Assessment of Waterbird Response to the NRCS Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative Using NEXRAD Radar Data
Mason Sieges, M.S. student (February 2012 to Present)
Funding: Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Delaware
Collaborators: Wylie Barrow (National Wetland Research Center), Lori Randall (National Wetland Research Center)
In response to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) implemented the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI). The program includes flooding existing farmed wetlands, prior converted croplands, or other lands to provide habitat for waterfowl and other waterbirds. In the fall of 2010, implementation of MBHI activities began on private agricultural lands and existing WRP (Wetland Reserve Program) easements.
The current national network of weather surveillance radars (NEXRAD) has demonstrated an ability to detect a variety of bird movements across the United States. NEXRAD data are collected continuously, and the associated data archive that dates back to the mid-1990s is freely accessible. Researchers can take advantage of NEXRAD to plot the spatial and temporal pattern of bird densities when large numbers of birds initiate flights en masse for both local and long-distance migrations.
During the winter, waterfowl and other associated species frequently undertake flights between roosting sites and feeding habitat. These movements tend to occur at sunrise and sunset and are thereby closely related to sun elevation. Because of the tendency of waterfowl to initiate feeding flights in large groups, the opportunity exists to quantify their distributions using a single nearly-instantaneous observation collected daily by local radar.
University of Delaware (UD) and USGS National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) scientists are collaborating to quantify migrating and wintering shorebird and waterfowl response to MBHI activities. My intent is to take advantage of the data-collecting abilities of modern radar to conduct a qualitative, low-cost assessment of migratory bird habitat use patterns near Lake Charles, Louisiana in response to activities applied through the NRCS’s MBHI.
For my thesis, I will use NEXRAD radar data to compare bird density on MBHI sites to pre-enrollment years to determine the magnitude of response. I will also examine the role that landscape composition and placement play in determining how birds use MBHI wetlands – the amount of agriculture in the surrounding landscape as well as proximity to wildlife refuges may influence the extent to which waterfowl and shorebirds use sites.