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Celebrating Birder Broker's Successful First Year

Hermit Thrush nest photographed by Nathaniel Sharp during a Birder Broker outing with a Montgomery Woodlots landowner.

By Bridget Butler, Bird Diva Consulting

As we begin to prepare for our second year of the Birder Broker project, we’d like to share with you the results of our successful pilot year.  For those who were unaware of this program’s trial run, Birder Broker is a collaborative program between VCE’s Vermont Atlas of Life and Bird Diva Consulting that pairs landowners with experienced birders to survey breeding bird populations. On three occasions in June and early July, these newly-formed teams survey and document bird species present on the landowner’s property using Vermont eBird Mobile. “Relationship building is one of the most important parts,” explains Bridget Butler, owner of Bird Diva Consulting. “Oftentimes the landowners we meet feel overwhelmed with all of their [land management] options. They have a strong connection to their land and the animals living there, and want to do the right thing, but don’t exactly know where to begin. So, we connect them with people who have this [birding] skill and are looking for new opportunities.” Through this program, landowners develop a deeper understanding of the birds present on their property and experienced birders get to explore a new patch of land. Ultimately, it’s a win-win!

Educating landowners and providing new birding opportunities are not Birder Broker’s only objectives. Currently, over 80% of Vermont’s land is held in private ownership. Most bird population monitoring takes place along roadsides and in publicly owned land. Therefore, the exclusion of privately owned land from our dataset clearly represents a big missing piece of the bird population status puzzle. By partnering with landowners all over Vermont, Birder Broker provides access to these areas of unexplored bird habitat. Through surveying enrolled properties using Vermont eBird, we can get a clearer picture of where and when birds are raising young in Vermont. As Birder Broker matures, we expect to gather valuable data that will help us paint this picture for ourselves and our participants, which will ultimately help better inform bird conservation across the state.

With the aforementioned goals in mind, the first year certainly did not disappoint. “From Great Blue Heron rookeries to Hermit Thrush nests, birder-landowner pairs had plenty of exceptional bird encounters during the 2019 breeding season,” explains Nathaniel Sharp, VCE’s Birder Broker coordinator, in the program’s end-of-season report. Twenty-nine landowners and 26 birders participated and created a total of 41 Vermont eBird checklists. Birders who submitted checklists documented 1,761 individual birds accounting for a staggering 92 species, nearly a quarter of all bird species ever recorded in Vermont. Most of these checklist entries contained photos, audio recordings, and “Breeding Codes”—all valuable information that contributes to the deeper understanding of Vermont’s birds that Birder Broker is creating.

Cold Hollow to Canada had four Woodlots landowners paired with birders in three towns and almost all the teams completed each of the three surveys for the season. Birders logged a total of 374 individual birds with a total of 44 bird species represented across the four properties. The Ovenbird rose to the top of the list for the most reported species for all the properties at 57 individuals, followed by Red-eyed Vireo (49), Black-capped Chickadee (28), Black-throated Blue Warbler (20) and Hermit Thrush (20). Birds of interest based on CHC’s work with Audubon Vermont included 11 of the 12 Birder’s Dozen birds - Wood Thrush (10), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (4), Eastern Wood-Pewee (1), Blue-headed Vireo (1), Veery (12), White-throated Sparrow (9), Chestnut-sided Warbler (7), Black-throated Blue Warbler (20), Canada Warbler (2), and Scarlet Tanager (2).

We are not the only ones who saw this first year as a success. Responses to a participant survey sent out after the season’s end reflected an overwhelmingly positive experience. When asked about their favorite aspect of Birder Broker, one birder answered that it was “meeting landowners with a common interest in birds and conservation [and] being able to look for birds in a new location that was previously unreported in eBird.” Landowners similarly valued the new connections Birder Broker forged. “[My birder partner] was so knowledgeable and encouraging. Discovering the variety of birds here with her opens one’s senses and creates a deeper connection” one participating landowner reported. “Ultimately, we were very encouraged by all survey respondents answering that they would recommend this program to others,” said Nathaniel. “It makes us optimistic about the program’s future.”

These surveys also let us know which areas need attention next year. Through feedback we received from participants, we developed three focus areas for improvement in the 2020 Birder Broker season.

  • Explore strategies for recruiting participants, especially expert birders so that we can increase the number of matches we’re able to make;
  • Get the word out earlier so that birders and landowners have a bit of pre-season time to prepare for their surveys; and
  • Provide birders with additional training on how to use the Vermont eBird mobile app and improve their reporting through the use of breeding codes and other Vermont eBird features

We have set a goal in 2020 of partnering 30 or more birders with 30 or more landowners, contributing at least 60 complete Vermont eBird checklists to Birder Broker, and hosting two Vermont eBird training sessions for birders and landowners alike. By pursuing these goals, we hope to help Birder Broker continue to grow and improve.

Between the promising results and excellent feedback, we believe that Birder Broker has the ability to make a huge impact in Vermont and beyond. “I see this as something that can expand beyond Vermont,” said Bridget when asked about her vision for the program’s future. “I think other organizations would definitely be interested in adopting a similar project.” Connecting landowners and birders offers many opportunities to inventory previously unexplored private land, and educate members of our community about the avian biodiversity on their property and the role land management plays in supporting it. In New England’s increasingly fragmented landscape, these relationships are vital and may hold some of the keys to improving land management in the future. 

While our application date for birders and landowners new to the program has closed for the 2020 field season, there are many opportunities to learn more about the birds on your property: check out Audubon Vermont’s Healthy Forest Initiative homepage or read the Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Status of Vermont Forest Birds report. We hope you will consider applying to Birder Broker in future seasons. 

We sincerely thank the birders and landowners who made this past year possible. We look forward to working with Cold Hollow to Canada again in 2020!