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The Ben Lomond Grassland Bird Project (BLMGBP) is a new program designed to involve students and members of the general public in the assessment and monitoring of populations of declining grassland bird species. The UCSC Natural Reserves, members of the Land, Habitat, Watershed Working Group, was awarded $2500.00 in funds by the UCSC Sustainability Office to create a student position responsible for the design, implementation, and documentation of the project. Alex Rinkert, a local bird expert and UCSC undergraduate student designed a study of grassland birds within Wilder/Gray Whale Ranch State Park, Pogonip, Moore Creek Preserve, and UCSC. This project will attempt to discover the distribution of these declining species in local grasslands, association with varying management regimes, and will recommend management based on these observations and analyses. See below for overview, goals, and protocols.
This project attends to the following Land, Habitat, Watershed working group goals as outlined in the 2013-16 Campus Sustainability Plan:
GOAL 1) Increase student, faculty and staff engagement on campus natural lands through research, stewardship, and informal and formal learning.
This project will help reach the following objectives within Goal 1:
-Increase the number of student volunteers and interns actively engaged with ecological research.
-Actively pursue funding opportunities for...operational resources to implement critical stewardship programs and initiatives that 1) support instruction and research; 2) support environmental compliance and protect sensitive species and habitats.
GOAL 2: Support public safety and protect sensitive species and habitats on the UCSC campus by engaging effective and proactive stewardship and maintenance practices for campus natural lands.
This project will help reach the following objectives within Goal 2:
-Though a grassland bird monitoring program is not listed in Goal 2's objectives, it will be a component of a Landscape Management Plan and will help implement effective habitat and sensitive species management and restoration and establish priorities for specific projects.
GOAL 3: Increase campus and broader community appreciation and understanding of campus natural lands through development of outreach programs focused on stewardship, citizen science research, and environmental education.
To understand the current status and distribution of grassland bird species (American Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike, Horned Lark, Western Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Western Meadowlark) present during the breeding season on southern Ben Lomond Mountain encompassing University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Wilder Ranch and Gray Whale Ranch State Park, Pogonip Open Space Preserve, and Moore Creek Preserve.
To identify the habitat preference of extant grassland bird species.
To establish baseline demographic data on grassland bird species that will provide perspective on past and future studies on southern Ben Lomond Mountain and elsewhere in the broader region.
To offer consultation to the City of Santa Cruz, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, and California State Park natural resource management on how to effectively manage and preserve grassland bird species.
Develop and carry out protocol to assess extant grassland bird species’ associations with different habitat and management regimes.
Prepare a report detailing protocol and preliminary results of the study from the first year of data collection in 2014.
Share report with property managers, the Santa Cruz Bird Club, and broader birding community.
What bird species are currently present in the grasslands of southern Ben Lomond Mountain during the breeding season?
In what grassland patch does each species occur on in the study area?
What environmental conditions and management regimes are associated with presence of certain grassland bird species?
What grassland patches in the study area are the most important to conserve in terms of grassland bird species preservation?
What species are we trying to monitor?
*$AMKE, #LOSH, HOLA, *$WEBL, *$CHSP, LASP, *$#SAVS, *$#GRSP, *WEME
* = observed in the study area during the breeding season within the last 5 years
$ = confirmed to breed in the study area within the last 5 years
# = California Bird Species of Special Concern
Bird data collection:
Walking point count routes
What data are we looking for?
Grassland species presence/absence, abundance, species richness, habitat preference
Vegetation and geographic data to characterize species preferences
How will the data answer our questions?
Point counts: detect presence/absence, quantify abundance, identify sspecies richness hotspots
Vegetation/geographic data: identify any associations with any bird metrics
What analytical methods will be employed?
basic summary statistics
very basic grassland species richness map (probably only 0-3 grassland species will be detected at any given plot)
MANOVA test and ordination to identify associations of bird metrics with vegetation and geographic data
General Summary of Focus Grassland Bird Species Status
American Kestrel: declining, rare breeder
Loggerhead Shrike: thought to be extirpated as a breeding species in the last 15+ years
Horned Lark: thought to be extirpated as a breeding species
Western Bluebird: historically fairly common until population collapsed and nearly became extirpated 20 years ago; has rebounded significantly in the past 6 years and is an established but very local breeder
Chipping Sparrow: breeding population and distribution has declined significantly in the past 20 years
Lark Sparrow: thought to be extirpated as a breeding species
Savannah Sparrow: locally breeding in heavily grazed grassland
Grasshopper Sparrow: breeding widely, but apparently population has declined
Western Meadowlark: formerly bred widely, but now nearly extirpated; several breeding season sightings of 1-3 birds in the East Meadow at UCSC and Pogonip within the last 6 years
Data Collection Method (Birds)
About ??? hectares of grassland to be surveyed on 10 point count routes; 135 point count stations encompassing about 423.9 hectares or ???% of total grassland area. Survey period: late April to early-July 2014 with possibility of continuation in 2015.
Ten survey routes to be completed in 1.5-3.5 hours.
Each route is to be run 3 times during the study period, each route repetition is to be run no less than 14 days apart.
Grassland patches surveyed and number of point count stations:
*Baldwin Loop (12), Enchanted Loop (5) [17 stations; 8.0 km; 2 randomized subroutes; station code: BALD]
*Zane Gray Trail (4), Horsemans Trail (5), Wilder Ridge Loop--South (5) [14; 11.8; 2; ZANE]
*Wilder Ridge Loop--North (13), Twin Oaks Trail (4) [17; 9.0; 2; TWIN]
Chinquapin Trail (3), Eucalyptus Loop (14) [17; 9.8; 2; EUCA]
*Englesmans Loop (14), Cowboy Trail (4) [17; 8.6; 4; ENGL]
Marshall Field (4), Long Meadow Trail (10) [15; 10.8; 0; LONG]
*Moore Creek Preserve (8) [8; 5.4; 4; MOOR]
UCSC--West (13) [14; 6.5; 8; MIMA]
UCSC--East (7), Pogonip (7) [14; 9.0; 4; EAST]
UCSC--Porter Meadow (2) [2; 0.5; 2; PORT]
* = car transportation required from campus
Before the Survey
The survey period for this study will last from 21 April through 14 July 2014.
Each route is to be run 3 times during the survey period, with at least 14 days between each visit to a route.
Surveys should only take place under favorable weather conditions. Surveys should not be conducted if consistent wind speed is at or above Beaufort 3 (leaves and twigs constantly moving) before the survey . Surveys can be conducted under occasional light showers but only if noise does not interfere with detecting species especially by sound. Surveys should not be conducted under dense fog (visibility <100 meters); if dense fog is encountered during the route, observers should proceed with count but note the conditions for that station on the data sheet.
During the Survey
Routes will begin at the predetermined starting station for that route. The starting station for a route may change between surveys if randomization is logistically possible for that route.
The first point count will begin at local sunrise (consult PDT table for official sunrise time). Surveys beginning up to 15 minutes after sunrise will be accepted in the case of late starts due to weather, transportation delays, or other factors. Do not proceed with the survey if the start time is after the 15 minute grace period.
During the Count
Upon arriving at a station, surveyors should record survey date, station code at which point count is being conducted (eg: ZANE4), surveyor initials, cloud cover (1: 0-25%; 2: 25-50%; 3: 50-75%; 4: 75-100%), and if applicable, noise interference (see #9).
Surveyors should record wind speed at each station using the Beaufort scale:
1: leaves and grass barely move
2: wind felt on face, leaves rustle
3: leaves and twigs in constant motion
4: Dust, leaves, and loose paper lifted, small tree branches move
5: Small trees in leaf begin to sway
6: Larger tree branches moving, whistling in wires
Record the precipitation using the following:
L: light rain
M: moderate rain
H: heavy rain
Surveyors should note the source (dog, construction, etc.) and intensity of noise (L, M, H) that consistently interferes with detecting singing birds at a station. If noise begins during a point count, begin a new 5-minute period after the noise subsides.
L: noise that minimally interferes with auditory detection
M: noise interferes with auditory detection
H: noise that significantly interferes with auditory detection
After recording all data described in #8, surveyors will write down the starting time and commence a 5-minute stationary count.
Surveyors are to record all bird species detected and correctly identified within a 100 meter radius of the station where they are positioned during the 5-minute count period. Any of the nine focus grassland bird species (see Methods) detected are to be marked on the point count station map and their activities during the count detailed. If a species originally detected outside the 100 meter radius comes into the count circle during the count, record it. Species and individuals should be recorded using standard 4-letter codes (established by the U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory at http://www.birdpop.org/alphacodes.htm) and tally marks, respectively.
Individuals flying over the count circle should be recorded separately. Exceptions to this rule are “raptors”(Vultures, Hawks, Eagles, Owls, Falcons), swallows, swifts, and hummingbirds.
Take care not to overcount birds, but do not be overly conservative. Do not record individuals that you know to have been recorded at previous stations on the same survey day.
Do not record dependent fledglings in the species tally; record these separately prescribed with the appropriate breeding code.
Some focus grassland species have songs that can carry long distances in open habitat (eg: Western Meadowlark, Chipping Sparrow) and others species are just loud (eg: Common Raven, Olive-sided Flycatcher). It is imperative that the surveyor makes a concerted effort to separate whether an individual is in or outside the 100 meter count circle radius.
The observer should try to not move more than 5 meters from his or her initial position during the count. If the surveyor requires a better angle to observe an individual they may temporarily change position to accommodate for the situation but this should be exercised conservatively.
Surveyor activity (noise and movement) should be kept to a minimum when conducting a point count so as to not interfere with bird activity and detection.
If a bird is flushed while traveling within 50 meters from the station before or after the count period and was not detected during the count, the bird should be recorded on the data sheet as would be if detected in the count period.
Surveyors should strictly refrain from recording any birds detected “just” before and after the 5-minute limit in the point count for that station.
For the nine focus grassland species, record behavioral data that is observed during the point count for each individual using the following codes:
Singing (S), Calling (C), seen but silent throughout period (Q), any probable or confirmed breeding behavior following standardized codes of eBird (www.ebird.org). Record the highest code possible.
NY Confirmed--Nest with Young -- Nest with young seen or heard.
NE Confirmed--Nest with Eggs -- Nest with eggs.
ON Confirmed--Occupied Nest -- Occupied nest presumed by parent entering and remaining, exchanging incubation duties, etc.
FY Confirmed--Feeding Young--Adult feeding young that have left the nest, but are not yet flying and independent (does not apply to American Kestrel).
FL Confirmed--Recently Fledged young -- Recently fledged or downy young observed while still dependent upon adults.
CS Confirmed--Carrying Fecal Sac--Adult carrying fecal sac.
CF Confirmed--Carrying Food--Adult carrying food for young.
DD Confirmed--Distraction Display--Distraction display, including feigning injury.
NB Probable--Nest Building--Nest building at apparent nest site.
CN Probable--Carrying Nesting Material--Adult carrying nesting material; nest site not seen.
C Probable--Courtship, Display, or Copulation--Courtship or copulation observed, including displays and courtship feeding.
N Probable--Visiting Probable Nest Site--Visiting repeatedly probable nest site such as a cavity.
Describe where behavior was noted and any other details (eg: male singing from fenceline)
If there is a group of observers on a survey, only one person in the group is allowed to call out and record birds at point count stations.
No method of attracting birds (“pishing”, tapes, etc.) is to be used during the survey.
Please move efficiently between point count stations. There is no time for recreational birding between stations. A brief delay to further document incidentally observed focus grassland species or rare species in the region at or between stations is acceptable but should not interfere with completing the route in a timely manner.
After the Survey
Data sheets from the survey are to be entered into the project database and eBird, then filed in the project binder as soon as possible.
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