River Point Wildlife Monitoring
Monitoring Migratory Songbirds
In 2011, Biodiversity Research Institute began a wildlife monitoring effort at River Point Conservation Area the primary goal of establishing a migratory bird monitoring station. In collaboration with the Town of Falmouth, BRI biologists set up mist nets to capture birds, which are then banded for tracking purposes and released unharmed. Biologists also take several measurements, such as weight and size, to assess the overall condition of the birds.
This year, our bird monitoring efforts continue. Banding occurs during three defined seasons: Spring, Summer, and Fall. In the fall of 2012, we installed an acoustic detector for recording the flight calls of nocturnally migrating songbirds. This baseline data can be used alongside our banding data to better understand patterns of bird migration at River Point.
Jim Fowler visits bird banding operation
at River Point Conservation Area
On Wednesday September 19th, BRI banding staff and volunteers were privileged to host special guests Jim Fowler and his wife Betsey for a view of migratory songbirds. As a spokesperson for wildlife conservation, Jim was able to see his message--one of urgent need to share wildlife experiences--in practice as BRI banders and interns shared details about migratory birds, our monitoring protocols, and the diversity of songbirds and their amazing migratory journeys.
Educational Presentations about Migratory Birds and Migration in Collaboration with Maine Audubon
During the spring of 2012, BRI initiated a program to host students in grades K-5 for interpretive bird banding presentations focused on international migratory songbirds. We coordinated efforts with Maine Audubon educators who facilitated field trips to River Point for students of Portland’s East End and Reiche Schools. Students from Presumpscot Elementary and Waynflete School also visited. This work continues and we look forward to sharing our bird research with students and the general public.
Contact RiverPoint@briloon.org for more information or to schedule a visit.
Surveying Migratory Songbirds for EEE with Maine Medical Center Vector-borne Disease Lab
In 2012, BRI collaborated with Maine Medical Center Vector-borne Disease Lab to conduct a survey of Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEv) in migratory songbirds at River Point Conservation Area. Two periods of sampling during the spring and late summer provided more than 80 blood samples from seven species of birds. Of the 28 samples from the Spring of 2012 that were analyzed, two occurrences of EEEv were detected (one Gray Catbird, and one Veery).
Click here for details about Arboviral Surveillance in Maine.
BRI Research and Outreach Objectives
Biologists from our Migratory Bird Program and Education and Outreach Program worked together at River Point to monitor wildlife populations and share some of Maine's wonderful natural history and culture. The site has been host to tree swallow and wood duck nest boxes for years; last year we installed 28 nest boxes in open fields and monitored 42 nest boxes throughout the breeding season, and banded chicks of the nesting tree swallows, house wrens, and black-capped chickadees.
During the spring and fall migration periods of 2011, we captured songbirds, and monitored migratory bird abundance and diversity on a daily basis. In the summer of that year, we used the same nets to capture breeding birds and documented reproductive timing and success using the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) protocol.
Our Findings the First Year
Our first year monitoring wildlife at River Point was fascinating and filled with surprises. The site represents one of the few places in Maine to reliably see the blue-winged warbler, and is probably the northern most breeding site for the species. We also caught a rarity for Maine last spring, the worm-eating warbler. This small and feisty songbird breeds in forested wetlands of the southeastern United States and rarely travels north of Pennsylvania. We hope this wayward soul found its way back home. We also caught some cool birds that aren't usually seen on migration, such as the elusive Canada warbler, the ruddy-colored fox sparrow, and the sneaky Connecticut warbler. We hope these data provide a foundation for understanding migratory bird populations in southern Maine and the wider northeast region.
In total, BRI staff safely handled and released nearly 3,000 birds in 2011. We mentored four bird-banding interns, hosted three volunteers, and trained multiple staff members about safe bird-handling techniques. We shared our research methods and general information about migratory songbirds with a variety of student and community groups. In this inaugural year, we hosted more than ten bird-banding demonstrations and shared our knowledge of migrating birds with many visitors at the River Point Conservation Area.
Why Study Migratory Songbirds?
It has long been recognized that birds are important indicators of environmental change. There are several well-known cases in which impacts to birds have helped society recognize warning signs of environmental degradation (for example, DDT and egg shell thinning in raptors, and mercury contamination in fish-eating loons). Neotropical migratory bird species have greatly declined over the past four decades calling for a need for more research in order to determine effective conservation action.
Migratory birds can travel the globe, flying from the Amazon rainforest to boreal tundra in weeks; understanding the threats these birds face over their long journeys is an incredible challenge. To assess these threats, the Migratory Bird Program is utilizing River Point as a research station to study the migratory movements of songbirds, like tree swallows and blackpoll warblers, to examine migratory birds as vectors for disease, and to test new methods for migratory bird monitoring.
Birds offer a glimpse into the fundamental, yet complex, interactions within ecological communities and systems. BRI biologists work to understand these processes; sharing our study methods and findings with the general public, and with students in particular, provides a powerful learning experience as well as a model of research in action.The key educational goal of sharing our migratory bird research is to create environmental awareness and to help students observe the ecological world from a new perspective-that of a migrating songbird. We cater our bird banding demonstrations for groups of different ages and view the demonstration as a conversation about general bird biology, ecology, and environmental stewardship.
How Can You Participate?
If you are:
- An educator who is interested in integrating wildlife monitoring into your curricula,
- Interested in organizing a community or student group to visit our River Point
Conservation Area bird ecology and banding demonstration,
- Interested in participating as an intern or volunteer,
- Interested in participating in BioBlitz,
please contact Patrick Keenan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Note: Bird banding begins at dawn and continues for about six hours. Presentations are limited to the morning and coincide with ongoing research. Please see the outline below for a general timeline for our research.
Your donation can help support our research and education. Please consider making a donation or sponsoring an outreach presentation for a local classroom.
General Outline of
Spring migration – April 20 to June 7
MAPS Bird Banding
June 7 – August 10 (about one day per week)
Fall migration –August 15 to November 1
Nest Box Checks and chick banding (about one day per week)
Biodiversity Research Institute is grateful to the Maine Community Foundation and the Jane B. Cook 1992 Charitable Trust for their support of our wildlife monitoring and educational work at River Point Conservation Area.