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Monitoring Marsh Bird Breeding in Restored Wetland Outside our Nation's Capital

David Lawlor
Fairfax County Park Authority, Huntley Meadows Park, Virginia

Rare marsh bird breeding survey Rare marsh bird breeding survey

Update 1

Wetland losses have accelerated in the past 20 years resulting in significant habitat loss for obligate wetland species. Many marsh bird populations are declining as a result of wetland degradation and loss of wetland habitat. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the 50 acre Central Wetland at Huntley Meadows Park, in Fairfax County, Virginia, gained national notoriety for breeding marsh birds including rails, grebes and bitterns. Suburban development and stormwater pollution resulted in the degradation of the Central Wetland and the marsh birds stopped breeding in 1994. In 2014, the Central Wetland at Huntley Meadows Park underwent a large scale restoration project. The restoration project goals were to restore wetland ecosystem function, increase biodiversity and install control gates to allow staff to manage the wetland water levels.

David Lawlor is the Natural Resource Manager responsible for managing the wetland. Mr. Lawlor can influence vegetative communities and wildlife habitat by adjusting water levels. Water level management plans are created for each year and staff attempt to provide the best quality habitat possible for a list of target species. Marsh birds including American bitterns (Botaurus lentiginosus) , least bitterns (Ixobrychus exilis), Virginia rails (Rallus limicola), king rails (Rallus elegans) and pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) are on the list of target species used to guide management decisions. These marsh birds have been seen and heard with more regularity since the restoration project completed and king rails bred in the wetland in 2016 for the first time in almost 20 years.

Mr. Lawlor and his team will use the Wildlife Acoustics SM4 recorders to monitor the Central Wetland for breeding calls of these secretive marsh birds to track their temporal use of the wetland. Mr. Lawlor intends to correlate the timing and frequency of marsh bird use of the Central Wetland with water level management practices. The information will be instrumental in guiding water level management plans in the future to provide optimal marsh bird habitat in the Central Wetland.

After identifying quality nesting habitat, the Huntley Meadows team set up Wildlife Acoustics SM4 recorders in the Central Wetland Park on March 27th in anticipation of the marsh bird’s arrival in early April. The data will be analyzed using Wildlife Acoustics Kaleidoscope Pro software with acoustic Cluster Analysis. Logarithms will be created using Kaleidoscope Pro software for breeding calls of each species. The species data will be analyzed for frequency of calls, temporal duration of stay and estimated location to help guide future water level management plans.

Additional Info

  • Products: Song Meter SM4, Kaleidoscope Pro Software
  • Research Type: Survey Species Presence and Inventory
  • Species: Birds
  • Field Story Type: Grant Recipient Field Stories