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Mountain Birdwatch Frequently Asked Questions

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What are the dates of the survey?
The survey is conducted on an early morning during the month of June. This period corresponds with the seasonal peak in vocal activity of mountain songbirds. You have the flexibility to choose a good weather day in this period that works with your schedule.

What time is the survey?
Observers should begin the survey 45 minutes before dawn and finish before 8am.

How do I locate the survey stations?
You will be provided with GPS coordinates for each point along your route. Also, each route document contains descriptions of each point and 1-2 pictures of each survey location. Additional photos of each point are available online. Where permitted, a small metal tree tag is affixed to the back of a tree at each point; these tags are meant to confirm the exact location of each survey station, not find the site.

Do I need a GPS unit to find my point count stations?
Since it is essential that MBW surveys are conducted at the exact same locations each year, we highly recommend that you navigate to each point using a GPS and confirm your location using the pictures and descriptions provided. However, if you don’t have access to GPS, it should be possible to locate your survey stations using only the verbal descriptions and pictures.

In what weather conditions should the survey be conducted?
The route should be run in temperatures above 35º F and when rain and wind do not interfere with the intensity or audibility of bird sounds. Occasional drizzle or a brief shower is acceptable, but steady drizzle or prolonged rain is not. A light wind is acceptable, but a breeze blowing strong enough so that small trees sway (>20 mph) is not.

What if I can’t complete my survey within the time frame?
It is essential that all surveys be conducted each year. However, we realize that life sometimes interferes with the best-laid plans; weekends become overscheduled or rain prevents a mountain ascent! If you find that you can’t complete your survey route, please notify the Mountain Birdwatch director (email or phone) NO LATER THAN JUNE 21.

My route seems to be too low to be good Bicknell’s Thrush habitat. Why is that?
We used a Bicknell’s Thrush Potential Habitat Model to randomly select points across all potential Bicknell’s Thrush breeding habitat.  The model used latitude, longitude, and elevation to evaluate whether, given the right conditions, an area could be Bicknell’s Thrush habitat.  The model was very inclusive- it categorized an area as “potential habitat” even if it has only a low likelihood of being Bicknell’s Thrush habitat.  Also, the model does not account for current on-the-ground conditions; for example, if the forest has been recently cut near a point, the habitat may not be currently suitable for Bicknell’s Thrush even though the area, if left alone, could turn into great Bicknell’s Thrush habitat.

Being so inclusive about what we consider Bicknell’s Thrush habitat allows us to learn more both about where Bicknell’s Thrush are and also where they aren’t.  We do sometimes observe Bicknell’s Thrush in what we might consider atypical habitat (mixed forest or tall stands of balsam at lower density) and studying sites that are not typical allow us to learn about Bicknell’s Thrush that do end up colonizing this marginal habitat.

And lastly, Mountain Birdwatch does focus on Bicknell’s Thrush, but we’re also studying nine other bird species.  Habitat that is sub-optimal for Bicknell’s may provide excellent breeding opportunities for some of the other species of interest.  Thus, we get a great deal of valuable data from surveys where there are no Bicknell’s Thrushes- and where there may never be Bicknell’s Thrush.

How are data from the old Mountain Birdwatch routes being used?
Although the existing MBW routes will be discontinued, data from these routes will be extremely valuable into the future. Previous publications and reports document trends in high-elevation bird population, abundance, and occupancy, and these reports are used by federal, state, and non-profit organizations to make conservation decisions. In addition, Mountain Birdwatch data enabled VCE to construct an improved habitat model documenting the locations of potential Bicknell’s Thrush habitat. This model will allow conservation policy makers and landowners to make educated decisions regarding land use and preservation in this important habitat. The Mountain Birdwatch legacy carries over into the revised MBW2 program as well; information gained from more than a decade of citizen science effort allowed us to refine our route selection, randomly selecting from areas that are very likely to contain potential habitat for Bicknell’s Thrush.

Can I start my survey at point 6 rather than at point 1?
It is very important to survey each route in order, beginning with point 1.  All of our route selection is random; where the route is set is randomly determined, and the direction of travel for each route is randomly determined.  Please do not survey your route backwards, as it degrades the quality of the data.  For example, if point 1 is surveyed at 4:30 a.m. in one year and at 7:30 the next year, it makes direct comparisons of results difficult.

How am I going to get to my route at such an early hour?
Some Mountain Birdwatchers choose to hike to the starting point before dawn by the light of a headlamp or flashlight. Others elect to camp nearby on the night before the survey. Whichever approach you choose, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time, exercise safety precautions, and observe local camping regulations.

Do you have suggestions to help me learn to identify the MBW target species?
We provide each new volunteer with a training CD containing songs and calls from each MBW2 target species, along with some vocalizations from sound-alike species. You can also listen to our audio online. Also, Dendroica is a new website aimed at citizen scientists who want to improve their bird identification skills.  This site allows users to create lists of target birds, look at pictures and listen to a variety of calls and songs, and take bird identification quizzes.  We strongly recommend signing up for an account and quizzing yourself on MBW2 target species and sound-alikes.

Can I bring along a friend?
As a safety measure, we encourage you to invite a friend to join you. However, it is important that you perform the counts on your own, without assistance from your companion. The consistent use of a single, trained observer increases the reliability of monitoring results. Whether working alone or with a friend, be sure to move quietly between survey stations to avoid spooking the birds.

Can I bring along my dog?

It is important that you are quiet during the survey so you don’t disturb the birds. It is best to leave the dog at home or ask a friend to come with you and care for your dog on a different part of the trail while you conduct the survey.

How do I submit my data?

Online data submission is now available! On the Data Entry page of this website, log in with your MBW2 user credentials or create an account.  Under “Forms”, go to “Submit Observations”.  You will submit one observation form per point. For detailed instruction on how to enter data online, check out our Data Entry- Overview and Data Entry- Demo training videos

We also ask that you photocopy your data sheets and send them to:
Steve Faccio
Mountain Birdwatch
Vermont Center for Ecostudies
PO Box 420
Norwich, VT 05055

How do I contact the Mountain Birdwatch Coordinator?
Email mbw AT vtecostudies.org or by phone at: 802-649-1431 Ext.3

What additional resources will help me learn the protocols?
Check out our training videos; we discuss cone counts and cone IDs in detail, describe the bird survey protocol, and even take you through a practice point count.  You can even watch a video that walks you through the data entry system.