What is the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge (SOCNFWR)?

In December 1991, Congress passed the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Act. The Act authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to study the entire Connecticut River watershed and determine the possibility of establishing a new national fish and wildlife refuge. After four years of study and public discussion, the USFWS proposed an ecosystem approach to this refuge, whose boundaries would be defined by the boundaries of the 7.2 million acre (2.9 million hectare) Connecticut River Watershed. Within this new approach, natural resource protection efforts focus on voluntary programs, developing partnerships, providing technical assistance, and helping other conservation organizations with their land protection programs. The USFWS has also initiated its own land protection program using a combination of easements, cooperative management agreements, and purchases. By 2010, using these methods, SOCNFWR's goal is to protect a significant area of land, focusing on endangered, threatened, rare, and uncommon wildlife species and ecological communities.

Why is the SOCNFWR concerned with migratory bird populations?

For over three decades, biologists have been concerned with declines in some Neotropical migrant bird populations. These populations include species of warblers, vireos, thrushes, flycatchers, and tanagers. In the spring these species migrate from wintering grounds in Central and South America, and the Caribbean, to North American breeding areas. In the fall, after breeding is finished, they make the return trip to their southern wintering grounds. A number of these migrant species have shown population declines over past decades. Research has shown that there are a number of factors that may contribute to these declines, including deforestation and pesticide use on the wintering and breeding grounds, habitat fragmentation, predation, and cowbird parasitism. Because the USFWS is responsible for the conservation of migrant birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, the agency is carefully examining migrant population declines and their possible causes. To this end, the USFWS's Migratory Bird Management Program has been an active participant in Partners in Flight, an international consortium of conservation organizations dedicated to the conservation of Neotropical migrant birds.

Why did the SOCNFWR and USFWS's Region 5 Migrant Bird Management Program sponsor a migratory bird stopover habitat survey?

Habitat loss for migrant birds is not only a problem on the wintering and breeding grounds, but also during migration. Migration is a very stressful period in a bird's annual cycle; they must navigate thousands of miles through unfamiliar areas and all types of weather conditions, avoid predators, find food to restore their energy supplies, and stay on schedule to reach the breeding grounds at the appropriate time for courtship and mating. During migration, loss of suitable stopover habitat translates into greater distances between "refueling" stops, and increased exposure to predation and inclement weather. The result can be increased migrant mortality during migration or the arrival of migrants at nesting locations in poor breeding condition. Interestingly, while ornithologists had long recognized the importance of the Connecticut River watershed to migrating birds, little was know about the actual locations or types of stopover habitats used. The Stopover Habitat Survey allowed SOCNFWR managers to identify what species are migrating through the Connecticut River watershed, the geographic areas being used for stopover visits, and the habitat characteristics of those areas. The study's conservation recommendations will also be used by biologists concerned with stopover habitat protection within other Eastern U.S. river basins.

How can the SOCNFWR address the problems of birds during migration?

The SOCNFWR is particularly suited to addressing the problems of birds in migration since it is concerned with much of the Connecticut River watershed's expansive 7.2 million acre (2.9 million hectare) area. The Connecticut River starts near the Canadian border in New Hampshire, creates Vermont's eastern boundary, passes through Massachusetts and Connecticut, and after 420 miles (675 kilometers), empties into Long Island Sound. An area this large contains many locations for migrant stopover visits. The SOCNFWR and its partner conservation organizations can use Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat Survey information, along with other data bases, to identify important stopover habitat locations throughout the length of the Connecticut River watershed. This information will aid the SOCNFWR and its partner organizations with the process of assembling an ecosystem scale "necklace" of protected migratory bird stopover locations.

Who was involved with the Migrant Bird Stopover Habitat Survey?

The SOCNFWR and the USFWS's Region 5 Migratory Bird Management Program are provided funding to Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, to conduct the survey. Smith College is working in close collaboration with the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, Manomet, MA. State-level coordination and data collection was conducted by the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, Connecticut Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Vermont Institute of Natural Science. Each state organization, with the help of volunteers, conducted a series of migrant surveys during spring migration of 1996, 1997, and 1998. The Migrant Bird Stopover Survey was assisted by an advisory board with representatives from Connecticut College, U.S. Forest Service, Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Cornell University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

What did a survey volunteer do?

Volunteers played a critical role in the Stopover Habitat Survey. Each state selected a Connecticut River tributary watershed as their study area. Within the tributary watershed the state coordinator selected twelve, 1.2 mile (1.9 kilometer) long survey transects. Each transect had ten point count plots distributed along its length. The survey of a transect by a volunteer involved involved stopping at each point count location on a transect for a ten minute period and recording all the bird species present. During the spring migration period each transect was surveyed five times, then once more in summer to record breeding birds. With the support and assistance of the state coordinators, volunteers conducted all the actual transect surveys and gathered all the data that made this study possible.

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