Tag Archives: Audubon New York

Schodack Blinds

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And back in early 2016, Schodack Island State Park Manager John Lowe was musing with Capital Region Audubon Society President John Loz about potential partnership projects. Moreau Lake State Park’s nifty bird blind initiative came immediately to mind.

Designated both a state Bird Conservation Area (BCA) and an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA), Schodack Island is a bird-watchers mecca waiting to happen. Many birds of conservation concern – bald eagles, great blue herons, cerulean warblers, to name only a few – nest on site. The waterfowl assemblages are impressive. But, aside from two interpretive signs near the parking lot, the Park offered limited amenities or functional improvements to engage the public with its remarkable wildlife resource. As the poet Gertrude Stein might have said, there was “no there there.”

But it takes a village, and in fall 2016, Park Manager Lowe cobbled together a motley assortment of local Audubon operatives, Schodack “friends”, along with community members and rank volunteers to work alongside his very capable Park Operations professionals in constructing three bird watching blinds at strategic spots along the trails at Schodack Island State Park.

SISP River blind in progress
Bird blind in progress, note the nice view of the river beyond the blind. Photo by Audubon Society of the Capital District.

To be honest, the 6’ x 8’ wooden blinds were something that Park Manager Lowe’s handy Park Operations staff could have hammered together themselves in one day, and “done it good”. Lowe wisely summoned the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to make sure to give the community real ownership in his initiative. It worked!

Schodack Island State Park’s bird blinds serve several critical customer service needs: the rich viewsheds framed by intelligent placement of the blinds within the Park’s varied landscape draw serious photographers and bird-watchers, casual visitors can enjoy “close encounters of the bird kind” without disturbing wildlife, and also benefit from helpful interpretive signage in each blind.

Visitors are encouraged to enter their own bird sightings in the shelter register to help build the park’s developing scientific record. And the many joggers, dog-walkers and hikers who frequent the trails daily will welcome these arresting destinations within the park’s long and rather placeless linear trail system, 13 miles total with few rewards. So now, there’s a “there” there!

Realizing the park’s tremendous potential for developing bird tourism, Park Manager Lowe has been working closely with the Friends of Schodack Island State Park and the Audubon Society of the Capital Region to articulate a long-range vision which maximizes both the public accessibility to and the protection of the Park’s extraordinary avifauna, including planning to embark on a fourth bird-watching blind this spring.

The Audubon Society of the Capital Region mustered three more volunteer crews in spring 2017 to help stain the bird blind exteriors. And in summer 2017, the Audubon Society won a grant to oversee the design, fabrication, and installation of informative interpretive panels for each of the blinds. You might call it a model collaborative project. Or just a diligent Park Manager making sure that all the players get in game.

Under the leadership of former State Parks Deputy Commissioner Al Caccese, Audubon New York, the state-wide affiliate of the National Audubon Society, began an outreach initiative in 2009 which Al lovingly dubbed “Audubon in the Parks” to advance bird conservation in New York’s State Parks. At the time, Al was the Executive Director of Audubon New York, so the partnership made perfect sense. Through its 27 local chapters, Audubon New York has provided a wide variety of programs and services at over 50 state park facilities throughout New York, particularly targeting those designated as BCAs or IBAs.

For example, the Audubon Society of the Capital Region, Audubon New York’s Albany affiliate, has waged war with invasives, sponsored lectures, set up bluebird boxes, conducted bird walks and/or participated at festivals at every state park or historic site within its purview: Schoharie Crossing, Thacher and Thompsons Lake, Schodack Island, Peebles Island, Saratoga Spa and Grafton Lakes. The Audubon in the Parks partnership has done much to advance the mission and goals of State Parks, while forwarding the Audubon agenda.

We thank the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Excellent craftsmanship
An example of the excellent craftsmanship that went into the building of the bird blinds, photo by Audubon Society of the Capital District.

A Conservation Cornerstone Celebrates 20 Years

This year, the New York State Bird Conservation Area (BCA) Program celebrates its 20th anniversary. Since 1997, the BCA Program has been promoting the conservation of birds and their habitats on designated state-owned lands and waters in New York State. There is no other program like it in the United States. The BCA Program is modeled after Audubon’s Important Bird Area (IBA) Program but is backed by legislation.  Sites are considered for BCA designation if they meet criteria relating to high concentrations of birds, bird diversity, or the presence of at-risk species. Recognizing a site as a BCA brings awareness to the needs of birds on state-owned lands and encourages management that benefits the bird populations. While the BCA Program focuses on birds, the program also benefits other species that share the same habitats.

Cerulean Warbler.
A rare cerulean warbler, photo by Charlie Trampani.

Audubon has partnered with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) on the BCA Program since its beginning, and has held up the BCA Program as a model for other states to protect birds. This fall, Audubon was delighted to join State Parks in celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the program, in conjunction with the designation of the 60th BCA in Ganondagan State Park.

Ganondagan photo
Dedication of the Bird Conservation Area at Ganondagan State Historic Site, photo by Laura McCarthy, Audubon NY.

In recent years, Audubon’s partnership with State Parks has expanded to include Audubon in the Parks initiative, which is a partnership with Audubon New York, State Parks and its Regional Commissions, Audubon Chapters, and friends groups to advance bird conservation in State Parks, specifically focusing on BCAs and IBAs. Through Audubon in the Parks, Audubon assists with the implementation of BCA management recommendations, conducts bird monitoring, and helps with other strategies and research activities that benefit priority birds and habitats. In addition, Audubon advocates for funds to ensure that habitats are preserved and managed in a way that benefits priority birds and further connect people to these unique places.

BirdersFilmoreGlenStatePark_JillianLiner
Audubon New York staff and members bird watching in Fillmore Glen State Park, photo by Jillian Liner, Audubon NY.

Through Audubon in the Parks, Audubon has been active in more than 50 State Parks across the state, including 20 BCAs. This successful initiative continues to grow through projects like the one recently completed at Schodack Island State Park, which has been designated as a BCA because of nesting Cerulean Warblers and wintering Bald Eagles. Led by the Audubon Society of the Capital Region, this BCA project included building bird blinds for visitors to view birds without disturbing them and removing invasive species within the park. The chapter continues to foster a community connection to the park and importance of this BCA by hosting eagle walks and other events such as the recent Schodack Island Raptor Fest.

Birdblind AIP ASCR
Members of Audubon Society of the Capital District constructing a bird blind at Schodack Island State Park, photo by Laura McCarthy, Audubon NY

Audubon congratulates New York State on the BCA program and looks forward to continuing the strong partnership with State Parks to make New York a better place for birds and people.

More about BCA’s

Map of Bird Conservation Areas

Post by: Jillian Liner, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon New York

New York State Parks Partners with Audubon New York to Save One of New York’s Most Beautiful Songbirds

Warblers, sometimes called “wood-warblers”, are a group of tiny, highly vocal and often brightly colored songbirds. Every year in May, they arrive in New York from Central and South America where they overwinter. Some continue north to Canada, but many stay here to raise their young, and then return south again in the fall. Most warblers are insectivorous, at least in spring and into summer. That means they eat mainly insects. So it is no coincidence that their spring migration follows the return of the buggy season. As leaves first appear in the spring and the bees and butterflies and other insects start moving about, keep your eyes and ears open for returning warblers.

Some warblers are pretty uncommon, so you will have to look extra hard to find them. One of these is the Golden-winged Warbler, once plentiful across New York and large areas of the eastern United States, but now quietly disappearing. Intense studies over the past few decades by wildlife scientists have helped to determine the causes of the dramatic declines and what could be done to prevent the loss of this brilliantly colored bird.

Changes in land use are one of the causes for decline. Peak numbers of golden-wings coincided with the rise of agriculture and timber harvest that created an abundance of young forest and shrublands that the birds preferred. As dairy farms dwindled, shifting to extensive croplands or reverting back to forests which continued to mature over the past century, the early successional habitats became less abundant and with it the decline of the golden-wings. More recently, studies also found that competition and hybridization with the closely related Blue-winged Warbler has taken a big toll on the golden-wing populations.

Although Golden-winged Warblers often nest and forage in shrublands, they also utilize forests for a portion of their time to forage, and provide cover for their young. There are many types of forests, but all of them change as they grow older. Mature forests have trees in all shapes and sizes, many of them stretch up high and crowd out the sun from reaching lower levels of the forest. Younger forests have many bushes and smaller trees, all competing to become the big, mature trees someday. Scientists have known for a long time that some forest birds prefer shrubland and young forest while others prefer more mature forest, and some prefer a mix of both.  Golden-wings prefer shrubland and young forest with mature forest nearby. Young forests and shrublands, which were once created by natural wildfires, beaver flooding, as well as careful logging, were all growing into old forest habitat in the era of fire prevention, removal of beavers, and a decline of logging. Much of the golden-wing’s habitat was disappearing, and without it the golden-wings had no place to raise their young.

RedMaple-HardwoodSwampAnd ShrubSwamp_GregEdingerNYNHP
This red maple – hardwood swamp with its young trees, open canopy, and abundance of shrubs and sturdy sedges (the grass like plants in the middle) is an example of the kind of Golden-winged warbler habitat that State Parks is working to protect and restore. Photo by Greg Edinger, NYNHP.

The good news is that habitat loss is something New Yorkers can do something about, giving this brightly colored songbird and other shrubland and young forest species a fighting chance at a future.

To ensure this future, Audubon New York is working with forest owners in certain areas of New York to identify existing areas of young forest and early successional habitats and, where appropriate, to create small patches of young forest, while preserving the older forests nearby. In New York State Parks, biologists are working with Audubon New York and NY Natural Heritage Program biologists in places like Harriman and Sterling Forest State Parks, to restore habitats that naturally support the open structure and mosaic of forest types that Golden-winged Warblers prefer.  By surveying where the birds were and identifying the right places to create and maintain habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler, park biologists hope to increase the number of stable populations in the region.

In the future, the partnership hopes to learn more about the interaction and distribution of Golden-winged Warblers and the more abundant and competing Blue-winged Warbler in order to guide conservation needs. In 2016, the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission and Audubon New York partnered to fit individual golden-wings and Blue-winged Warblers with geolocators. These are small devices that measure day length and allow for specific locations of each bird to be calculated when in migration and while on wintering grounds in South America. This will help scientists identify additional conservation actions to save the Golden-winged Warbler.

To learn more about the Golden-winged Warbler, and ongoing conservation efforts visit the Golden- winged Warbler working group website at www.GWWA.org.  For more information on what you can do to help conserve the Golden-winged Warbler in New York, visit Audubon New York at http://ny.audubon.org/.

Post by Andy Hinickle, Audubon NY and Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program

Dig deeper into Golden-winged Warblers

Golden-winged Warbler Working Group

Audubon New York

Golden-winged warbler fact sheet

Listen to the buzzy call of the Golden-winged warbler

Learn more about their status and habitat

Confer, J. L., Hartman, P., & Roth, A. (1992). Golden-winged Warbler: Vermivora Chrysoptera. American Ornithologists’ Union.