Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Birding Community Newsletter

Issue 2017-03 | Friday, March 10, 2017 | 287 Subscribers
Call of the Wild
Another week of warm temperatures comes to an end with frigid winds barreling down from the North
The comfortably warm temperatures of the preceding week came to an end with a reminder from Old Man Winter that this is only the first week of March.  The early migrants abandoned their territories to loft their feathers in the warm sun, as a pair of young 'Travelers' hunting in tandem quietly stake their claim in the Rumney Marshes ACEC.
  March 5, 2017 TRIP REPORT
Bear Creek Sanctuary
(restricted access) , Essex, Massachusetts, US

March 5, 2017
9:24 AM - 12:01 PM

Protocol: Traveling

2.5 Mile(s)

35 Bird Species
Snow Goose   4

Canada Goose  400

American Black Duck   32

Surf Scoter   3

White-winged Scoter  2

Bufflehead   10

Red-breasted Merganser   5

Turkey Vulture   1    
Seen after the tour ended

Northern Harrier   1

Sharp-shinned Hawk   1

Red-tailed Hawk   2

Killdeer   3

Wilson's Snipe   1    
Chunky brown bird seen briefly flying low and landing in a wet area. Ticking calls matching the recordings on Sibley app were heard from the same general area when a hunting
NOHA flew over.

Herring Gull   60

Great Black-backed Gull   2

Rock Pigeon    3

Mourning Dove   30

Short-eared Owl   1

Downy Woodpecker   1

American Kestrel   1

Peregrine Falcon   2

Blue Jay   2

Horned Lark   60

Black-capped Chickadee   5

European Starling  20

American Tree Sparrow   11

White-throated Sparrow   7

Song Sparrow  7

Northern Cardinal   6

Red-winged Blackbird   75

Eastern Meadowlark   2    
Overwintering, continuing birds.
Well seen.

Common Grackle   2

House Finch   1

American Goldfinch   1

House Sparrow   12

The Killdeer
This week's bird of the week goes to 'The little Killdeer that could.'  

We all stood in awe as a meek little shorebird evaded a pair of Peregrine Falcons hunting in tandem.

Seemingly without warning, two Killdeer sunning themselves in a sheltered location shot up from the grass. Flying low over the ridge-line, their hailing calls sounding the alarm.  

The first Peregrine came in like a shot, decelerated quickly, and adjusted course for fear of over-running her quarry and slamming into the deck.

At that point, the smaller male Peregrine joined the hunt and the chase was on.  All four birds fighting the strong winds, the agile little shorebirds banked and dodged while the falcons swooped and climbed in elliptical patterns.
Three minutes that felt like a lifetime. Many times during this battle the crowd gasped and cheered as the underdogs persevered.  Eventually the Killdeer being pursued realized that the heavy winds were pushing back the heavy bodied falcons, making it difficult for them to climb. Exhausted, no doubt, the resilient plover pushed on.  Nearly spent,  and through sheer determination, he turned headlong into the wind and climbed higher and higher.  The Peregrines, recognizing they had lost the advantage of the high ground, faded off to find easier quarry.

Special thanks to Andrea, who was quick on the trigger, and caught all five birds (including an unidentified bird) in the same frame.  She also took the incredible picture below of the female during her initial engagement.

Runner-up this week goes to the Eastern Meadowlarks who were spotted over and over again during the course of the morning.  First spotted by Pat in the Queen Anne's Lace, these rare grassland gems have survived the harshest part of a mild winter at the Sanctuary and will soon be thinking of where to spend the summer.  Let's hope they stay with us.

Quietly, in a very subdued manner, a pair of young ‘Travelers’ may be taking up residence in the Rumney Marshes ACEC.  Looking back through the eBird record for the area, the larger, better half of the couple began regularly showing up on species lists starting around late August of 2016.  Later to arrive, the smaller male doesn’t appear in the records until about December of 2016.

Word from across the marsh indicates that like most young couples, it was kind of a rocky start to their relationship.  The younger male’s timing was off, and they just couldn’t quite synchronize their movements.  But now, based on our observations on Sunday, March 5th 2017, the courting couple has made it through that early awkward period and now they hunt in tandem with all of the speed, agility, and ferocity that the species in known for.

The Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, is the fastest animal on the plant.  Loosely translated, its scientific name means ‘Traveler with sickle shaped wings’, which it folds back to dive at speeds in excess of 200 mile per hour.  Across six of the seven continents, this crow sized falcon dominates the skies.  The only portions of the planet this falcon doesn’t reside is in alpine regions and Antarctica. 

The Peregrine Falcon also has a well-documented and successful restoration story.  According to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program fact sheet, prior to the 1940’s approximately 375 breeding pairs of Peregrine Falcons nested east of the Mississippi River.  In Massachusetts, there were 14 known breeding pairs all located on natural cliffs.  In 1948, the then Massachusetts State Ornithologist, Archi Hagar, first documented that the breeding pair at Rattlesnake Ledge in the Quabbin Reservoir, had broken their eggs.

Mr. Hagar, had no way of knowing it then, but over the next decades scientist discovered that the widespread use of the pesticide DDT was causing birds of prey to lay thin shelled eggs that would break during incubation.  The last historically active nest in Massachusetts occurred in 1955, and by 1966 there were no breeding pairs left east of the Mississippi River.

In 1972 the use of DDT was banned in the United States and efforts initiated by Tom Cade, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, started the national efforts to restore the Peregrine Falcon.  It would take until 1987 for the first successful modern nest to be established in Massachusetts.  As of 2015, this number has grown to 30 nesting pairs of Peregrine Falcons in the State.

Check out this interesting documentary entitled; The first successful breeding of PeregrineFalcons on non-man-made structures in eastern Massachusetts since their reintroduction, written for the Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch by a long-time friend of the Sanctuary.  Craig describes the many modern day obstacles and concerns that confront both the falcons and the volunteer efforts helping to secure their future.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the historical population in the US was roughly 3,875 nesting pairs.  By the time the first Peregrine Falcon recovery efforts began, the population was approximately 12% of that historical number.  In 1975 there were only 324 known nesting pairs left in the US.  The current population in North America is estimated between 2,000-3,000 breeding pairs.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicates that Partners in Fight estimates the global breeding population is 140,000 with only 17% of the population spending time in the US.  

While it may still be early, it's not too early to speculate that the pair of Peregrine Falcons observed hunting in tandem on two different occasions at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary on March 5th, may be intending to establish a breeding territory in the Rumney Marsh ACEC.  They have been observed together regularly during this winter.  According to the USFWS fact sheet, Peregrine Falcons typically mate for life, and usually return to the same breeding territory for the entirety of their lives.  According to the Mass Wildlife fact sheet, in our region, nesting locations are selected by the first of March.  That notwithstanding, the pair are young, barely out of adolescence.  There is still the chance that indecision will get the best of them and they will go elsewhere, or maybe worse yet, they are birds intending to spend the summer in the cooler climes further north.  If so, like our other winter raptors, the Short-eared Owl and the Northern Harrier, the time for their departure will be soon at hand. 

Special thanks to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program, the USFWS, the Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for not only maintaining such wonderful online resources free to the public, but also for the extraordinary efforts these organizations preform each and every day in the conservation and preservation of our natural resources.      
We are currently planning our spring and summer
workshop schedule at the Sanctuary
Salt Marsh Resiliency
This season we will be taking a special interest in salt marshes.  Lately, it is difficult to go through a day without hearing a news story on sea level rise or global climate change.  For salt marshes, the threat of sea level rise is of great concern.  Existing in a narrow band between mean sea level and extreme high tide, marshes need to migrate inland or increase in elevation to survive. 
Salt Marsh Sparrow
Salt Marsh Sparrows are solely dependent on salt marshes, and because they are, this sparrow is predicted to be the first vertebrate species in this region to become extinct due to sea level rise.   Based on the eBird database, the Rumney Marshes ACEC has a stable Salt Marsh Sparrow population.  This season we would like to establish a population baseline for use in future restoration efforts.  

Innovative Invasive Species Control
Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary has nearly two decades of experience controlling Phragmites australis without the use of harsh chemicals.   With increasing health concerns about the use of herbicides and dwindling management budgets, methodologies that focus on trajectory stabilization are returning to the forefront of resource management.
Why is the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary described as a 'Migratory Staging Area' for 200 bird species?

Thank you, Jack W.
Jack W,
Thanks for your question and interest in our migratory bird programs.  The short answer is that the idea to be a migratory staging area is an evolved concept that started with the question of 'how to best develop meaningful wildlife habitat in an active landfill setting.' The best way to answer your question is to describe the steps involved with developing that concept.

The Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a relatively small, 370-acre, wildlife sanctuary in an intensively developed watershed.  As such, the project's proponents understood that if the sanctuary was developed as a stand-alone venture, the wildlife values that could be achieved may be limited by the size of the property and its relation to the developed watershed.  To best achieve meaningful wildlife habitat, the sanctuary should be designed to compliment and enhance any nearby wildlife areas so both areas would be improved.

Fortunately, the property's location, in the heart of a 2,274-acre estuary called the Rumney Marshes ACEC, could be used as an asset for both areas.  After a quick inventory of the estuary was completed, it became apparent that virtually all of the uplands surrounding the estuary were completely developed. This has allowed the habitats created at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary to become an 'upland wildlife habitat oasis' in the middle of an 'upland wildlife habitat desert.'

After carefully  examining the potential for developing supporting upland habitats that would enhance the surrounding Rumney Marshes, the project's proponents felt that the size of the property may still limit the full potential of the project.  Wildlife typically establishes territories or ranges of a certain size and characteristic based on the individual species needs.  If we focused on breeding habitats we would only be able to accommodate a certain number of species.  However, during periods of migration bird species no longer maintain territories and tend to forage in a wider range of habitats.  If the Sanctuary was managed as migratory habitat, a larger number of species would benefit from our efforts.

The next step in the progression was to determine how to develop the sanctuary into migratory habitats that would appeal to the widest number of species possible.  The solution was to actively manage the Sanctuary to maximize habitat diversity and seed and fruit production. During the course of each season, Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary staff overlay 13 wildlife management plans in the grassland, shrubland, woodland, freshwater wetland, brackish marsh, and salt marsh habitats to maintain habitat diversity and wildlife food production.  

The combined annual effort of the Sanctuary staff provides meaningful migratory habitat for approximately 200 bird species that migrate through this region each season.  In the 18 years since the habitats were constructed, we have recorded 178 different bird species at the Sanctuary. 
  The next scheduled nature walk is Sunday, March 12 at 9 a.m.
Special thanks to Soheil, Pat, Constance, Andrea and everyone else who contributed pictures and support this week.  Without your help, this publication could not be produced.

The Wheelabrator Saugus Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a 370-acre property abutting a 2,274-acre estuary on the outskirts of Boston, located in the heart of the Rumney Marshes ACEC. Maintained and managed grasslands, salt marshes, shrublands and maturing woodlands combine as one of the largest bird migration staging areas on the North Shore and a habitat for nearly 200 bird species, as well as other wildlife such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons and snakes. Visitors can enjoy the more than 14,000 feet of walking trails that permeate the site, a half-acre exhibit garden, and meeting and lecture areas, which are scattered throughout nine of the restored ecosystems. Situated directly behind Wheelabrator Saugus, the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is maintained and managed by Geoff Wilson of Northeast Wetland Restoration. Follow along with us as the birds change with each passing season!