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A Plan for Monitoring Shorebirds During the Non-breeding Season in

Bird Monitoring Region Connecticut – BCR 30

Prepared by:

Sandy Chan

Version *.*
2003

Update August 2008
Table of Contents
Introduction...................................................................................................................................3
Methods...........................................................................................................................................5
Results - Shorebirds.......................................................................................................................8
Site Descriptions..........................................................................................................................9
Sandy Point and Morse Point, West Haven.............................................................................9
Milford Point.........................................................................................................................11
Menunketesuck Island...........................................................................................................14
Acknowledgements......................................................................................................................16
References.....................................................................................................................................16

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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.

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

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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
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).

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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 and based largely upon data from the International
Shorebird Surveys (ISS). 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, but dispersed sites, such as
“lakes >10 ha”, could also be identified.

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

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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.

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
knowledgeable 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

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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
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 30
CODE SPECIES
BBPL Black-bellied Plover
SEPL Semipalmated Plover
AMOY American Oystercatcher
GRYE Greater Yellowlegs
LEYE Lesser Yellowlegs
SOSA Solitary Sandpiper
SPSA Spotted Sandpiper
WHIM Whimbrel
RUTU Ruddy Turnstone
REKN Red Knot
SAND Sanderling
SESA Semipalmated Sandpiper
LESA Least Sandpiper
WRSA White-rump Sandpiper
DUNL Dunlin
SBDO Short-billed Dowitcher

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Site Descriptions

Sandy Point and Morse Point, West Haven

Description: Sandy Point and Morse Point protrude into New Haven Harbor from the west side.
The points form a city-owned barrier beach (sand spit) system with a tidal creek and area of tidal
marsh and tidal flats. The area receives significant use by migrating shorebirds, which roost on
the sand spit and sandbars at high tide and forage on the tidal flats at lower tides. It is one of the
primary stopover areas for Red Knots in Connecticut. It is also an important nesting area for
Piping Plovers as well as waterbird species (Least and Common Terns). Habitats are very fragile
and subject to hydrologic changes; high tides often cause a problem by over-washing tern and
plover nests.

The area is extremely popular for fishing and other beach related uses in the warmer months, as
well as a popular destination for birders. Plovers, terns, and migrating shorebirds are prone to
predation, human disturbance and disturbance from unleashed dogs.

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Significant species from ISS maximum count data: BBPL (300), DUNL (250), GRYE (50),
LEYE (80), REKN (75), RUTU (100), SAND (400), SBDO (170), SEPL (139), SESA (1,500).

Access: The site is easily accessible by car from Exit 44 off I-95. The flats, sand spits and beach
should be considered Type 1 habitat.

Survey Method: Ground survey on Sandy Point two hours before and after low tide. Much of
the spit is underwater at high tide, although how much varies from year to year. Walk Sandy Spit
for the survey. Survey should take about two hours.

Selection Bias: Not applicable.

Measurement error: Negligible

Measurement bias: None.

Pilot Studies: None needed.

Local Contacts: Patrick Comins, Connecticut Audubon
Dori Sosensky, New Haven Bird Club

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Milford Point

Description: Milford Point is an 8.5-acre barrier beach with two large sandbars at the mouth of
the Housatonic River in Connecticut. The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge owns
the 8.5-acre point proper, and the Connecticut Audubon Society has a nature education center
located on the barrier beach. Wheeler Marsh Wildlife Management Area is located behind
Milford Point. Managed by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, it is a
~615-acre Spartina alterniflora-dominated low salt marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic River.
The marsh, sandbars and barrier beach are some of the most important shorebird migratory
stopover areas on Long Island Sound, providing foraging areas and resting areas for tens of
thousands of shorebirds each year. Species among 10-20,000 shorebirds recorded annually
include small numbers of Red Knot and significant numbers of Black-bellied and Semipalmated
Plover.

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The most numerous species based on maximum counts from the International Shorebird Surveys
are: BBPL (500), DUNL (600), GRYE (75), LEYE (35), LESA (300), REKN (54), RUTU (225),
SAND (350), SBDO (350), SEPL (350) and SESA (3,000).

Wheeler Marsh is the primary feeding spot for migratory birds using this site. The marsh drains
out at low tide and birds begin feeding as the tide recedes. There are three observation platforms
overlooking the marsh; at the Audubon parking lot, at the tower by the Audubon center and
another about two thirds of the way out towards the point.

The beach areas, between the refuge and the abundant housing to the east and north, does not
usually attract significant numbers of shorebirds, except for occasional groups of LESA or a
nesting PIPL. The Connecticut Audubon Society maintains a viewing platform on the beach,
which is well placed for surveying the two sand bars in the sound.

As the tide comes in, shorebirds leave the mud flats in the marsh for the last exposed portion of
the two sand bars, which may partly to completely submerge at high water. The smaller of the
two, which is more active for shorebirds, is often covered by storm or spring tides. The larger of
the two bars has recently filled in at a point near shore and is now contiguous with the mainland.

Access: Milford Point is easily accessible by car from Exit 34 off I-95. Access to the point is
limited to protect wildlife in the nesting season. The entire area should be considered Type 1
habitat.

Survey Method: Ground survey Milford Point one to two hours before high tide when the birds
concentrate on the sand bar. The birds will spread out into the marsh at low tide. The best spot to
survey is dynamic depending on water and wind conditions. Surveyor can scan the area from a
viewing platform to determine best survey route. A scope is highly recommended.

According to Mr. Masten, the best time to survey on the shore side of Milford Point is on a rising
tide, from half to full high, when birds concentrate on the exposed potions of the sandbars. The
smaller and more active of the two is not accessible from land and is best viewed with a scope
from the Audubon viewing platform on the beach.
It is possible to walk out onto the larger of the two sandbars, which is recommended as the slope
of it from shore obscures a view of shorebirds. Entry onto the mid point of bar by foot should be
done slowly, allowing ten minutes or so for any scattered birds to return to the spot.

Selection Bias: None.

Measurement error: As the tide increases, shorebirds will crowd each other on the available
sand of the two bars. This enables a better opportunity to count birds, but presents difficulty for
identification. This may be a problem when counting distant birds, such as small “peeps.” It may
be necessary to establish how measurement error varies among species at this site.

Measurement bias: If there is a long-term trend in the number of birds that may be missed
because they are hidden on the crowded sand bars, a bias will ensue.

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Pilot Studies: None needed.

Local Contacts: Patrick Comins, Connecticut Audubon; Sara Williams, Wildlife Biologist,
Stewart B. McKinney NWR; Thornton P. Masten, ISS Cooperator.

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Menunketesuck Island

Description: Menunketesuck Island is a privately owned, undeveloped 15.1-acre island located
on the western arm of Westbrook Harbor. The island consists of low, scrubby vegetation and
rocky, sandy shoreline. It is nearly connected to the mainland via a gravel and shell-bar at low
tide. There are extensive intertidal flats, sandbars and shell-bars situated to the east of the island.
The intertidal area is a significant foraging spot for migrant shorebirds, which roost on the island
at higher tides. The area is also a popular recreational zone. Human and dog disturbance of
feeding and resting birds on the tidal flats and nesting birds on Menunketesuck Island can be a
significant problem.

There are two main survey areas at this site. One includes the flats, sandbars and shell-bars on
the east of the island. The other is located on the southern tip of Menunketesuck Island, where
there is a roost site. This spot has not been surveyed on a regular basis and it would be valuable
to ascertain shorebird numbers here.

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For the intertidal area, the most numerous species based on maximum count data from the
International Shorebird Surveys are: BBPL (73), DUNL (294), GRYE (32), LEYE (23), RUTU
(106) SAND (175), SEPL (61) and SESA (57).

The intertidal flats, sandbars and shell-bars are Type 1 habitat.

Survey Method: Access for surveys is from the Westbrook Town Beach off Seaside Avenue in
Westbrook. The parking lot is for town residents, but it may be possible to work something out
with the town to grant access for surveyors.

For the intertidal flats and sandbars, surveys should be done at or near low tide, walking out
through shallow water to the exposed sandbar and tidal flats. Walk a route from the town beach
out to the island, following the same route each time.

For the high tide roost site on the south tip of the island, any surveys will require a boat. This
portion of the island should be surveyed anywhere between two hours before and two hours after
high tide. It’s not possible to put in here, so surveys should be done from offshore with the use of
binoculars. This could be an advantage in so far as shorebirds tolerate a small boat at a closer
range than surveyors on foot.

The two survey areas at this site should be surveyed at different tide cycles and preferably on
different days so as to keep their information distinct.

Selection Bias: A bias could result if the high tide roost site proves inaccessible to surveyors. If
habitat conditions within the intertidal areas change, then the proportion of shorebirds roosting
on the island itself may change – with a resulting bias occurring. If the roost site on the south of
the island is not surveyed, then documenting changes in habitat conditions within the flats and
sandbars will be necessary to establish the extent of such bias.

Measurement error: Negligible, all areas should be visible.

Measurement bias: Not applicable.

Pilot Studies: None needed.

Local contacts: Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation, CT IBA Coordinator, Audubon
Connecticut

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Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the Georgia Important Bird Areas Program and its partners for the work
they have done in identifying IBAs and for sharing their information for use in this report.

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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