Birds and Avian Research
So far 161 species of birds have been observed at the field station. The field station is home to a vibrant community of early successional bird species, which, according to the American Bird Conservancy, is one of the 10 top endangered bird habitats. Our eBird hotspot tracks bird sightings on the property: https://ebird.org/atlasva/hotspot/L1111554. We conduct bird surveys every two weeks to track changes in bird abundance over time. We are also working hard to contribute to the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas and we’re up to 37 confirmed breeding species in our block: https://ebird.org/atlasva/block/o38077G7SE.
Wildlife in the Virginia Piedmont is generally less well studied than that in the coastal plain or in the mountains. By documenting how the Piedmont resources are used by birds (year round and migrating), we can institute sound conservation practices on our field station and recommend to landowners, developers and government agencies new ways to better protect our Piedmont wildlife.
We participate in bird banding in the spring and fall. In the spring we participate in the nationwide Monitoring Avian Productivity Survivorship (MAPS) program. In the fall we run our own Fall Migratory Banding Program. This has two objectives: (1) To determine neo-tropical migrant use of the Piedmont's resources during fall migration and (2) to provide training and banding experience opportunities for new banders.
ES is one of only two sites in the eastern US that regularly offers songbird banding instruction. We offer classes in Beginning and Advanced Bird Banding on alternative years. See our Calendar of Events for this year's class (planned for September 2018). We have trained banders since 2003 from VA, PA, MD, NC, WV, SC and AR. Most research projects do not have the time to teach banding which requires significant one-on-one instruction, yet training is very important in an established banding station to avoid the "Catch 22" of not getting a permit renewed because of the lack of experienced banders and not getting experience for lack of a permit.
Migrant birds caught in mist nets are those actively using Piedmont resources (e.g. food, water and shelter) not just flyovers on migration routes.
The MAPS prescribed data that we take includes the birds' weight and amount of fat, that leads to information about the birds' conditions at stopover points. This can indicate the importance of certain key areas needed for successful migration.In fact, recaptures in the same season are indicative of significant food resource refueling points. Recaptures from season to season are indicative that stopovers are the deliberate use of reliable resources, not chance events.
MAPS is run by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) to assess and monitor vital health information and population dynamics of over 150 species of North American land birds. While there are over 500 monitoring stations across the country, there are only three active ones in the Piedmont, and ours is the only one in Fauquier County. Joining MAPS is a 10-year commitment, ultimately providing invaluable data such as:
All of this provides critical conservation information and helps to manage population information. ES is an active participant in this program, conducting MAPS banding each year. If you are interested in visiting our banding station, please email us.
Populations of Northern Bobwhite have experienced severe long-term declines in Virginia over the past 50 years. Bobwhites are an indicator species of early successional habitat, and from 1966-2007, there was a 4.2% annual population decline due primarily to habitat loss. This decline has led to concerns about the ecological, economic and recreational impacts of the loss of this species across the eastern United States.
At the Clifton Institute we have restored land with suitable habitat for the Northern Bobwhite. Our management plan includes prescribed fire, mowing, and planting native species to maintain fields in an early successional state to provide food, nest cover, and brood rearing habitat.
Many people are unaware of the presence of the relatively common American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), because not only is it extremely secretive, it is mostly active at dawn and dusk. At ES we have a healthy population of woodcocks, and each year in February or March, we host an event to educate the public about this shy bird. Hiking to one of our upper fields right before sunset, we are on the look-out for the American Woodcock’s delightful aerobatic courtship display, watching them soar in the gathering twilight. The display period lasts about a half an hour and ends as suddenly as it begins. Check our Calendar of Events for the next Woodcock Walk.
Our two ponds provide a year-round home to resident Trumpeter Swans as well as Canada Geese. During the winter months our facilities provide an excellent over-wintering area for migratory waterfowl on the Atlantic Flyway. At any given time, you might see Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Wood Ducks, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Gadwall, Canvasback, Redheads, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Common Loons, Double-crested Cormorants, and Pied-billed Grebes on our ponds. Rare sightings include Eurasian Wigeon, Ross’s Goose, Snow Goose, and Greater White-fronted Goose.
Wood Ducks are arguably the most colorful waterfowl species in Virginia. The scientific name is Axis sponsa and this translates into "waterbird in a bridal dress". Our goal is to increase the reproduction of these ducks on the field station.
Wood Ducks nest in natural tree cavities and they will readily use artificial nest boxes. So we are restoring old boxes and establishing new nesting boxes at ES and on surrounding properties within the flyway. We are actively monitoring productivity and survivability.
Wood Duck populations declined dramatically in the early 1900's due to habitat destruction and lack of regulations on hunting these ducks. Their populations have now recovered significantly due to active management techniques - a true success story! Let’s keep it that way.
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