, turning it into a pen with the chicks inside. The adults stayed nearby while we quickly banded the chicks, releasing them back into the colony as soon as they were banded. The chicks, fast runners but still not able to fly, resemble drab versions of the adults, and lack the unique bill that make skimmers unmistakable. At three to four weeks old, chicks have a large bill, but it is still dark and the length of the top and bottom are still equal. With age, the lower mandible will eventually grow longer than the upper.

 

Each chick was banded with a US Fish & Wildlife metal band on its left leg, and those with big enough legs received a bright yellow field-readable ID band on their right leg. There were a few thin-legged chicks whose yellow bands slipped right off their feet! The plan is that the Town of Hempstead will find out where their skimmers are going during the rest of the year, and to see how many chicks return as adults to breed in their natal colony.

 

In all, we were able to band over 80 skimmer chicks in a matter of a few hours—no small feat given that without the fence, this would have taken several days to accomplish. While we were there, we didn’t see any gulls or any aggressive encounters with territorial adult skimmers, and young birds were soon reunited with their siblings and parents—a good sign for young chicks, which can become easy prey for gulls or aggressive neighbors. It was a rewarding day working with our colleagues at the DEC and Town of Hempstead (and the skimmers of course), and a successful end to our summer field season.

 

ACT NOW to Save Wild Birds!

Piping Plovers © François Portmann

Nesting Piping Plovers Are Vulnerable to Predation by Feral Cats. Photo © François Portmann

Wild birds are under siege. In New York State, they are threatened by a feral cat trap-neuter-return (TNR) bill that offers no provision for excluding return to critical wild bird habitat. Nationwide, they are threatened by amendments to appropriations bills that would prevent all enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Please take a moment to voice your opposition. Your action is critically needed!

 

TNR in New York State
Members residing in New York State, please visit https://www.governor.ny.gov/ to contact and ask Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the recent TNR bill, which has passed both the Assembly and Senate despite the efforts of bird and conservation organizations.

 

Suggested language for your message:

 

         Please veto Senate Bill 1081 (Senator Marchione) and Assembly Bill 2778 (Assemblyman McDonald), an act to amend the agriculture and markets law, in relation to community based initiatives for the purpose of trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning feral cats to the area from which they were trapped. This practice is known as TNR.

         TNR has not been scientifically proven effective at reducing the feral cat population, which poses great risks to New York’s wild bird populations, other wildlife, and public health. In addition, this practice conflicts with other sections of Agriculture and Markets law that prevent the release of animals once in custody of a shelter or animal control officer.

         Worse, there is no provision in the Bill to prohibit or prevent the return of feral cats to critical natural areas. These include Important Bird Areas and New York State Bird Conservation Areas, which have been established and are funded to protect wildlife habitats, as well as nesting and migratory species, some of which appear on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s list of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species.

         We urge you to please veto this Bill!

 

 

Congressman Jeff Duncan’s attack on the MBTA
Please visit http://www.contactingthecongress.org/, enter your address, and follow the links to your US Senators to submit requests that they oppose any amendments to appropriations bills that contain Congressman Jeff Duncan’s anti-MBTA-enforcement amendments and to vote against any legislation that contains his anti-MBTA-enforcement riders or amendments. Duncan’s efforts are profoundly dangerous to bird conservation.

 

Suggested Language for your messages:

 

         For nearly 100 years the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been a pillar of Americans’ collective resolve to make a place in our world for birds and their habitats. I am writing to urge you to oppose any efforts to include the House-passed Duncan “Bird Killer Amendments” to the Senate versions of both the Commerce-Justice-Science bill and the Interior-Environment bill. If these amendments had been in effect when the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout occurred, BP would not have been subject to prosecution for the killing of millions of birds.

         I know I can count on you to uphold the timeless bipartisan commitment to conserving our nation’s wildlife for future generations.

 

 

Learn more about the assault on the MBTA on the National Audubon Website:

https://www.audubon.org/news/against-bird-killer-amendment

https://www.audubon.org/news/duke-energy-looking-payback

 

You can also contact your Senators via National Audubon’s “Take Action” buttons:

https://www.audubon.org/takeaction
 

Texting while Flying? No Problem!

NYC Audubon’s Susan Elbin and colleagues Nellie Tsipoura and John Brzorad share an exciting new partnership project:

 

Great Egret "Clare" with Her Transmitter © NYC Audubon

Great Egret "Clare" with Her Transmitter © NYC Audubon

A new era of technology has been added to the NYC Audubon/NJ Audubon Harbor Herons foraging surveys. For the past several years, dedicated citizen science volunteers have spent hundreds of hours collecting data on Harbor Heron foraging locations in New York City and NJ. Now two of our birds are part of a larger study being done by scientists at Lenoir-Rhyne University (Dr. John Brzorad), Friends University (Dr. Alan Maccarone), and NJ Audubon (Nellie Tsipoura). (Note: John and Al did some of the original Harbor Herons surveys in the mid-1980s).

 

On June 25 and 26, two adult great egrets were captured at Wolf’s Pond, Staten Island, and fitted with solar-powered GPS/GSM (Global Positioning System/Global System for Mobiles) transmitters. The birds’ transmitters send text messages indicating their location, which are then displayed on virtual maps at Movebank.org. The two birds, Clare and Edward, have been “adopted” by local classrooms on Staten Island (Mrs. Theresa Kutza, New Dorp High School and Mrs. Mary Lee, St. Clare’s School) and by citizen scientist volunteers. Clare is definitely part of our breeding population:  She frequently sends messages from Hoffman Island. Edward spends his time on the Jersey side of the river, but just at press-time, has also visited Hoffman. You can see for yourself what Clare and Edward have been up to by clicking here.  (If you click on either “Clare” or “Edward” on the left-hand side, the name will turn blue, and the bird’s flight path will appear on the map. Zoom out to see the entire area the birds have traveled. Note that due to a technical glitch, at the moment both birds are labeled as great blue herons.)

 
This work was funded by the US Forest Service, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, and private donations to NJ Audubon, and done in cooperation with the New Jersey Audubon Society, New York City Audubon, and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

 

Links
http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionCitizenScience/HarborHeronSurveys/GreatEgretTracking.aspx
http://science.unctv.org/content/where-world-ms-palma

 

 

Birds & Blizzards: Adaptations of Wintering Birds

NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science Susan Elbin shares how birds are able to handle the more severe conditions of the winter season

 

Dark-eyed Junco © Laura Meyers

Dark-eyed Junco © Laura Meyers

After several recent snowstorms (with more predicted for this weekend), maybe some of us have been wondering about the birds: my feeders were full of birds, but now they are deserted. What do birds do in bad weather?

 

First let us reassure you: birds have been around for more than 60 million years! They have adapted to different climate regimes and have learned how to survive inclement weather. Most birds deal with the cold weather by migrating south. The birds that come to New York City or stay here through the winter have a variety of behaviors that keep them warm and dry. A few things they do:

 

  • Fluff up their down feathers and keep their body feathers waterproof. Some birds molt additional down during the winter.
  • Cover exposed skin with feathers. Some birds will tuck their bills under a wing or tuck one leg up close to its body. Some birds can stand on ice without freezing their feet because of specially adapted circulatory system called “counter current.”
  • ‘Hunker down’ in a protected spot until the storm passes.
  • Huddle! Birds will often sit close together – closer than they would in temperate weather.
  • Produce their own body heat by shivering.
  • Eat a lot of high-calorie food.
  • Chill out: some birds slow down their metabolism and go into a state of torpor.

 

Unfortunately, despite all of these adaptations and behaviors, some birds don’t make it. While wintering birds have evolved to survive without the help of supplemental feeding by people, if you do feed the birds in the winter time, make sure to keep your feeders consistently stocked until spring. If you can provide fresh water, that’s all the better.