Tag Archives: bird conservation area

Lights Out For The Birds

Twice a year, billions of birds migrate throughout the United States between their wintering and breeding grounds. These birds typically migrate south in the fall and will migrate north again in the spring. That means right now in New York State, birds are passing through as they travel down south to warmer climates. All types of birds will be seen migrating during the seasons, including warblers, shorebirds, raptors, and more.

Birds will usually spend their days saving their energy, resting, and finding food sources and during the night will use most of their energy flying. Migratory birds are typically nocturnal travelers, which means they gain the most mileage during the night hours. While we are asleep after an event filled day, there can be an estimated 150 million to upwards of 300 million birds travelling overhead in one given night. Even though the day is over for us and is our time to relax and unwind, the night hours are highly active for migrating birds!

The official New York State bird, the Eastern Bluebird, migrates south in the fall to spend its winters in the southeaster U.S. or Mexico. (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons)
Dark-eyed junco (female) migrate south into New York from Canada and sometimes hang around all winter. (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons)

Nighttime migration poses different threats to these birds, particularly in big cities. Large buildings are typically lit up with hundreds of bright lights throughout all hours of the night. This light pollution can significantly change birds’ behaviors, including migration patterns, foraging for food, and communication with other birds in the area. Light pollution can distract the birds as they might start to think it is daytime, because they cannot process light sources like we can. All of these behaviors are a waste of energy for birds, making their long journey much more dangerous.

According to the National Park Service, nighttime light pollution in the U.S. has gotten much worse in decades after World War II, so much that now eight in ten Americans can no longer see the Milky Way. And this is an increasing issue for migrating birds.

This National Park Service map shows the growth of light pollution in the U.S. since the 1950s

Birds and State Parks

New York State Parks are a great place to visit to catch a view of migrating birds. The forests, meadows, wetlands, and other natural areas in State Parks provide some of the most crucial habitats for these birds along their journey, and have helped them survive over the years by offering shelter and food. In some parks there are specific areas designated as Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs). Of the 62 BCAs throughout the state, 27 are within State Parks.

An area can be designated as a BCA if it is judged as important habitat for one or more species based on certain criteria. There are many BCA locations throughout the state, such as Saratoga Spa State Park that is home to more than 100 different bird species. You can find the location of Saratoga Spa State Park and other BCAs on the map provided below and the State Parks website. You can also check the State Parks events list for birding events near you!

A map of the Bird Conservation Area in Saratoga Spa State Park.

In addition to BCAs, there are also areas recognized nationwide by the National Audubon Society to help protect birds and their habitats; Important Bird Areas (IBAs). One example in New York State is Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Westchester county, and is home to 180 different bird species! Check out the National Audubon Website to see Rockefeller State Park Preserve and all the other IBAs in New York State.

What Is The “Lights Out” Movement?

The “Lights Out” movement is a nationwide event that was created in in Chicago in 1999 by the National Audubon Society to help reduce the number of bird fatalities. Since then, the effort has spread to cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

Bird fatalities are more directly caused by the amount of energy birds are wasting during the night because of the heavy light pollution across the United States. This energy is being wasted on flying around, using more vocalization and the exhaustion is leaving them more vulnerable to other threats around them.

If you’re interested in watching migrations, a tool that can be used is the BirdCast migration tool. This website has many resources for nationwide and local monitoring. The nationwide mapping tools include a live forecast of the density of the birds migrating as well as a 3-day prediction forecast of what it could look like. In addition to the nationwide prediction forecast, you can also check out a live animated video of the current migration patterns each day!

Use the slider bar to see how the BirdCast migration changes between Oct. 6 and October 14.

Another neat tool that this website includes is a live local alerting map that is specific for a county, city, or town. The local maps tell you how many birds to expect flying over your area that night and what the next couple nights look like as well. This tool provides important information so you can participate in helping the birds during their migration.

There are two large windows for bird migrations;: one in the fall and one in the spring. Bird migration can take place from August through November with peak migration in October in the fall and from March through June with peak migration in May in the spring. Check out the links provided above to get more information on BirdCast and when peak migration is happening in your area!

How Can You Help?

Some suggestions to help get you started with the Lights Out Movement for nighttime hours:

  • Turn off exterior decorative lighting
  • Turn off interior lighting, or use curtains and blinds
  • Install automatic motion sensors and controls wherever possible
  • Click on the link to check out the full list of suggestions: Lights Out Movement. One of the local efforts is based in New York City.

After visiting State Parks and seeing the many different species of birds that are in New York State, it is important for all of us to do our part to help keep them safe. The National Audubon Society provides suggestions on how to decrease light pollution on a local level, which will help birds during their migration. It is estimated that 253 million annual bird deaths from collisions are from residential areas compared to 340 million from tall buildings and skyscrapers. Your part at home is just as important as businesses!

Participating in the Lights Out movement helps more birds safely reach their migration grounds, giving you and your family more opportunities to see them in New York State Parks! To make an official pledge with the movement, sign up here.


Cover Shot – A map of Bird Conservation Areas in New York State Parks.

Post by Allyson Paradis, Wildlife Unit Assistant, NYS Parks

More Resources from the NYS Parks Blog

Golden Opportunities at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park

On February 24, 2009, two visitors to Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park were enjoying a sunny walk on Davis Road when two BIG birds flew overhead, going north.  “Golden Eagles!” exclaimed these experienced bird watchers.  Both were volunteers at the Delaware Otsego Audubon Society’s (DOAS) Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch which is known for its … Continue reading Golden Opportunities at Betty and Wilbur Davis State Park

Pitching In For Dwarf Pines at Sam’s Point

With a fire-damaged dwarf pitch pine forest at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve rebounding slower than expected from a devastating wildfire, a State Parks greenhouse in the Finger Lakes is helping to grow a new generation of trees.

Since fire burned more than 2,000 acres in April 2016 at Sam’s Point, State Parks staff there has been monitoring the health of this globally rare forest ecosystem in Ulster County.

This high ridge in the Shawangunk Mountains is predominantly pitch pines (Pinus Rigida), a fire dependent species of conifer. The pitch pines at Sam’s Point are dwarfed, which means they can be hundreds of years old, while still only roughly as tall as a person.

Pitch pines have serotinous cones, which means the cones require heat from fire in order to open protective scales and cast seed. These trees also have non-serotinous pine cones, which release seeds from November into the winter and do not require heat. Pitch pines take two years to fully develop cones with mature seeds, and the serotinous cones can remain sealed for years until the outbreak of fire.

Burned pitch pine cones at Sam’s Point after the 2016 fire. (Photo credit – Lindsey Feinberg)

The Sam’s Point fire burned hot and quick, which left parts of the duff soil layer still covering underlying mineral soil that is necessary for pitch pine seeds to germinate into seedlings. Duff is made up of partially and fully decomposed organic matter, including pine needles, branches and mulch.

While these exposed pitch pine seeds released after the 2016 fire were a nutritious bonanza for red squirrels, turkeys, and other seed-eating animals, that also meant fewer pitch pine seedlings were taking root to replace trees that had been lost.

Pitch pine forests require regular moderate fires to expose the proper mineral soil and regenerate successfully. The Sam’s Point fire was the first large fire in this area in 70 years and had some exceptionally hot patches. While pitch pines are resilient to fire due to extra thick bark, an especially hot and large fire like 2016 can badly damage or simply incinerate the trees.

During the summer of 2020, it was determined that 77 percent of the pitch pines had died within 20 different plots in the burned zone being monitored by Parks staff. This was a 17 percent increase from an initial survey done in 2016, where 60 percent of the pitch pines were deemed lost to fire damage.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, State Parks staff went into the burned zone along the Indian Rock path to survey the damage.
In this photograph taken in November 2020, the extent of the fire still shows in this area where pitch pines remain dead (left).

At the same time, fewer seedlings were growing in the aftermath of the fire. Monitoring of the forestry plots has found pitch pine seedling growth peaked in 2017 with 85 seedlings but has continually declined since then. This year only 27 seedlings were found within those 20 plots.

And with fewer trees and lagging replacement growth, it was feared that bird habitat was being lost. Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a designated state Bird Conservation Area as an exceptional example of a high elevation forest community with a diverse forest dwelling bird population.

Some of these birds include the Northern Saw-whet owl, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting and Prairie Warbler. Parks staff at Sam’s Point has been surveying for bird activity, but so far has found no clear impacts from the fire to bird populations.

It also is notable that the duff layer at Sam’s Point has increased by almost three-quarters of an inch since the fire. This is due to a lack of any fire succession since 2016. Deeper duff means that the regrowth of this globally rare pitch pine forest will be very slow and difficult, as seedlings continue being inhibited from taking root.

Right after the fire, staff at Sam’s Point wrote a Burned Area Recovery Plan (BARP), using a template created by the National Park Service.  Several important actions are outlined in this plan included:

  1.  Creating and monitoring 20 forestry plots to study pitch pine regeneration     
  2. Monitoring impact of the fire on songbirds which depend on the unique trees and understory found at Sam’s Point for their breeding grounds in the spring through annual species counts
  3. Monitoring and mitigating new fire breaks for erosion, invasive species, and blocking off firebreak and recreational trail intersections with plantings or brush

This work has been carried out carefully by Sam’s Point staff and regional stewardship staff. Assistance was provided by Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley Corps interns as well as interns and staff from regional universities and colleges.

Daphne Schroeder, a Parks staff member from Sam’s Point, takes part in a survey of one of the burned areas.

In early 2019, the Plant Materials Program Staff at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in the Finger Lakes region, reached out to Palisades regional Stewardship staff to discuss restoration projects. Out of nine proposed Palisades projects, two projects were to grow pitch pine seeds collected from Sam’s Point to help regenerate this rare forest.

Sonnenberg Plant Materials Program Lead Technician Dave Rutherford and staff visited Sam’s Point and gathered pitch pine cones in mid-November 2019.

The cones were carefully selected from an area near Lake Maratanza. Specimens needed to have ‘scales’ fully closed, and have a light brown, healthy luster. Older, closed pitch pine cones are dull and grey, so to ensure viability the seeds, these cones were not collected. No more than 20 percent of the cones were collected from any individual tree. Cones were cut from the base of the tree and kept in a woven plastic bag until it was time to process them.

Back at Sonnenberg, cones were heated in small batches at 400°F to simulate the effect of a fire. Crackling and popping as resin softened and melted, cones opened up their protective scales. After the cones had cooled, staff at Sonnenberg turned each one upside down for seeds to fall out for collection.

A healthy, mature pitch pine cone suitable for collecting for seed.
Pitch pine cones arranged for seed harvesting at Sonnenberg Mansion & Gardens State Historic Park.
The heat is on…

These efforts resulted in about 10.5 ounces of seeds, estimated to contain more than 41,000 individual seeds, each one about two-tenths of an inch long. Plant Materials staff started growing some seeds in April of 2020, and now have more than 500 pitch pine seedlings in their greenhouse.

Learn more in the NYS Parks Blog about the work being done at Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens to grow native plants as part of Parks’ mission of responsible environmental stewardship:


Another area of degradation at Sam’s Point due to fire damage are fire breaks, especially when created by a bulldozer. Crews made these breaks by removing trees and other potential fuel from the path of the fire to contain its spread. 

Fire managers who worked on the Sam’s Point fire added eight miles of new fire breaks around the park preserve using bulldozers. This equates to adding eight miles of new and hastily planned roads in a semi-wilderness.

A fire break made by a bulldozer in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Breaks were made to remove potential fuel from the path of a fire.
One of the fire breaks at Minnewaska created by bulldozers to contain the 2016 fire is blocked off to discourage hikers from using it.

Potential impacts of concern from these dozer breaks are erosion, spread of invasive plants and creation of new, unplanned, travel corridors by hikers within the park preserve.

Existing recreational carriage roads do serve as a natural fire break, but new dozer lines had to be made to control wildfire spread. There are a few places where dozer lines intersected with the park preserve’s carriage road and trail systems. These fire breaks are now open, linear, areas with knee high shrubs (huckleberries and blueberries) growing amongst the rocky duff layer.

This is potentially a perfect storm for invasive species to take hold, if people are out hiking on these new scars. People are a powerful vector for transporting invasive plant species. These dozer lines also provide a clearing for people to wander off in and get lost or injured. The intersections between fire breaks and carriage roads are a perfect place to establish re-growth of pitch pines, to hide these open scars.

These seedlings now growing at Sonnenberg will be a year old in April 2021, and hopefully can be planted at Sam’s Point sometime next year as the final piece to our restoration plan after the Sam’s Point fire. These seedlings will go into dozer break scars and hot spots.

It is important to note that because the seeds were collected from the globally rare pitch pine forest at Sam’s Point, the native biome is preserved. Once these seedlings are planted, these trees will be growing for hundreds of years, eventually blending in and keeping this forest intact and healthy for generations to come.

The new pitch pine seedlings growing at Sonnenberg’s greenhouse in preparation for being planted at Sam’s Point Area in 2021.
Working in fire-burned areas can result in a bit of soot here and there, as these three Parks staffers show after a day doing surveys at Sam’s Point.

Cover shot – Pitch pine seedlings grow at Sam’s Point Area. All photos from NYS Parks.

Post by Rebecca Howe Parisio, Interpretive Ranger, Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve.


Learn more about the immediate aftermath of the 2016 fire at Sam’s Point and initial signs of recovery in the year following in these posts from the NYS Parks Blog:

Rebirth After Fire

Text and photos by Lindsey Feinberg, Student Conservation Association Intern at Sam’s Point  Please ask permission to use photos. Located within Minnewaska State Park Preserve is Sam’s Point, an area of unique ecological significance encompassing roughly 5,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains of southern New York. Toward the end of April, during a particularly dry … Continue reading Rebirth After Fire

From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point

In April 2016, a wildfire engulfed around 2,000 acres of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. The “Gunks” (a nickname for the Shawangunks) are well-known not only for climbing, but also for the globally unique community of high altitude dwarf pitch pine barrens which hold some interesting and … Continue reading From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point

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