birds

The Power of Partnerships: Habitat Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay

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Brown pelicans are among the many species of birds that visit Poplar Island

By Ross Geredien

Last November, I accompanied U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists to inspect a unique habitat restoration project led by the FWS Chesapeake Bay office. Here’s my account of that day:

The wind stings my face as we skim across the water. To my left, the bay’s silvery sheen meets leaden clouds at the southern horizon. I look to my right and see a northern gannett, a large, oceanic bird, floating on the surface.

I’m on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workboat, heading across Chesapeake Bay at 24 knots. It’s a brisk morning, and our destination is Poplar Island, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deposits the dredge spoil from Baltimore Harbor’s approach channels.

Poplar once boasted a lively fishing community, complete with weekend retreats and abundant wildlife. From 1840 to 1990, erosion reduced the island to just 10 acres. Since 1998, however, spoil deposits have restored Poplar to over 1,100 acres of productive marshland, and wildlife is once again flourishing.

Upon reaching the island, some 90 brown pelicans perch nearby. “It’s unusual to see this many,” says Chris Guy, one of the biologists. “Especially this late in the season,” responds Pete McGowan, another biologist. We discuss how recent storms have blown them off-course. They have found refuge at Poplar.

Over 200 bird species use Poplar Island during the year. As we explore the island, thousands of geese and ducks congregate on large, artificial ponds called cells. We also see uncommon species: night-herons, dowitchers, swans, and loons. The abundant waterfowl attract predators like birds of prey. Indeed, in the afternoon a rare short-eared owl flushes from the grass. “First of the season!” shouts Chris.

What makes all this possible? Poplar Island is a partnership among federal and state agencies. The Corps of

Aerial view of Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay (Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Engineers manages the dredge spoil operation under the Clean Water Act. The Maryland Environmental Service monitors water quality and nutrients while the Fish and Wildlife Service supervises the restoration. The University of Maryland also investigates a variety of ecological questions here. As a fellow working in the EPA’s wetlands program and a former biologist with the Maryland Wildlife Service, this intersection of wildlife, Chesapeake Bay, and clean water issues naturally resonates with me.

The weather has turned fair as we depart, wind-blown spray glistening in the sunlight. I leave Poplar with a new appreciation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the efforts to restore its habitat.

About the author: Ross Geredien is a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education serving in the EPA’s Office of Water, where he works on wetlands permitting issues. Previously, Ross was a wildlife biologist for the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources where he mapped the state’s rare, threatened and endangered species.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Seize the Moment!

By Lina Younes

In my first blog of the New Year, I described how a lively cardinal greeted me during my first morning walk of 2013. Since I was not able to capture the scene with my camera at the time, I was determined to do so this past weekend.

On Saturday morning, I decided to go out on my morning walk equipped with my camera from the start. I retraced my steps in search of the animated bird. Although I could hear chirping in the background, the little cardinal was nowhere to be found. On Sunday morning, I repeated my quest and was quickly rewarded with the sights and sounds of the little cardinal that was flying from branch to branch chirping away. It seemed that he was courting another female cardinal that was quietly perched on one of the higher branches of the same tree. Since I was able to capture the scene this time, I decided to share some pictures with you.


While spring is officially several months away, I already noticed some increased activity among the birds in our neighborhood. It definitely helps having bushes and trees in the area that are welcoming to birds and other of nature’s creatures all year round.

I’m eager to explore activities that will allow me and my family to enjoy the great outdoors. Bird-watching offers such an opportunity. Regardless of your interests, taking a walk, breathing the fresh air, enjoying nature are nice ways to start the day. What are you interested in? Please share your thoughts with us.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Fresh Start

By Lina Younes

On the first morning of the New Year, I was taking my dogs out for their morning walk. There was a vigilant cardinal chirping away from a tree top watching our every move. I was fascinated by the little bird. That cardinal infused new life, color and sound to the otherwise bleak, wintry morning. It seemed as if the lively bird was eagerly embracing the new day and, in fact, the New Year!

I quickly went back in the house to fetch my camera. However, the lively cardinal was long gone by the time I returned. All that was left was the cold morning silence occasionally interrupted by the sound of the bushes and trees rustling in the wind.

With that in mind, I decided that in 2013 I would look for more opportunities to enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Every season has its own special beauty. While I must confess that personally I prefer the summertime, I have begun to enjoy the wonders of winter as well. Even the shorter days and gray surroundings have their own special charm.

So, I decided to share some snapshots of my recent outdoor experiences. Do you have any outdoor plans for the New Year? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Green Rest Area

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By Lina Younes

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

This past weekend I was walking around Allen Pond Park in the City of Bowie enjoying the beautiful autumnal day. During my walk, I was admiring the migratory birds that had stopped along their yearly trek to warmer surroundings. There were many in the pond, flying, bathing, eating and the like. Luckily, around the Bowie area we have plenty of trees, waterways, and settings that are welcoming to birds and nature’s creatures.

While a visit to a park is a great way to connect with nature in an urban area, you can actually create an environment in your own garden that can be equally inviting to birds and pollinators all year round.  You can achieve this objective through greenscaping techniques that integrate pest management practices and planting native shrubs and trees that will be inviting for birds and wildlife through the seasons.

Certain evergreen shrubs and trees will produce small fruits during the fall at a time when migratory birds in the Northern Hemisphere are starting their journey south. While other flowering plants and trees will produce needed food for birds, pollinators and other wildlife during the spring and summer months.

By planting a variety of native annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, you will have plants that will provide food and shelter to birds and wildlife for their basic needs. I’m including a GreenScapes Seasonal Planner that may help you to incorporate greenscaping practices into your lawn and garden care. Basically, let nature do the work!

Have you seen any interesting birds in your area lately? As always, we love to hear from you. Feel free to share ideas. To share photos using Flickr you could participate in our photographic State of the Environment project.  We would love to see them.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Red Tailed Hawk

By Amy Miller

The lone hawk sat on our swing five feet from a gaggle of neighborhood children. “It’s a juvenile,” my-son-the-raptor-expert declared.

About 50 times the size of the hummingbird fluttering over the nearby hibiscus, it didn’t look like a juvenile to me.

“That’s why it’s so close and not afraid of us,” Benjamin informed me.

One week it’s stink bugs, the next it’s red-tailed hawks. Humbling the things your kids know (and you don’t).

When I asked Benjamin how he knew it was a red-tailed hawk, he looked at me like I had asked him the color of Grant’s white horse? Besides large red tails, these hawks have predominantly auburn bodies and a few dark feathers along the outer lines of the wings.

The next day the “definitely a red-tailed hawk” landed in a tree outside my window. Never before had a bird of prey been so near for so long to our family homestead. I stopped friends driving by, called neighborhood children from their dinners and took a number of pictures thinkable only in the digital age. The hawk posed for the pictures, presented its profile and for a week was almost a pet.

And so I took an interest and learned that hawks are territorial and will defend their hunting area; and that red tailed hawks belongs to the group of hawks know as buteos. I learned that buteos rely on eyesight and stealth. They grab prey – usually small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects- then drive talons in to ensure the prey is dead. Accipiters – the other type of hawk – are fast and built to fly quickly through the woods with shorter wings.

It is the talons, hook-shaped beaks and good eye-sight of raptors, like eagles, hawks, vultures, owls and falcons, which  sets them apart from other animal-eating birds, like crows, robins and woodpeckers.

When our new pet decided to move on, it soared high, as hawks do, to save energy they otherwise would use to flap its wings.

These birds, native to North America, are particularly adaptable. They are found in deserts, forests and grasslands and they may migrate or they may stay put. The older birds with established territories sometimes choose to stay. After I hadn’t seen the hawk in awhile, I assumed it had joined the majority that migrate south.

Then, a week ago, the hawk reappeared, back on the giant maple with its leaves almost all fallen. I welcomed our pet back home.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Dawn Chorus

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

photo of author, Karl Berg, in the field About the Author: Karl Berg is currently a Ph.D. student at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and is looking forward to a career that will combine his interests in animal behavior and conservation. His master’s research was funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Bird populations have long been viewed as “canaries in the coal mine” for indicating changes in environmental health. As EPA’s Report on the Environment states, “changes in bird populations reflect changes in landscape and habitat, food availability and quality, toxic exposure, and climate.” Because this is so important, annual bird counts to document population changes are conducted by the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

If the timing of the species’ calls is staggered, birds could be undercounted, which is why I wanted to find an improved method to monitor bird populations to better understand how they are changing and why.

closeup photo of colorful bird with blue rings around the eye In my quest to understand the “dawn chorus,”—why different bird species chime in at different times—I chose my research site in the tropical forests of Ecuador where hundreds of bird species occur together. Tropical forests are the most threatened terrestrial ecosystems on Earth and have large and diverse bird populations. As more forests are cut one immediate change that takes place in remaining forests is the quantity and quality of forest light.

My study showed that common communicative and reproductive behaviors of forest birds are synchronized or have co-evolved with seemingly tiny changes in forest light.

My wife and I spent several months trudging up muddy, forested mountains in a tropical rainforest of Ecuador at 4:00 AM to make over 100 hours of recordings, synchronized with twilight, to determine if the birds had a singing schedule.

closeup picture of birds headBack at Florida International University, we identified 130 bird species from the recordings and logged the times of 25,000 songs. My research showed that tropical birds began to sing only when they saw light. Big-eyed birds that foraged high in the forest canopy sang earlier. The late risers were birds with small eyes in the dark, dense underbrush. The control mechanism then, was a combination of ecological and morphological traits synchronized with an atmospheric one.

In the future, I believe that automated birdsong monitoring, supplemented by the sophisticated understanding of birdsong timing, will help EPA and others better understand our changing environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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