Posts tagged ‘Conservation’

Tribute in Light Monitoring 2017

Tribute in Light 2017 © Sean Sime

Tribute in Light 2017 © Sean Sime

Every year on September 11, two beams of light illuminate the sky over Manhattan, reminding New Yorkers and the nation to pause in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001. New York City Audubon has monitored this important and touching tribute since 2002 to ensure it is safe for migrating birds. The beams, created using 88 7,000-watt xenon spotlight bulbs, can attract large numbers of night-migrating birds in some years. Once in the powerful beams the birds can become “trapped” and circle the lights, putting them at risk of exhaustion, disorientation, and injury. If a critical mass of birds is spotted circling at any point throughout the night, NYC Audubon works in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and Michael Ahern Production Services to turn off the lights for roughly 20 minutes, which allows the birds to disperse.

 

NYC Audubon staff, board members, and 35 volunteers worked together in small teams to count birds for the 10-hour duration of the tribute. Our volunteers logged a collective 137 hours of monitoring!

Volunteers Monitoring the Tribute in Light for Birds © Sean Sime

Volunteers Monitoring the Tribute in Light for Birds © Sean Sime

This year we were able to station additional observers adjacent to and 28 stories above the tribute monitoring site thanks to our friends at the Battery Rooftop Garden. This new vantage point allowed us to validate the counts taken at the monitoring site below and observe the birds from a different angle.

 

Peak migration activity typically occurs around midnight, so we were surprised to see the number of birds quickly grow at 9pm. By 9:40pm, the birds were flying low enough that their night-flight calls were audible.

Birds Trapped in the Tribute in Light

Birds Trapped in the Tribute in Light 2017

The lights were turned off at 9:49pm to allow the birds to disperse. When we counted over 1,000 birds at 10:55pm, the lights were shut off for a second time. The lights were switched off for a third and final time when low-flying birds became a problem at 12:30am.

 

We confirmed in each instance using radar that the birds had left the area before the lights were turned on again. All of us at the tribute breathed a sigh of relief when bird numbers dwindled after 1am and the birds that were present appeared to pass through the beams without becoming trapped. The lights remained on until 6am.

 

We observed many of the species that we have become accustomed to seeing in the beams, such as black-and-white warblers, northern parulas, Baltimore orioles, and American redstarts. There were also some more notable observations, including a hunting American kestrel, chimney swifts, yellow-billed cuckoos, a hummingbird, and a downy woodpecker that landed on the ledge of a nearby building.

 

Predaceous Diving Beetle Seen at Tribute in Light 2017

Predaceous Diving Beetle Seen at Tribute in Light 2017

In addition to monitoring birds, we monitored bats for the second year in a row. We also added an arthropod collection component. Andrew Farnsworth and his team from Cornell joined us on the roof to record night-flight calls and monitor the birds with radar. Among the insects collected this year were a praying mantid, numerous lady beetles, and predaceous diving beetles (pictured). We also saw and recorded the echolocation calls of several eastern red bats that were taking advantage of the insects congregated in the lights.

 

Be sure to check out NYC Audubon’s Facebook page or our Twitter page for more photos and video from the event. To learn more about the work NYC Audubon does to protect migrating birds, visit our Project Safe Flight page. New York City Audubon’s Project Safe Flight program is made possible by the leadership support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

 

-Kaitlyn Parkins, Conservation Biologist

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Terns on Governor’s Island: a Habitat Enhancement Success

NYC Audubon Director of Conservation and Science Susan Elbin and Elizabeth Craig, PhD Candidate, Cornell University, share how their recent habitat enhancement work for common terns nesting on Governor’s Island has already paid dividends

 

Common terns are colonial nesting seabirds: white with a black cap, gray back and wings, and a black-tipped red bill. In New York City, they nest in Jamaica Bay. But for about the last seven years they have also been nesting on the decommissioned piers at Governor’s Island, Manhattan. Since 2013 NYC Audubon has been monitoring that colony. In New York State they are classified as a threatened species. Conservation threats include habitat loss, disturbance, and flooding.

 

Lima Pier Before © NYC Audubon

Lima Pier Before © NYC Audubon

In 2013 we discussed doing some enhancement of the nesting sites on the piers to provide better support and protection for the eggs. This year we made our first site visit of the season to Governor’s Island on May 22. If we wanted to do any habitat enhancement work, it had to be done immediately: the terns were returning and starting to build nests!

 

We are currently only permitted on Lima Pier because the other two piers are not safe for human access, so the habitat work was to be done there. A group effort made the habitat enhancement work possible. The Harbor School generously donated oyster shell, and shell crunching was done by heavy machines under Jim Reed’s direction at Governor’s Island.

 

Lima Pier After © NYC Audubon

Lima Pier After © NYC Audubon

We spread the shells to about a 3” depth between the edge of the pier and the barriers—enough to provide a buffer between the eggs and the hard concrete. By the time we were done moving the shells and admiring the newly created habitat, the birds had already returned! A few days later, National Park Service volunteer Annie Barry spread some hay (thank you Marisa Dedominicis and Earth Matter!) on the shells for the birds to use in their nest building.

 

Banded Least Tern © Elizabeth Craig

Banded Least Tern © Elizabeth Craig

On June 22, we returned to Lima Pier to work with the terns. NYC Audubon Finance Director Barbara Lysenko and NY State DEC biologist Barbara Saunders joined our bird banding team for that day. What we found was awesome: 32 common tern nests – three times the number of nests observed at this time in 2013 before habitat enhancement! A true measure of success.

 

Our team banded four chicks with federal and field-readable color leg bands. We also banded 14 adults. Common terns have high fidelity to their nest site. We found two (out of four) birds we had banded on Lima in 2013 had returned to the pier.

 

A third previously-banded adult was not one of ours: this bird had been banded in Argentina! We are in the process of contacting the bander so we can learn when and where that bird was tagged.

 

Keep your eyes open for common terns sporting black leg bands with white digits — they could be the terns from Governor’s Island.

 

 

NYC Audubon Helps Researchers Answer Questions about Local Harbor Seal Populations

Psychologists and seal behavior researchers Dr. Kevin Woo and Dr. Kristy Biolsi and their students will be attending our Winter Seals and Waterbirds tours, starting on January 12, as part of their research on wintering harbor seals in the New York City area:

 

 

Harbor Seals © Mike Baird (Flickr Creative Commons License)

Harbor Seals © Mike Baird (Flickr Creative Commons License)

Since the European colonization of New York City, the habitat of the five boroughs has been transformed into a rather unique ecological niche. Urbanization has created local challenges to our wildlife, and some of our species have managed to adapt to these artificial changes. One species, the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), was once seen easily along the foreshores of the northeast, which included New York City. However, populations disappeared for nearly a century before returning to the area a couple of decades ago. The shift in demographics prompts a singularly important question: Why are they back?
 

 
Three years ago, we decided to tackle this complex question. Our goals are to: 1) better understand why seals are coming back to New York City, 2) identify the ecological conditions that enable the success of returning populations, 3) discover how they are able to cope with man-made changes, and 4) consider the impacts of the urban environment on behavioral interactions, such as communication. Along with our undergraduate research students, we have watched harbor seals along the waterfront in New York City over the last three field seasons using non-invasive naturalistic observations. As harbor seals are typically found here from mid-October to early-April, we focused our efforts on select land-based locations in Brooklyn and the Bronx, while fielding reports of sightings in Jamaica Bay, and the Rockaways in Queens. Initially, we aim to capture demographic and atmospheric data to monitor relative populations at each location. Once we have a fairly decent picture of the local seal population, we will then start more comprehensive behavioral observations, such as responses to environmental noise–both visual and auditory.

 

 

Indeed, a bigger part of our research is to consider a conservation and education perspective. Marine mammal populations all over the world were affected historically by commercial hunting. Continue reading ‘NYC Audubon Helps Researchers Answer Questions about Local Harbor Seal Populations’ »

A Quick Look at Spring Migration Bird Collision Figures

Summer intern Kaitlyn Parkins presents data on spring migration bird collisions collected by Project Safe Flight volunteers

 

Every year, more than 100 species of migratory birds pass through New York City on their way between South and Central America and their northern breeding grounds   along the Atlantic Flyway. The trek through the City can be perilous for these birds because of the maze of tall buildings, bright lights, and reflective glass.

 

Since 1997, NYC Audubon has sponsored Project Safe Flight (PSF), an endeavor to study and mitigate urban bird collisions. Working with a devoted group of volunteers who patrol high-risk locations during migrations, Project Safe Flight counts and collects birds that have been injured or died in building collisions. To date, over 6,000 birds of 126 different species have been found and documented in PSF’s database.

 

PSF spring migration bird collisions chart

A breakdown of spring migration bird collisions by species. Click to enlarge

This spring, eight sites were monitored, and a total of 39 dead and five injured birds were found by volunteers. Of those, 29 were identified to the species. Just like previous years, common yellowthroats and ovenbirds were found more frequently than any other species; they were followed by white-throated sparrows, American woodcocks, and black-and-white warblers. The majority of collisions occurred at Bryant Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

We will include this year’s data with our records from 1997–2012 and analyze it to help us better understand why bird collisions occur, and what can be done to reduce their frequency. Soon, volunteers will be gearing up for the fall migration. If you’re interested in volunteering for this important project please contact our outreach manager at apalmer@nycaudubon.org.

 

-Kaitlyn Parkins

 

 

Field Notes: Horseshoe Crab Monitoring at Plumb Beach

Summer intern Debra Kriensky reports on a recent field expedition

 

Molted shells from young horseshoe crabs (approximately two-to-three years old). Photo © Susan Elbin

Molted shells from young horseshoe crabs (approximately two-to-three years old). Photo © Susan Elbin

On July 23, NYC Audubon staff and interns went out to Plumb Beach in Brooklyn to help horseshoe crab researcher Mark Botton search for baby crabs. Though we couldn’t help but stop to look at the birds—we saw several oystercatchers, plenty of gulls and terns, and a flock of juvenile barn swallows—the tiny, newly hatched horseshoe crabs stole the show.

 

Though the horseshoe crab hatchlings we were looking for were in the same shape as the adult crabs we count and tag during the spawning season, they were considerably more difficult to find. Smaller than a ladybug and the same color as the sand, the crab larvae were practically invisible in the shallow waters of the low tide. Fortunately, we were able to find a few of the baby crabs, which were promptly measured and released. During our search, we also stumbled upon the molted shells of several older horseshoe crabs that likely hatched two or three years ago.

 

In addition to searching for hatchlings, Botton’s team was also there to measure

A newly hatched horseshoe crab © Debra Kriensky

A newly hatched horseshoe crab found in the shallows being held in a shell until it could be measured. Photo © Debra Kriensky

the density of eggs at different depths of sand at several points along the shoreline. Using five-cm and 20-cm cores, the group collected a total of 120 samples of sand to analyze back at the lab. This data can be used to determine where crabs are laying their eggs on the beach, among other things. For example, since birds can only reach eggs close to the surface of the sand, looking at the egg densities in the five-cm core sample can help clarify just how much of this important food resource is available for shorebirds on Plumb Beach.

 

-Debra Kriensky