After working indoors all week, Suzanne, BirdingBev and I spent a magnificent Saturday morning in a stuffy meeting room at NJ Audubon’s Plainsboro Preserve so we could be trained as volunteers and participate in a rigorously controlled study of grassland birds throughout the state. It is a collaborative effort between NJ Audubon and NJ Fish Endangered and Nongame Species to collect data on bird abundance and habitat characteristics. The data will reveal the success of a government-funded program to determine if protected grasslands will indeed result in the increase of populations of New Jersey’s threatened bird species.
We are to visit our assigned sites three times between now and June 15. Some are roadside “controls” to establish a general number of birds in the area to define an overall trend. Others were properties of 10 acres or more owned by people who had contracted with the State of NJ Fish & Wildlife to follow mowing management plans that would encourage grassland birds to breed. Some of the birds we will be looking for are the sparrows: Vesper, Song, Grasshopper, Savannah; but also Bobolinks, Horned Larks, Northern Bobwhites and more.
The protocol is much different than the Great Blue Heron survey Suzanne & I are doing. For the grassland survey, we are to arrive on our site, wait two minutes to let the birds recover from our arrival, then count birds for 5 minutes, separated into 3 and 2 minute intervals. Birds both seen and heard will be counted (many of us “bird by ear,” which is accepted in official counts and sometimes is the only way of confirming identification of birds that look the same, like Willow and Alder Flycatchers).
I have been birding for fun a long time, so it feels good to contribute to a project that could have some meaning. Unfortunately, the funding for this program has been cut, so this is the last year any landowners can sign up for their 5-year stint. Nevertheless, it will deliver valuable data to how urban sprawl is affecting NJ birds, and perhaps someday, lead to a solution that will allow humans to survive without annihilating the most innocent among us.