For two decades, hundreds of adventurers have combined their passions for birds with their love of the mountains across New York and northern New England. They've become Mountain Birdwatch citizen scientists, and you can too by counting birds at a mountain near you on any day in June.
The protocol is simple, the scenery breath-taking, and the short list of 11 monitored species means that almost any hiker who birds a little (or birder who likes to hike!) can participate, and the results provide powerful insight into the health of our bird populations that reside in spruce-fir forests--our highest occurring forest community in the northeastern U.S. You don't have to be an expert, just enthusiastic.
An Influential Monitoring Project, an Imperiled Ecosystem
There is strong scientific evidence (e.g., here and here) that montane ecosystems are warming at 2-5 times the rate of lower elevation zones due to global climate change. Globally, many hundreds of research papers have documented that plant and animal species are responding to these changes by moving upslope and towards the poles as they seek out areas with their preferred suite of environmental conditions. We can reasonably expect these changes to occur sooner and faster for species whose core populations already exist at relatively high elevations and latitudes. Indeed, our colleagues have used sophisticated models to predict that global climate change will lead to substantial ranges shifts for montane species in the northeastern U.S. For example, we can expect to lose >50% of our sub-alpine spruce-fir forests over the next 200 years to the upslope movement of hardwood forest communities, and we may entirely lose Blackpoll Warblers from New England as their populations shift further into Canada.
How quickly are these predicted changes occurring, and where on the landscape might we identify opportunities to interject via coordinated conservation and management actions?
We created Mountain Birdwatch in 2000 to address these challenges, with the goal to monitor the distribution and abundance of montane birds across northern New England and New York. The inaccessibility of this largely roadless ecosystem poses a barrier to monitoring the unique assemblage of bird species that breeds in these spruce-fir forests. So we did what we know best—grabbed our binoculars and put on our hiking boots. Along with help from our many incredible partners, we established ~750 high-elevation sampling stations (along hiking trails) using a sophisticated spatially-balanced sampling framework across New York and Northern New England. Since then, many hundreds of Mountain Birdwatch citizen scientists have conducted >20,000 point counts, recording detections of Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Winter Wren, and Bicknell’s Thrush—species usually missed during traditional roadside counts.
Check out how we (and our many State, Federal, and NGO partners) use these Mountain Birdwatch data to conduct on the ground conservation and management.
For in-depth species analyses, see our continuously updated State of the Mountain Birds.
If you’d like to hike and wake up to the sound of bird song from a mountainside this June, then the birds and us could use your help.