A Successful Year Monitoring Golden-winged Warblers in North Carolina

Please welcome guest-blogger and member of Audubon North Carolina’s Golden-winged Warbler field team, Anna Tisdale. She spent the season working to conserve and support Golden-winged Warblers and their habitats in Western North Carolina. Here, she has detailed the results of the 2013 season.

For the North Carolina Audubon Golden-winged Warbler team, the 2013 field season has been a memorable one.  Everything from the weather to the birds’ activity was anything but “normal”. Although our field crew consisted of a fresh batch of technicians, who had yet to experience working with the Golden-wings, we knew that this season would be a unique one.

This year, we had a field crew and group of volunteers that brought a suite of skills to the table. Anna Tisdale, John Jones, Valerie Bruchon, Clifton Avery and Zach West were our full-time technicians. Anna, John and Zach are current graduate students at Appalachian State University, while Clifton will graduate in 2014. Valerie completed her Bachelor’s of Science degree at App this spring before the field season started.

Of the many volunteers that suited up for the field, the team was fortunate enough to have the help of Alex Dawson and Nancy Fisher (undergraduates at App State in biology) and Chloe Burdick and Eric Rayfield (undergraduates at Lees McRae).  We also had the great help and training of Alex Bentz and Ed Burress, who have worked on Golden-winged Warblers with Audubon NC for several years.  Ed and Alex came up for a week to help train the new crew.

Our 10 field sites were a mix of public and privately owned land that totaled 456 acres. These included sites throughout the Boone area—Rich Mountain, Snake Mountain, Elk Knob State Park, Sugar Grove, and Creston—as well as sites in Roaring Creek on the North Carolina side of Roan Mountain, and one site in Tennessee at Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area.

Winter was lazy in leaving the area this year, with the first several weeks of the field season having frosty mornings. The vegetation showed this in its stunted growth, leaving very little nesting quality habitat for our birds. This shift in timing caused a late arrival for the birds, with our first male being sited off Isaac’s Branch Road on May 25th—three weeks after last year’s first sighting date!

Though the birds seem to trickle in this season, our data capture for our area was some of the most successful yet. Of the sites monitored, 74 male Golden-Wings’ territories were mapped. In addition, two Brewster’s males, and one Lawrence’s male also established territories in our sites.

The Lawrence’s Warbler sighting was the first in over a decade for the area!

This year, three males, banded during years past, returned to their territories. Of all the males mapped, 30 were newly banded this year with USFWS bands and a unique color band combination.

Once June rolled in, with its warming weather and more lush greenery, the females began to nest, and so began the difficult task of monitoring those nests. Thanks to the enthusiasm and comradery of our team and volunteers, a total of 39 nests were found, a record for the North Carolina field crew!

Once nests began to fledge, and the Golden-wing activity began to settle down, our work continued with vegetation measurements. A total of 277 points (76 being nest and random paired points to the nest) were surveyed. Although the birds became quiet, many other fauna were in full summer swing. Several day old fawns were spotted during the vegetation measurements, and a Black Bear cub was even spotted one morning.

We ended the field season ecstatic with the amount of data collected, especially the number of nests found. Many of the current crew hopes to return next season for even more success. Some of the team members are staying active with Golden-wings through this off-season through independent study and internships. They are conducting projects on mapping, wintering grounds, or preparing for graduate theses related to Golden-wings.

The crew would also like to thank all who are involved in the Golden-winged Warbler Conservation movement, but especially those land owners and managers who have given their support to this cause.

For more information on the many conservation programs with Audubon North Carolina, visit our website.