If you’ve hiked in northern New England’s dense, often impenetrable groves of high-elevation fir and spruce, you may have overheard the fluty trills of Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli), the region’s only endemic songbird. A unique assemblage of birds breed in these remote, difficult to access forests, and many of these species reach the southern limits of their distribution in the Northeast’s montane “sky islands”. However, part of what makes these forests special also makes them challenging for conservation; the inaccessibility of these montane ecosystems makes generating population estimates for avian breeders difficult, since most standardized monitoring schemes (e.g. the Breeding Bird Survey) lack thorough coverage of these remote areas. The development of conservation strategies for Bicknell’s Thrush and other montane songbirds lagged accordingly.
Mountain Birdwatch was created in 2000 to fill these information gaps. This project aimed to:
- monitor the distribution and abundance of montane birds in northern New England and New York;
- describe the influence of landscape and habitat features on mountain bird distribution and abundance;
- guide stewardship of high-elevation forests.
Originally, MBW offered observers the opportunity to survey all montane songbird species or focus on five: Bicknell’s Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata), White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), and Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Between 2001 and 2010, observers annually surveyed more than 100 routes in NY, VT, NH, and ME. In 2010, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies launched a revised monitoring project, Mountain Birdwatch 2.0. Improvements included:
- Establishing a set of 130 routes randomly selected from within all U.S. potential Bicknell’s Thrush habitat
- Adopting modern count procedures that allow accurate estimates of avian density and occupancy;
- Establishing unified, measurable monitoring objectives linked to an international Bicknell’s Thrush conservation action plan, and;
- Developing a collaboration with Canada to systematically monitor Bicknell’s Thrush across its entire breeding range
Read more about the transition from MBW to MBW2 in our 2010 Report.
Since its inception in 2000, Mountain Birdwatch data have been used to:
- establish protective management zones in the Green Mountain and White Mountain National Forests
- develop and implement conservation plans for rare and threatened species, such as Bicknell’s Thrush
- appropriately site radio towers, wind turbines, and ski trails so as to minimize disturbance to Bicknell’s Thrush
- analyze how climate change will impact spruce-fir forest, red squirrels, and high-elevation birds
- Assess locations of potential Important Bird Areas in Maine
- Develop a Bicknell’s Thrush habitat model
Mountain Birdwatch also serves as the monitoring arm of the International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group.