Protecting and promoting a natural resource: birds

‘Important Birding Area’ is a magnet for tourists

By TOM KANE

HONESDALE, PA — A relatively new program in Pennsylvania and New York is supporting the bird population of the Delaware River Valley by helping to combat threats to bird habitat and enhance proactive habitat conservation.

The Important Bird Areas (IBA) program is a creation of the National Audubon Society. Individual IBAs are designated by local chapters. There are IBAs on both banks of the Delaware, with a cadre of volunteers who are avid bird watchers and monitor the number and kinds of birds that frequent the river valley during breeding and nesting times.

“This area has been designated as Important Bird Area (IBA) #60, running along the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River Valley from Point Mountain in Hancock, NY to the Delaware Water Gap, 120 miles to the south,” said Barbara Leo, a board member of the NE Pennsylvania Audubon Society and the Committee Chairperson of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational IBA.

The society is planning to identify monitoring sites where a number of birds have been sighted and erect signs that would inform bird-watchers of the birds’ presence.

The river valley, particularly with its north-south orientation, serves as a corridor for both spring and fall migrations. The Kittatinny Ridge, a major migration path for raptors, runs parallel to the river. This area supports numerous birds on both the federal and state lists for endangered species and species of concern. Three of these—bald eagles, peregrine falcons and osprey—nest along the river.

Recently, eight volunteer monitors identified 125 species of birds in the area around the river, according to Leo. A week ago, a flock of ring-billed gulls perched on the top of the Roebling Bridge. The birds have been sighted in the area periodically for the past month.

In New York State in 2005, Audubon New York, following the lead of the Pennsylvania society, designated the Upper Delaware River Valley as an IBA. There is a second IBA at the Mongaup River Valley which was designated a few years ago. The area is recognized as a significant breeding area for the American eagle.

Audubon New York has not yet moved to designate certain sites along the New York side to be bird watching sites distinguishable from the eagle watching sites that already exist.

The protection of bird habitats

An important aim of the program is to protect the habitats that are essential to the physical wellbeing of the bird population.

“Unless we slow the rapid destruction and degradation of habitats, populations of many birds may decline to dangerously low levels,” Leo said. “The IBA program was established to reverse declining trends in bird populations.”

There are 78 IBAs in Pennsylvania, encompassing over one million acres of Pennsylvania’s public and private lands. These areas include migratory staging areas, winter roost sites and prime breeding areas for songbirds, wading birds, shorebirds and other species.

The economics of bird watching

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, healthy bird populations contribute to a healthy economy. “Not only do Americans spend more than $3.5 billion each year on bird seed, houses, baths and feeders, but nearly 18 million adults take trips annually for the express purpose of watching birds,” the service said on its website. “On these trips, bird watchers buy gasoline, food, cameras, film, souvenirs and other supplies. All told, $29 billion is pumped into the economy each year by bird and other wildlife watchers.”

“Bird watching is the fastest growing outdoor sport today,” said Lori McKean, director of the Eagle Institute.

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Audubon bird expert Barbara Leo holds sign a that will be replicated along the river. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Scott Rando
Bald eagles are not the only raptors that may be seen locally. Ospreys like this one live almost entirely on live fish that they catch by diving feet first into the water. Like bald eagles, their population was decimated by DDT, but they are making a comeback. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Scott Rando
This male Baltimore oriole is one of the more colorful of the avian denizens of the Delaware River Valley. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Scott Rando
The green heron is one of many water birds that frequent our area. (Click for larger version)