Washington Crossing Audubon Society volunteers have spent hours in the field conducting citizen science research, including monitoring bird populations, conducting biosurveys, mapping breeding birds, and banding birds at Hannah Suthers’ Featherbed Lane banding station. Special emphasis was placed on searching for threatened and endangered species and species of conservation concern in the Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) threatened by the proposed PennEast pipeline. It was gratifying to see that our efforts paid off when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) cited our research, especially the 2008 to 2016 breeding bird survey at Baldpate Mountain, in their critique of the PennEast draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). USFWS recommended that the pipeline rerouted to avoid IBA’s where migrants are concentrated in any part of their life cycle. This does not stop PennEast but it does put another obstacle in the way.
WCAS has conducted monthly biosurveys at the D&R Greenway’s St. Michael’s Farm Preserve for the past seven years and monthly bird and plant surveys at the Mt. Rose Preserve For Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space since September 2015. These surveys show which bird species are present on the preserves, which habitats they are utilizing, and for St. Michael’s, how the populations are changing over time. St. Michael’s has been especially important for the New Jersey threatened American Kestrel, both for breeding and migration. Participants in our September 17 field trip were treated to a spectacular display of at least ten Kestrels hunting in a field. This knowledge can be incorporated into management plans to help maintain or increase biodiversity in these preserves, an important consideration when overall biodiversity is decreasing at an unsustainable rate. We are fortunate to partner with land trusts that understand the importance of protecting our local biodiversity.
While our successes have been gratifying, much remain to be done. We are fortunate to have so much preserved land in central New Jersey but our preserved lands are under- surveyed , especially the smaller preserves. The Rock Hopper Trail Preserve off Route 518 has some of the highest quality understory in the Sourland Mountains (Blue & Red Trails) and a maze of creeks that look like prime Louisiana Waterthrush habitat (Yellow Tail) but remains largely unexplored. The small grassland preserves such as the Thompson Preserve and the Cider Mill Preserve are also under- birded. Our members can help by birding any of these preserves and recording the results in eBird. Our cumulative records add up to a powerful argument for conservation.—Sharyn Magee, President, WCAS