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Moving Ahead on a Continental-Scale Marsh Bird Monitoring Framework

Call Marsh-dwelling waterbirds are difficult to survey. Many species are inconspicuous -- cryptically-colored with secretive behaviors -- and marshes, depending on the size and season, can be quite inaccessible. Population sizes and trends for most species are largely unknown, yet they face a host of conservation concerns including continued habitat loss and fragmentation, sea level rise eliminating coastal wetlands, and the influence of various marsh management practices.

In the last several years, considerable progress has been made towards developing approaches to better understand population status of marsh birds, including the development of proposed standardized survey protocols, a recommendation for a sampling framework, and work towards a data management system.

2006 Marsh Bird Monitoring Technical Workshop

Download Full Proceedings Document

Executive Summary

A Marsh Bird Monitoring Workshop was held at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in March 2006 to continue progress towards the development of an operational monitoring program for marsh birds in North America. The goal of this program is to estimate temporal and spatial changes in abundance of selected breeding marsh bird species at continental, national, regional, and possibly local scales. Moreover, population data will be tied to ancillary data on habitat, in order to inform population and habitat management strategies. The program will have as focal species: Pied-billed Grebe, Least Bittern, American Bittern, Sora, Clapper Rail, King Rail, Virginia Rail, Black Rail, Yellow Rail, American Coot, Common Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, and Limpkin, as well as Seaside Sparrow and Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, although additional species can be accommodated to meet local or regional objectives.

Participants at the workshop reviewed the status of development of marsh bird survey protocols, survey sampling designs, and a data management system for marsh bird survey data. They concluded that the survey protocol developed from the multi-year study recently completed by Courtney Conway can essentially serve as the standard protocol for a marsh bird monitoring program. However, participants could not agree on an overall approach to sampling design that would be feasible for the diverse regions of the continent and still produce adequate continental-scale information. Until issues of overall approach are resolved, the recommendation to survey practitioners is to coordinate sampling plans at the largest spatial units practical and statistically-defensible, such as for major portions of the continent, i.e., North American Waterbird Conservation Plan waterbird conservation planning regions. Recommendations for a data management system were also broad, including that it be centralized and continental in scope.

The highest priority action item identified at the workshop is the formation of a small, very-statistically oriented group, focused on continental-scale objectives, but with representation across the continent, to create specific written guidance on sampling design for use by survey practitioners across the continent.

Workshop Support Materials

Participants List

Overview Powerpoint Presentation by Bruce Peterjohn

Session I: Objectives
Powerpoint Presentation of Possible Program Objectives by Jon Bart

Associated Paper: Management issues to be addressed by the North American marsh bird monitoring program, a paper by Jonathan Bart, February 2006

Session II: Protocols
Powerpoint Presentation of Recommended Sampling Protocols by Courtney Conway

Powerpoint Presentation on Role of Volunteers in the Marsh Monitoring Program by Steve Timmermans

Associated Paper: Conway, C. J., and C. P. Nadeau. 2006. Development and field testing of survey methods for a continental marsh bird monitoring program in North America. Wildlife Research Report # 2005-11. USGS Arizona Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Tucson, Arizona.PDF Document, includes Protocols
Additional Reading:
Brief comparative overview of Conway’s and MMP’s Marsh Bird Survey Protocols, a paper by Courtney Conway and Steve Timmermans, January 2006 PDF Document
Crewe, T., S. Timmermans and K. Jones. 2005. The Marsh Monitoring Program Annual Report, 1995--2003: Annual indices and trends in bird abundance and amphibian occurrence in the Great Lakes basin. Bird Studies Canada, Port Rowan, Ontario, Canada. PDF Document
Conway, C and S. Timmermans. 2005. Progress Toward Developing Field Protocols for a North American Marshbird Monitoring Program. USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191. (Similar to version presented at the Third International Partners in Flight Conference, March 20-24, 2002, Asilomar Conference Grounds, California. PDF Document

Session III: Sampling Framework/Design
Powerpoint Presentation of Sampling Framework/Design by Jon Bart

Associated Paper: A sampling plan for the North American marsh bird monitoring program, a paper by Jonathan Bart, February 2006 (An expansion on An initial paper on sampling design by Jonathan Bart, August 2005)

Session IV: Data Management
Powerpoint Presentation Presentation of Marsh Bird Survey Data Management by Bruce Peterjohn

Associated Paper: A data management system for secretive marshbirds, a paper by Bruce Peterjohn, January 2006

Input Prior to Workshop

Comments were sought to specifically inform the agenda for the workshop. Thank you to those who provided input: Comments from February 6-24 (Dana Bryan, Helen Hands, Benoît Jobin, Mark Herzog, Andy Paulios, Brent Ortego, Mitch Hartley, Nancy Drilling, Charlotte Parker, Neal Niemuth)

1998 Marsh Bird Monitoring Workshop

1998 In 1998, an international Marsh Bird Monitoring Workshop was held to discuss strategies for monitoring populations of marsh birds (Ribic et al. 1999; See document online). Participants at that workshop indicated the need for an overall marsh bird monitoring program that would provide estimates of population trends at large geographic scales (region and continent), but also allow local managers and biologists to contribute to smaller-scale monitoring efforts, understand habitat requirements, and examine the influence of wetland management practices on marsh bird populations. Several required research directions were identified, particularly related to field protocols and sampling frames.

Last Updated on May 8, 2006. Please forward any comments/suggestions to Jennifer Wheeler.

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