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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Initiative Progress Report - Fall 2010 to Spring 2012

Region 3, January 3, 2013
Migration chronology curves for green-winged teal (Anas crecca) at two Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring wetlands during fall of 2011.  Curves for the Bill Forward Pool at Parker River NWR and Moist Soil Unit 7 at Clarence Cannon NWR are presented.  Percent of maximum count is plotted against date.
Migration chronology curves for green-winged teal (Anas crecca) at two Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring wetlands during fall of 2011. Curves for the Bill Forward Pool at Parker River NWR and Moist Soil Unit 7 at Clarence Cannon NWR are presented. Percent of maximum count is plotted against date. - Photo Credit: n/a
Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Initiative Progress Report, Fall 2010 to Spring 2012, Summary Tables
Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Initiative Progress Report, Fall 2010 to Spring 2012, Summary Tables - Photo Credit: n/a

The Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative seeks to standardize and coordinate monitoring of migrating and wintering waterbirds and their habitats across the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and to develop decision support tools informed by monitoring data to address management questions at local, regional, and flyway scales. Monitoring data are used in an adaptive management framework to continually learn about outcomes of waterbird management and update models at all three spatial scales to improve management decision making. We provide a summary here of data collected from fall 2010 through spring 2012.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the migratory bird Joint Ventures, the Flyway Councils and the states strive to ensure that adequate resting and feeding habitat is available for waterfowl, shorebirds and waders as they migrate and winter along the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. Lack of standard protocols and coordinated monitoring can hinder these efforts by making it difficult to address crucial questions. How important is a single site in the flyway context? What species should be the focus of managers at a specific site? How can many managers coordinate their actions across the flyway so that birds have the right habitat conditions, at the right time, in the right places? The Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring is a collaboration among biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our conservation partners from the U.S. Geological Survey, state agencies, Ducks Unlimited and other non-governmental agencies. As a result of participants’ efforts over the past two years, the monitoring initiative is closer to achieving its vision of collaboration, integration and decision support.  

In the summer of 2010, the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative developed standardized waterbird and habitat monitoring protocols and distributed these protocols to a network of participants located throughout the two flyways. The pilot phase of monitoring began in the fall of 2010 with data collection and with the goals of using pilot data to:

  • Improve Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring bird and habitat monitoring protocols
  • Inform the development of decision support tools
  • Provide basic reports to participants regarding the temporal and spatial dynamics of non-breeding waterbird distributions and habitat conditions.

This progress report addresses, in part, the third goal by providing an overview of monitoring efforts, as well as summarizing bird and habitat observations from fall 2010 to spring 2012. It also provides information about ongoing efforts to address the first two goals.

Monitoring Effort and Observations, Fall 2010 to Spring 2012
During the pilot phase, 120 Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring observers collected monitoring data at 874 managed wetlands nested within 174 wetland complexes. The number of wetland units monitored increased from 418 in the first year (fall 2010, spring 2011) to 710 in the second (fall 2011, spring 2012). The greatest number of monitored wetlands was located in the IWMM’s North Atlantic region (363), followed by the Upper Mississippi (314), South Atlantic (172), and Lower Mississippi (25) (Figure 1). Participants in Missouri recorded monitoring data at 163 unique wetland units, the most of any state.

Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring participants observed 9,859,821 waterbirds during the pilot phase monitoring. Of these observations, 8,941,699 were waterfowl, 758,838 were shorebirds, and 159,284 were waders. The most abundant waterfowl, wader, and shorebird species were mallard, white ibis, and dunlin, respectively (Table 1). The average number of individuals detected per survey varied by guild, region and season (Table 2). On average, participants recorded more waterfowl than waders or shorebirds and generally more shorebirds than waders. Migration phenologies varied across years and wetland complexes (Figure 1).

During the pilot phase, participants conducted 2,178 habitat surveys to complement waterbird monitoring efforts. In addition to other habitat features, the abundance of waterbirds in a wetland may depend on percent canopy vegetation cover and interspersion (i.e., clumping of vegetation and water patches). Consequently, Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring staff used habitat surveys to assign wetlands to one of nine habitat states representing unique combinations of vegetation cover (low, moderate, high) and interspersion (low, moderate, high) classes (Table 3). During the pilot phase, monitoring indicated that wetlands were observed in each of the nine habitat states. Nevertheless, habitat surveys documenting wetlands with low cover and high interspersion were relatively rare. Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring staff members are currently exploring relationships between these habitat states and bird counts.

Protocol Revisions
Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative is further analyzing waterbird and habitat monitoring data from the pilot phase to revise and improve monitoring protocols and to help develop decision support tools. All aspects of the bird and habitat monitoring protocols are being evaluated in light of the pilot data. For example, the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring collective currently recommends two habitat surveys during both fall and spring migration periods. If pilot data show little difference in measured habitat features within a season, and if the extra data would not impact decision-making, we may recommend one habitat survey for fall and spring. A protocol validation study has been developed to compare habitat monitoring data from our current rapid assessment protocol with data from a more intensive protocol to identify the optimal level of habitat monitoring for decision-making. We expect our validation study and protocol revisions to be completed in early 2013.

Decision Support Tools for Managers 
The Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative is using pilot data to aid the development of decision support tools, especially for local scale management decisions. Currently, Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative staff members are modeling relationships between waterbirds and habitat features across survey units. Modeled relationships will allow Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative to identify highly influential habitat features, enabling the development of decision support tools linking management actions to habitat features and habitat features to waterbird responses. These tools will inform local management decisions aimed at maximizing the contribution of survey units to waterbird populations across the flyways. We expect these decision support tools to be available in late 2013.

Ongoing Monitoring Efforts
Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative staff members are grateful for past monitoring efforts that have helped the initiative evolve to its current stage. Ongoing monitoring efforts will help the initiative continue to grow by:

  • Evaluating the logistical feasibility of revised monitoring protocols
  • Enabling the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative to evaluate and refine its decision support tools.

Participants will also be able to capitalize on their continued monitoring efforts by producing multi-year reports summarizing waterbird and vegetation observations. To support these reporting activities, the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring initiative is working to expand reporting options available in its monitoring database. 

The result of this collaboration and integration over the past two years is that the initiative is that much closer to providing decision-makers at three spatial scales - local, regional, flyway - with the information they need to answer the following question: how can many managers coordinate their actions across the flyway to have the right habitat conditions, at the right time, in the right places for non-breeding waterbirds in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways?

 

Contact Info: Melinda Knutson, 608-781-6339, melinda_knutson@fws.gov