Friday, February 24, 2012

Winter Bird Population Survey 2011-2012

The 20th year of RRBO's Winter Bird Population Survey has been completed. Over the 20 December to 20 February survey period, 39 species were tallied. The previous annual average number of species is 38. We added two species this year. The first was Gray Catbird. I had two on the first count day, 20 December 2011. I was standing and looking at one while I heard another calling. We have only one previous winter record of catbird in Dearborn, and none from campus, so this was quite notable. Single catbirds were reported by other observers several times over the winter. The final observation was by me on 27 January 2012 -- and the bird I saw that day was banded. The bird I was looking at on 20 December was not, and other observers didn't look for bands.

The other new species was a Pine Warbler was visiting the EIC suet feeders on 26 December. This was the second Dearborn and first campus winter record. This brings our cumulative total over the years to 72 species. It's amazing that after 20 years, new species can still be added to this count, but in fact we have added at least one new species every year except 2006-2007. Here is a quick-and-dirty graph of the accumulation of species.


I always check all the tangles along my route, and this year was rewarded twice with a Northern Saw-whet Owl. This may have been one or two birds, as the spots were different. I suspect it (they?) was just passing through, as I looked in the same spots every time, but it was only present in late January.

As for misses, Cedar Waxwing was not seen this year, only the fourth year it has been missed over 20 years. Although Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls were recorded several times over the period elsewhere in Dearborn, we did not have any sightings on campus.

American Crow in this immediate area continues to be nearly absent. You can look at last year's post for the story of the precipitous decline and lack of recovery since West Nile Virus (WNV) entered our region. This year I had a single crow fly over on three occasions, all in February when they begin to move around a bit. 

There have been 21 species that have been recorded all 20 years on the WBPS, listed below. Those in italics have also been recorded on over 95% of the 278 individual surveys completed over those years: 

Canada Goose, Mallard, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (missed on only a single survey in 20 years), White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, American Robin, European Starling, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

Let's return to the American Crow again. Although Crows were recorded every year, prior to West Nile Virus, they were recorded on nearly every survey -- in the years 1993-2002, they were present on 97.4% of the surveys. In the years 2003-2012, they have been present on only 24.8% of the surveys. A couple of years, I only recorded them on one day.

This tidbit shows the value of this type of long-term data set for monitoring resident birds. It's critical to have programs like this in place, ready to provide "before" data when some unanticipated natural event occurs, including disease, or to see how bird populations respond to more gradual environmental changes.

So while the crow situation is very sad, it has provided me with motivation to get out there and count. One thing you need to know...I hate being out in cold weather. Of these 278 surveys, probably 270 were awfully routine. But the analyzed results will be worth even more than the sum of all the parts, and I'll be working on a complete summary of the Winter Bird Population Survey now that 20 years have been completed.

On the RRBO web site, you can find the full results of all 20 years of surveys, along with information on the protocol.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

RRBO is 20 years old!

The Rouge River Bird Observatory banded its first bird -- a Black-capped Chickadee -- in 1992. Since then, we've banded over 33,000 more birds, conducted thousands of bird surveys, compiled hundreds of thousands of bird records, participated in numerous cooperative research projects, trained dozens of field volunteers...our list of accomplishments goes on.

For our 20th anniversary, we'll be starting an email newsletter to share a look back at some highlights of the past twenty years, and look forward to our future. If we don't have your email address, please sign up for our newsletter at this link. I'll be putting out our first issue later this month.

We thought it might be fun to spruce up the RRBO logo to reflect our anniversary. The original depiction of the bird with two leaves is from an architectural detail in Fair Lane, Henry Ford's estate; we chose it to reflect the historic nature of our study site. You may see this little bird carrying a banner acknowledging RRBO's 20 years of bird conservation. It will certainly be sitting on a branch that now has three leaves, representing our growth and the start of our third decade.

Given that RRBO is donor-supported, all our successes have been yours as well. We can all celebrate together!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dearborn portion of the Detroit River CBC, 2012

The Detroit River Michigan-Ontario Christmas Bird Count was held, as it is each year, on January 1. This was the 35th year for the count, which is centered at I-94 and Warren Ave, and the 18th year that RRBO has coordinated the field work in the city of Dearborn.

The day began with mild temperatures which had been the hallmark of the autumn and winter season up to that point. All water was open, and there was (and had been for the most part) no snow cover. Waterfowl and seed-eating birds were dispersed far and wide. We'd seen an excellent fruit crop in late summer and fall, but most had been stripped by the time New Year's Day arrived.

We ended the day with 39 species, well below the average of 46 because the party covering the Ford Rouge Plant was denied access this year (not by Ford, but by the private security firm of another company). Thus, we missed a number of species of waterfowl and the two dozen or so Black-crowned Night-herons that typically roost in a small pond on the property.

Nonetheless, the day was not without highlights. Covering the UM-Dearborn campus, Greg Norwood found one of the Gray Catbirds first found on 20 December. This is a new species for the Dearborn portion of the count and brings the cumulative total to 87. A Sharp-shinned Hawk seen on 29 December couldn't be located, but is tallied as a "count week" species and is also new for the count. Greg also found the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that has been hanging around for weeks. This is only the second time sapsucker has been found on the Dearborn portion of the count.

Darrin O'Brien and I covered the various plantings on Ford properties. Like last year, most of the seed-eating birds were found at the fields in front of Ford World Headquarters. Most numerous were House Finches (over 900) and House Sparrows (over 1800). The day's total of 1038 House Finches was a new high for the count. Many of the fields had a lot of standing water, making it harder for the little birds that like to forage on the ground. The total of 26 American Tree Sparrows was a new count low. Also present at Ford HQ was a Peregrine Falcon. It chased around a Red-tailed Hawk before landing on the Ford building.

Arrow points to grooming Peregrine.

Cathy Carroll turned up 18 Great Blue Herons along the concrete channel of the Rouge. Often this group of birds roosts along the river on campus, but forages all along the river. She also saw one of the seven American Kestrels in the city, which is a new high for the count.

Finally, only one American Crow was found all day. This is a new low, and represents a decade of counts with fewer than 20 crows (most years fewer than ten). The local population has simply not recovered from West Nile virus, and I am beginning to wonder if I will ever see new birds move in.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Keep those silver bracelets coming....

This Cooper's Hawk is just one of over 33,000 birds of 122 species banded by the Rouge River Bird Observatory on the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn since 1992. Our banding program is supported by donors like you. Help us continue this long-term conservation research project by making a contribution today. Donate online or see our website for a mail-in form.

Thank you from RRBO!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Former RRBO bander's research in NYT

Julie Jedlicka was an RRBO bander from 2000 to 2003, when she was a graduate student at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She went on to receive her Ph.D at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is now at the University of California, Berkeley on an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her research focuses on ecosystem services and avian conservation potential in northern California vineyards.

Julie and I have kept in touch throughout her academic career, and it has always been exciting to see her accomplishments accumulate. She has published a number of papers, and her most recent one -- Avian conservation practices strengthen ecosystem services in California vineyards -- was featured in the New York Times!

I like to think that RRBO had a small part in her success. But I know it is because Julie is a dedicated, creative scientist. Way to go, Julie!