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Draft 2008

A Plan for Monitoring Shorebirds During the Non-breeding Season in
Bird Monitoring Region Vermont – BCR 13

Version 1

2008

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Table of Contents

Introduction....................................................................................................................................3
Methods...........................................................................................................................................5
Results - Shorebirds.......................................................................................................................7
Site Descriptions - Vermont...........................................................................................................8
References.....................................................................................................................................15

Figures and Tables
Figure 1. Conceptual framework for integrated bird monitoring............................................3
Figure 2. Shorebird Planning and Bird Conservation Regions in Canada and the United
States...............................................................................................................................................4
Figure 3. PRISM sites in BCR 13, 14, 30, 27, and 31...............................................................5
Table 1. Focal shorebird species for BCR 13. The list includes Tier A (general occurrence
and high concern) and B (local occurrence and/ or lower concern) system. The list was
expanded to include all species that received either high or medium ratings of concern in
the American or Canadian Shorebird Plans................................................................................7

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Introduction
The bird conservation initiatives - waterbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and landbirds - are
cooperating to design a comprehensive “integrated bird monitoring” (IBM) program for Canada
and the United States. The conceptual framework for IBM (Fig. 1) includes strong emphasis on
detecting species at risk and helping to protect them. These broad goals are achieved by
estimating population trends and defining requirements for viable populations. These objectives
in turn are accomplished by population modeling based on population levels, demographic rates
and habitat information. Population trends are estimated by surveying breeding populations
whenever possible, and by surveying the species for which this is not feasible at other times of
year. Surveys of all species are made throughout the year to help identify and monitor use of
suitable habitat.

Figure 1. Conceptual framework for integrated bird monitoring.

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Most surveys in upland habitats are designed at a large spatial scale (e.g., southern
Canada and the United States) and do not require detailed information at the local level. Surveys
of wetland habitats, in contrast, must be carefully designed to insure that the habitat is well
covered, and different methods may be needed in different environments. A series of “regional
assessments” is thus being prepared to help design the wetland surveys. Regions were formed by
intersecting a Bird Conservation Region (BCR) map with a Province and State map, deleting
small polygons and smoothing the borders (Fig. 2). The resulting “Bird Monitoring Regions” can
be used to scale up results to either BCRs or Provinces and States.

Figure 2. Shorebird Planning and Bird Conservation Regions in Canada and the United States.

Adapted from: USFWS-U.S. Shorebird Plan and CWS-Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan

The regional assessments summarize current information about wetland bird distribution,
abundance, habitat relationships and timing of use within the Region and identify information
needed to design reliable monitoring programs. These “needed pilot studies” are then prioritized
by people concerned with monitoring birds in the region and a plan is developed to carry out the
work. Carrying out the pilot studies is expected to take 1-3 years. Long-term surveys will then be
implemented. Additional details are provided in “Managers Monitoring Manual” available at
http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/monmanual/techniques/shorebirdsnonbreedingsites.htm. More

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information on regional progress can be found at the U.S. Shorebird Plan’s Regional
Conservation Plan website (http://www.fws.gov/shorebirdplan/RegionalShorebird.htm).
Methods
Focal wetland species of shorebirds were first identified. The initial list included all
wetland species of shorebirds that are common or abundant at any time of year within the
Region, according to Brian Harrington, based largely upon data from the International Shorebird
Surveys (ISS) and the US Shorebird Conservation Upper Mississippi Valley/Great Lakes (BCR
13) Regional Plan. Sites in which any of the focal species are common or abundant at any time
of year were then identified using a list prepared for this project and supplemented by
information provided by birding guides, ornithologists and birders knowledgeable of the Region.
Most sites were single areas, such as a National Wildlife Refuge or Audubon Important Bird
Area, but dispersed sites, such as “lakes >10 ha”, could also be identified.

Figure 3. PRISM sites in BCR 13, 14, 30, 27, and 31.

The International Shorebird Survey (ISS) provided species numbers for some of the
identified sites. The ISS is a volunteer based survey initiated in 1974 by Brian Harrington.
Volunteers select their survey sites and are given guidelines on census frequency and data
collection for spring and fall migration. The ISS guidelines ask volunteers to survey once every
10 days from April 1st to June 10th for spring migration, and once every 10 days from July 11th
to October 31st for fall migration. ISS records provided the maximum counts recorded for
species where the identified site is also an ISS site.

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Survey methods for sites include appropriate tide levels for surveys, if that information is
available. Tide levels for surveys are based on the advice of biologists and birders with
knowledge about the sites. Due to the different geography of the sites, different tide levels
are recommended to concentrate the birds for a survey. While high tide at one site may bring in
birds that are spread out over an expansive area at low tide, high tide at another site may
completely cover the habitat or food resources and scatter the birds elsewhere. Therefore,
different tide levels may be recommended for different sites.

Additional site information may also include information about visibility. Excellent/good
visibility simply means that the birds can be seen without obstruction clearly enough to identify
to species, either by physically getting close enough or with a good scope or binoculars.

Maps showing land ownership, roads and wetlands were prepared for the region. Maps of
each site were also prepared and information useful in designing surveys for the focal species
was presented. The survey objective was assumed to be estimating the average number of birds
of each focal species present within the site during a specified interval. Up to three types of
habitat were described for each focal species: Type 1 habitat, outlined in purple on the maps,
included regularly-used areas that should be sampled using a well-defined sampling plan. Type 2
habitat, which was outlined in red, included areas used sparingly by the focal species. Type 2
habitat is not surveyed as often or with rigorously defined methods, but is surveyed less formally
every few years to document continued low use by the focal species. Type 3 habitat receives
virtually no use by the focal species during the study period and is not surveyed as part of the
monitoring program. Requests, however, are circulated for any records of the focal species
occurring in substantial numbers in these areas.

A description of each site was prepared with the following headings:

Boundaries and ownership
Focal species using the site and timing of use
Location of type 1 and 2 habitat within the site
Access to the type 1 and 2 habitat and visibility of the birds
Past and current surveys
Potential survey methods
Description
Selection bias
Measurement error and bias
Needed pilot studies

We assume for any survey that the study area and study period (within years) have been
defined. The goal of the survey was assumed to be estimating the trend, across several years, in
the average number of birds present during the study period. Bias means a long-term trend in the
ratio (number recorded)/(average number present). Selection bias ensues when some portion of
Type 1 habitat has zero chance of being surveyed, usually due to access problems, and there is a
long-term trend in the proportion of birds using the non-sampled portion. Exclusion of some
Type 1 habitat does not necessarily cause selection bias because trends in the sampled areas

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might be the same as trends in the non-sampled areas. Anytime some portion of Type 1 habitat
could not be included in the sampled areas, the potential for selection bias and ways to reduce it
were discussed. Measurement error means not detecting all birds present in the surveyed area at
the time of the survey. Measurement bias is a long term trend in the proportion of birds present at
the time of the survey that are detected on the survey. Measurement error does not necessarily
cause measurement bias because the proportion of birds detected might not change through time.
Anytime measurement error was probable, its magnitude and probable stability through time
were discussed along with ways to reduce the proportion of birds missed on the surveys.

Results - Shorebirds
Table 1. Focal shorebird species for BCR 13. The list includes Tier A (general occurrence and
high concern) and B (local occurrence and/ or lower concern) system. The list was expanded to
include all species that received either high or medium ratings of concern in the American or
Canadian Shorebird Plans.
Tier Breeders Migrants

A Piping Plover* Whimbrel*
American Woodcock American Golden-Plover
Upland Sandpiper Hudsonian Godwit*
Marbled Godwit*
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Sanderling
Solitary Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Red Knot*

B Wilson’s Phalarope Black-bellied Plover
Dunlin
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper

* indicates species that are extirpated as breeders (Piping Plover) or that overfly the
BCR, and are noted rarely as they stop only occasionally to rest. Little direct
management activity other than some basic habitat protection can be undertaken for these
species.

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Site Descriptions - Vermont
Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area

Description: Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area is located just east of Lake Champlain.
This slow-moving, dammed creek runs roughly northward from Bridport to just north of Panton,
where it joins Otter Creek. The 2,858 acre area is made up of seven actively managed

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impoundments which are surrounded by upland habitat composed of active and inactive farm
fields, and oak-hickory forests. Over 200 species of birds are known to the area. The WMA is
owned by the State and is managed by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Flooded areas are designed to benefit waterfowl; draw-downs are recognized as benefiting
migrating shorebirds however, and occur regularly but not annually. Beginning in mid-spring,
Vermont Fish and Wildlife begins lowering water levels by approximately six inches per month.
In addition, the overall water levels are dependent on rainfall. Some mudflats and shallow water
areas are held until late summer.

Shorebird use of the area is dependent on water levels and amount of exposed mudflats, which
are highly variable and vary from year to year. The Farrell, Stone Dam and Brilyea sites are
known for shorebirds when water levels are ideal, along with the wet margins of artificial ponds
along the south side of Route 17 just east of Dead Creek at the “goose viewing area.”

Twenty-seven species of shorebirds have been observed at Dead Creek WMA, according to ISS
and area birder observations. The maximum count of birds observed between 1997-20061 is:
AGPL(140), KILL (136), LESA (494), LEYE (185), SESA ( 598), and PESA (80).

Access: Access is restricted in the waterfowl refuge portion of the WMA, however hunting and
fishing are allowed in other well-marked areas. Generally, the WMA is not gated and is open to
the public at all times. Access to the Refuge Headquarters is via Highway 17 near Addison.

Smaller-scale maps are included below the following text:

Stone Dam Access: From Addison, drive north on Route 22A for approximately four miles. Turn
left onto West Road and follow it for approximately two miles to Stone Dam.

Farrell Access: From Panton, drive south 2.6 miles first along Jersey Street and then onto
Goodrich Corners Road when the main road veers right. Farrell Access will be on the left and
passes through farm fields. Drive this road to the end. If Stone Dam is drawn down, check the
mud flats to the north and walk approximately a half mile south to check mud flats there.

Brilyea Access: From the intersection of Route 22A and Route 17, drive west on Route 17 for 2.3
miles to the Brilyea Access Road on the left (immediately past the bridge over Dead Creek).
Drive nearly one mile and park in the parking lot on the right. During a drawdown, shorebirds
may be seen in the large dammed impoundment there (West Branch). Also, walk about 1 mile
along a grassy access road southwest from the parking lot (through a metal gate). Large numbers
of shorebirds have been observed in this area.

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Stone Dam and Farrell Access and Site:

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Brilyea Access and Site:

Survey Method: Ground surveys conducted as early in the day as possible (peregrines and
merlins are known to disperse the birds). The survey will take between a half day and a full day,
and may involve about 5 miles of walking if Brilyea is drawn down. Brilyea and Stone Dam, the
two principle impoundments, are generally not drawn down at the same time. It may be easiest to
have more than one person surveying the site at any one time.

Caution: Stone Dam Access area is sometimes used for target practice and as a local hangout.
Cars have been vandalized so it may be best to start the survey early in the day at this location.

Selection Bias: There are some inaccessible areas that are used by the birds when the water
levels are quite low but this would be less of a concern than potential movement (see

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Measurement Error). It has been estimated that no more than 20% of the birds present would be
inaccessible.

Measurement error: For an experienced birder, most of the birds could be detected. Local
birders emphasize that the site chould be surveyed carefully with particular attention given to
birds roosting or feeding amongst the vegetation and shrub roots.

Birds moving around from one site to another within the area and coming and going mid-survey
may also be a source of measurement error. Most of the Dead Creek sites are not within sight of
one another and when water levels are low it would probably take a good portion of the day to
cover all sites. This is a site where simultaneous observations by multiple observers would help
to reduce this potential movement error.

Measurement bias: When the water level is high, few birds are attracted and there are few birds
weaving through the vegetation. When the water is low, many birds are attracted and although
many are obvious, some are inevitably amongst the vegetation. It has been suggested that while
the overall number of birds in vegetation is greater when the water is lower, the percentage of
birds in vegetation might be similar for most water levels.

The timing of water level drops can influence vegetation growth (e.g. an abrupt drop might leave
nice bare mud flats but a slow drawdown might promote vegetation growth which in turn would
influence detection). This might be a difficult factor to quantify and might require some sort of
consideration (notation by observer) for each survey. However this is not expected to have a
dramatic influence on the survey if the survey is conducted carefully.

Pilot Studies: Detectability studies required.

Local Contacts: Ted Murin, area birder
Bill Crenshaw, Vermont Fish and Wildlife (Essex District)

Additional Resources:
Vermont Fish and Wildlife, Dead Creek WMA Background and map
http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/library/maps/Wildlife%20Management%20Areas/Essex%20D
istrict/Dead%20Creek%20WMA.pdf
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Unpublished records provided by Ted Murin and Richard Lavallee, area birders; and Bill
Crenshaw, Vermont Fish and Wildlife (personal communication).

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Missisquoi NWR

Description:

Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain near the
Canadian border. This 6,642-acre refuge was established in 1943 and includes most of the
Missisquoi River delta where it flows into Missisquoi Bay. Lands are managed to provide and
protect habitat for migratory birds, to preserve the natural diversity and abundance of plants and
animals, to provide nesting structures for a variety of wildlife, and to control exotic species.

The refuge consists of quiet waters and wetlands which attract large flocks of migratory birds.
According to Richard Lavellee, a local birder, migrating shorebirds may appear in small numbers
along wetland edges, wet fields, or on the banks of the Missisquoi River in normal or high water
years. The Champlain Valley is an important shorebird migration corridor but birds will only use
the Refuge if the conditions are right for shorebirds (e.g. low water levels).

Only four shorebirds are considered common to Missisquoi NWR: KILL, AMWO, COSN, and
GRYE. Considered occasional are BBPL, SEPL, LEYE, SOSA, SAND, SESA, LESA, WRSA,
PESA, and DUNL. Considered rare are HUGO, RUTU, STSA and SBDO.
Unusually low water levels occurred on Lake Champlain in 2001, and fall shorebird surveys
were carried out at the mouths of Dead Creek and Rock River, as well as on the Missisquoi
River, including West Branch (west of Metcalf Island) and Middle Branch (Shad Island). The

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maximum number of birds observed during this period are: AGPL (4), BBPL (81), COSN (41),
DOWI sp. (250), DUNL (1352), GRYE (82), KILL (33), LESA (70), LEYE (30), PESA (110),
SESA (35), and WRSA (53).

Access: Most of the refuge is accessible only by boat. Public boat ramps on the refuge are
located at Louie’s Landing and Mac’s Bend. Visitors are advised to consult the general refuge
leaflet for the boat ramp access and trail locations.

Donaldson Point in West Swanton is immediately adjacent to the west boundary of Missisquoi
NWR. It is located on private land on the western edge of the mouth of Charcoal Creek, and is
accessible on foot.

Survey Method: Donaldson Point can be accessed on foot with permission from the land owner.
The refuge itself would be surveyed in boat.

Selection Bias: *

Measurement error:*

Measurement bias: *

Pilot Studies:

Local Contacts: Dick Lavallee, local birder.

Additional Resources:
Official Refuge Brochure with Map:
http://library.fws.gov/refuges/Missisquoi05.pdf

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References
Canadian Wildlife Service. Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plan. Accessed August 2008.
http://www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca/mbc-com/default.asp?lang=en&n=D1610AB7 .

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. U.S. Shorebird Plan. Accessed August 2008.
http://www.fws.gov/shorebirdplan/RegionalShorebird/RegionsMap.asp

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