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Grassland Bird Conservation

 

SRLT is very much concerned with conservation of grassland bird nesting habitat.  We manage our holdings with appropriate fields with this goal in mind.  In 2023 we continued to collaborate with Laura Lecker of the Somerset County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) AgAllies program to monitor nesting success and promote successful fledging of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows.  Along with AgAllies, we provide information on promoting healthy grasslands that not only benefit birds but also mammals, insect pollinators and many other species.

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A female bobolink with food for her young.

The grassland birds most in need of conservation require a sizable acreage of open fields.  Grassland birds are among the fastest declining bird groups in the Northeast.  Over the last 50 years most have seen major losses across New England.  The familiar and once abundant Bobolink has declined by as much as 75%, and more than 95% of meadowlarks have disappeared from our meadows!  Most North American grassland birds are of high conservation concern and are often listed as threatened or endangered.

Savannah Sparrows

We had great success in Unity at the Richardson Memorial Preserve over the last several years after instituting management changes.  Unfortunately in 2022 SRLT learned that the Richardson fields are contaminated with PFAS (forever chemicals) which were spread in the early nineties.  This happened to many unknowing farmers throughout the watershed after they were assured that the municipal sludge which they were provided with was clean and safe.  Fast forward thirty years and we now see countless contaminated fields and wells.

 

Discovery of PFAS has forced SRLT to rescind the Richardson agricultural leases that generated funds for us and allowed farmers contribute to food local production.  Our Board has voted to remove these fields from anything that would contribute to food production.  However, we plan to continue to manage for grassland habitat, even though it will cost us money to do so.  We got a good start thanks to being selected by Cornell University to receive one of their Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative’s small grants for $5,000 for our project “Conserving Grassland Bird Habitat at a PFAS Contaminated Site”.

Our Albert J. Sousa Preserve and several of our conservation easement properties also contain grasslands and supports Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow.  At Sousa, we have initiated regular mowing and agricultural activity, but with less open field acreage, the habitat is suboptimal.  We are currently seeking someone interested in producing agricultural products and managing the hayfields at the site.

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Bobolinks

To promote grassland bird productivity, NRCS encourages haying after July 15 to ensure that the young birds successfully fledge from their nests. They offer programs which provide financial and technical assistance to support landowners who carry out these practices.  Contact Laura Suomi-Lecker if you want to know more at the email below.

Laura Suomi-Lecker is the Technical Director at Somerset County Soil and
Water Conservation District (NRCS), where she is the manager of the Ag

Allies Grassland Bird Program, now in its third year of working with farmers

and landowners on this issue.  She is also the education and outreach

coordinator and long-time volunteer with Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center.
laura.lecker@me.nacdnet.net

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