Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Highlights of My Breeding Bird Route Survey

Last Sunday I surveyed a breeding bird route from Camp Stewart Road in eastern Mecklenburg County through Cabarrus County, ending up at the Stanly County line. The North American Breeding Bird Survey is administered by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) and depends on volunteer support each year to gather the needed data. Data can then be analyzed to assess changes in bird populations with respect to habitat change, habitat loss, development, and changes in land use.
  
The survey consists of computer generated routes chosen at random. Each route is 25 miles in length, with a stop every half mile. Volunteer counters record every species and number of individuals for a period of three minutes at each stop. The same route is run every year, ideally by the same volunteer. The particular route I checked has the majority of stops in rolling farmland and rural state roads. A few stops are at bridges where thick deciduous forest lines the creeks.

Species typical of open country and regenerating clearcuts were then the most prevalent. Killdeer, Eastern kingbirds, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, Eastern meadowlarks, orchard orioles, yellow-breasted chats, common yellowthroats, chipping sparrows, and field sparrows were well represented. I was particularly glad to find grasshopper sparrows, a declining species, at multiple stops. At the bridges summer tanagers, red-eyed vireos, and great crested flycatchers ruled.

This particular route has been sampled for years, so it is pretty rare to add a species that has never been recorded on it. This year I was able to add four new birds: wild turkey, hairy woodpecker, Acadian flycatcher, and prairie warbler. The turkey is reflective of a boom in that species’ population while the prairie warblers were in regenerating clear cuts. That is an example of how habitat is created for certain species. The hairy woodpecker and Acadian flycatcher likely had been just missed in past years. Remember each stop is only for three minutes. If the bird doesn’t chirp or fly into view it will go missing. And I missed some species that are regularly seen most years too.
Still, I ended up with 62 species for the morning effort.


For more information on the N.A. Breeding Bird Survey go to www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/. 



Prairie Warbler by Jeff Lewis
Prairie warblers need regenerating clear cuts in the piedmont for suitable nesting habitat. Long ago this habitat type was provided by periodic fires. Now, human clear-cutting provides it. The birds can only use it for a relatively short period years until the growth becomes too tall and thick. Large power-line cuts where the growth is controlled now gives more permanent habitat to the species.



Wild Turkey by John Ennis
 Turkeys have exploded all over in the past couple of decades. They can be seen well within the city limits of large cities like Charlotte now.


Grasshopper Sparrow by Jim Guyton
Grasshopper sparrow are dependent on old grassy fields, often associated with old farms, for nesting habitat. The habitat is fast disappearing nationwide


Eastern Meadowlark by John Ennis
Eastern meadowlarks are found in the same areas as grasshopper sparrows

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