State of the Birds urges conservationists to rally behind Bird Atlas Project

The Connecticut Audubon Society released its annual Connecticut State of the Birds report Friday and called on the state’s conservation community to throw its full efforts into supporting the upcoming Connecticut Bird Atlas, which promises to be the most important bird conservation research project ever in the state.

The 12th annual State of the Birds report is titled “The New Bird Atlas: A Call to Action for Connecticut’s Conservationists.”

The report is designed to be a guide and a rallying cry for the Atlas, which is scheduled to start in spring 2018, Audubon officials said. A three-year project, the Atlas will result in the collection of a vast amount of new and updated data about where Connecticut’s birds live, the locations of prime habitats, and changes in bird distribution since data were collected in the mid-1980s for the last Connecticut atlas.

Because birds and bird habitat are excellent proxies for valuable conservation land, the Atlas has the potential to be an essential decision-making tool for municipal planners, state regulators, conservationists, developers, and others.

The organizers and main sponsors of the Atlas project are the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the University of Connecticut.

Because of the project’s importance, the Connecticut Audubon Society planned the nine articles in this year’s Connecticut State of the Birds report to explain how the Atlas will be organized, how it will benefit conservation efforts, and why participating in it is crucial to the state’s future.

The report is sent to all Connecticut Audubon members. To encourage as many birders as possible to participate in the Atlas project, Connecticut Audubon printed an additional 500 copies for the Connecticut Ornithological Association.

The report’s editors broke from past practice of including a menu of recommendations by including just one this year: “If Connecticut's birds are important to you, learn as much as you can about the project and then volunteer to participate.”

At a news conference in Hartford, Patrick Comins, Connecticut Audubon’s executive director and author of one of the report’s articles, said: “This Atlas is something I’ve been talking about for more than a decade. It will help us make better conservation decisions and justifications for protection of key parcels.

“So often throughout my career in conservation I’ve had to guess which species of conservation concern might benefit from a particular project to conserve land. The Atlas will take it to the next level. When this project is done, we will finally know exactly which places are most important to which species and be able to make much better conservation decisions.”

The other authors of articles in the report are CT DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee (“The New Atlas Will Bring Our Knowledge of Connecticut’s Bird Life Up-to-date”); Milan Bull, Connecticut Audubon’s senior director of science and conservation (“It’s Your Project!”); Prof. Chris S. Elphick, of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (“Using Science to Conserve Birds”); Stephen P. Broker, president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association (“Volunteering for the First Atlas”); Min T. Huang, CT DEEP wildlife biologist (“Wise Use of Conservation Funding Demands a Foundation of Sound Science”); Randy Dettmers, senior migratory bird biologist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“A Regional Perspective”); and Daniel Brauning, wildlife diversity chief of the Pennsylvania Game Commission (“How Breeding Bird Atlases Can Lead to Conservation Improvements”).

In his article, Prof. Elphick explained how the Atlas’s field work and computer modeling will help guide conservation decisions:

“If our models tell us that certain species are consistently unlikely to be found near roads even when the habitat is otherwise suitable, then that information could be used to guide road-building projects. Similarly, if our models help identify a set of conditions that is consistently linked to the occurrence of a given species, then we can use that relationship to identify undiscovered places where the species might occur. In other studies, this approach has been used to find new populations of rare species.

“Although the Connecticut atlas will rely more on modeling than has been typical in prior bird atlases, its success will still depend largely on the time invested by members of the Connecticut birding community. Field observations are crucially important both for building good models and for checking that the models produce good information. Without knowledgeable birders producing a large body of high-quality field observations, even the most sophisticated data analysis will come up short.

“But, by linking the expert knowledge of citizen scientists with the quantitative methods developed by ecologists, we anticipate that the Connecticut Bird Atlas will provide important advances not only for our understanding of the state’s birds, but also for the way in which bird atlases are conducted in the future.”

Connecticut Audubon hopes to have as many of its 19 sanctuaries as possible included in the areas surveyed by the Atlas. Connecticut Audubon is also scheduling training and information sessions for Atlas organizers and participants.

Sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, December 12, at 6:30 p.m., co-hosted at Great Hollow Nature Preserve & Ecological Research Center, in New Fairfield; and Monday, January 8, at 7 p.m., at Connecticut Audubon’s Center at Pomfret. Additional sessions are being arranged.

Based in Fairfield, the Connecticut Audubon Society is that state’s original, independent Audubon. It operates centers in Fairfield, Milford, Old Lyme, Pomfret, Hampton, Glastonbury, and Sherman, an EcoTravel program in Essex, and owns and manages 19 sanctuaries encompassing about 3,200 acres.