Tag Archives: grassland

Citizen Science

grasshopper-sparrow

Have you ever been involved in a citizen science bird survey?  New Jersey Audubon conducts several every year: Shorebirds, Piedmont, Pinelands, Nightjar, Harbour Herons, and Grasslands.  Pick one.  Participating allows you and me to be part of something bigger.  It lets the average John Q. (Or in the case, Jane) Birding-Public help collect large amounts of data on bird species across a wide geographic area.  The Christmas Bird Count?  Same thing.

When the call went out this year for the participants for the Grasslands Bird survey, I signed up.   As a group grassland birds are declining more than any other species.  But through NJ’s Landowner Incentive Program that  provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners interested in conversation, there is hope.  Or at least we are hoping there is hope. That is what we are trying to find out.

DJ Brown, Suzanne and I went to the mandatory training session, got our routes, street maps, aerial maps, forms to be completed, grassland bird call CDs and super official letters and car placards.  The instructor reviewed the expected bird species, survey methodology, and answered questions.  Honestly it has a little more rigor than I was thinking it would.  I was thinking of it more as a drive in the country with a few stops, when in actuality, I am part of the control group.  You heard me right, control group.  Remember them?  Holy flash back, shades of 9th grade science class.

But, I also remember growing up to the bouncing call of Field Sparrows in the farm fields all around us; the flash of black and white as Bobolink leapt out of the grass and being curious about grasshoppers impaled on barbed wire.  But I now live in NJ where suburban sprawl is eating up the grassland and the birds are disappearing.  So I am doing my part in providing the science in the hope that someone else may have those same memories.

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Birding the Shawangunk Grasslands

Shawangunk Grasslands

Coming from the flatland, I have a longing for wide open spaces, vista, amber waves of grain, bobolink, meadowlark and all the open grassland sparrows. Sometimes I just need to be alone in the vastness of a big sky. So when I got an email about a field trip to the Shawangunk Grassland National Wildlife Refuge; I decided to go. Secretly hoping for an Upland Sandpiper (a would-be life bird for me) I drove for an hour through charming small towns and beautiful farmland to reach the refuge. Arriving about a half hour after the field trip started, I tucked my pants into my socks, sprayed my pant legs, boots and hat with bug spray and strode off along a 2 track path. (Shawangunk Grasslands is a decommissioned military airport, so the paths are all paved runways. You can still see the painted marks that guided the planes. It is sorta weird to walk on a runway.)

As soon as I walked around the gate to get onto the property, I heard blue-winged warblers, baltimore orioles, rufous-sided towhees, warbling vireos, common yellow throats, the gulping chuckle of a yellow-billed cuckoo and the fitz-bew of a willow flycatcher. Stopping to chat with a fellow sitting in the blazing sun staking out a stand of second growth trees and brambles; I was happy to help him identify an immature male orchard oriole with its greenish-yellow body and that black throat. A wonderful first of the season orchard for me. We had fabulous looks.

Walking the north-south runways I was surrounded by the bubbling cascade of bobolink song. They chased each other flashing their white wings and tail spots. The males sat on every post, branch, even sturdy grasses to proclaim their love for lass and grass. I have not seen so many bobolinks in years and years. It was wonderful.

If you need any grasslands birds, Shawangunk is a great place to get them. My list, in just over 2 hours is: bobolink, meadow lark, eastern kingbird, baltimore oriole, orchard oriole, least flycatcher, willow flycatcher, cedar waxing, common yellowthroat, goldfinch, yellow warbler, blue-winged warbler, warbling vireo, rufous-sided towhee, carolina wren, song sparrow, chipping sparrow, savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, killdeer, red-winged blackbird, crow, turkey vulture, black vulture, kestrel, yellow-billed cuckoo, rose-breasted grosbeak, american robin, eastern bluebird, tree swallow, barn swallow, mourning dove, prairie warbler.

My favorite? Hands down the Bobolink.

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