VCU Rice Center

Photo of moth on flowering plant
News and events
July 8, 2015

Living in a world full of hazards

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Bryan Watts

Black over red 3-8 was a male peregrine falcon that was hatched on a railroad bridge that crosses the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, VA, in 1993. Within 3 years the bird established a new breeding territory on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge near Hopewell, VA, and produced 27 young over the next 10 years. On 12 February 2007 the bird was found dead near the bridge. Like so many other peregrines that we have tracked over time, the old male flew into a guy wire and was killed.

Male peregrine

Male peregrine 3-8 was killed when it flew into a guy wire near its eyrie on the Benjamin Harrison Bridge in 2007. From tracking studies in Virginia we have determined that flying into structures like wires is one of the leading causes of mortality for peregrines. Photo by Bryan Watts.

We kill billions of birds across the globe every year. Many of these birds are like 3-8, unintentional casualties of the infrastructure we have built to support modern society. They fly into hazards that we have erected in their airspace like tall buildings, transmission lines, radio towers, and wind turbines. They are poisoned by chemicals or soiled by oil spills. They become entangled in fishing gear or are hit by cars or trains or airplanes. Some are killed intentionally by hunters or by people who classify them as pests.

Great blue heron found dead under a roadside power line.

Great blue heron found dead under a roadside power line. Work by The Center for Conservation Biology and other research groups has determined that siting of power lines is the primary factor influencing strike-related mortality. Lines should be sited in areas away from primary flightlines. Photo by Bryan Watts.

Two northern gannets tangled in a long-line fishing rig.

Two northern gannets tangled in a long-line fishing rig. Fishing bycatch is a major source of mortality for seabirds throughout the world. Photo by Bryan Watts.

Like with human mortality, we have spent considerable time and effort to quantify the major causes of death. In the United States alone, we estimate that every year nearly 60 million birds are killed by vehicles, 50 million are killed by communication towers, 70 million are killed by pesticides and possibly as many as 1 billion are killed when they fly into buildings. A recent study has estimated that free-ranging domestic cats in the United States kill more than 1 billion birds annually. Understanding mortality factors is an important step toward improving survival. However, mortality factors represent only one side of the story.

American robin hit by a car

American robin hit by a car along a major interstate. Vehicle strikes are estimated to kill 60 million birds, including mostly passerines, annually in the United States alone. Photo by Bart Paxton.

From a conservation perspective, the central question is not how many individuals are killed annually but whether populations have the capacity to absorb the mortality incurred and still reach management objectives. Understanding the relationship between realized mortality rates and sustainable mortality limits serves to focus management actions on factors that have the potential to cause population declines. Over the past several years, The Center for Conservation Biology has been borrowing from harvest theory to estimate sustainable mortality limits for species of conservation concern.

Female osprey shot on nest

Female osprey shot on nest along the York River in Virginia while incubating two eggs. This type of indiscriminate poaching is illegal and has no place in modern society. Photo by Andy Glass.

In 2010, CCB evaluated sustainable mortality limits for waterbird populations using the Western North Atlantic to provide a foundation for understanding potential impacts of offshore wind development (read Wind and Waterbirds). More recently, we have worked with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to estimate sustainable mortality limits for populations of migratory shorebirds using the Atlantic Flyway to better understand the potential impact of shorebird hunting. A paper from this work will be published during the summer of 2015 and is now available online. Following this effort, we have recently worked to estimate sustainable mortality limits for shorebirds using the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to better understand how hunting and other factors may be causing population declines.

A bag of of shorebirds.

A “bag” of shorebirds from a hunting swamp on Guadeloupe. The Center has been focused on modeling mortality limits for shorebirds to better understand how hunting may be involved in ongoing population declines. Photo by Anthony Levesque.

July 7, 2015

Virginia Red-cockaded Woodpeckers finish season by fledging 21 young birds

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Mike Wilson

The breeding season for red-cockaded woodpeckers at the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve drew to a close with fledge checks completed during June and July. Thirteen breeding groups produced only 21 young, including 10 males and 11 females. The term “breeding group” is used because red-cockaded woodpeckers are cooperative breeders where a breeding pair is often assisted in incubation or nest provisioning by helper birds. The 2015 reproductive rate was low compared to the past several years when young per pair has averaged 1.5. Five of the 13 breeding groups that laid eggs failed to fledge any young and one group never laid eggs this season. The lower reproductive output this season was due in part to new breeding pairs that have settled in lower quality habitat and/or are inexperienced. Inexperienced pairs seem to raise fewer young in their first few years. Even some of the long-standing breeding groups that have had a recent turnover of breeding individuals fledged fewer birds than usual. The groups that have retained the same breeding individuals for at least the last 3 years produced larger (3-4 young) broods.

A young red-cockaded woodpecker blissfully sleeps

A young red-cockaded woodpecker blissfully sleeps off the banding experience. This young bird will not open its eyes for another 3 days. Photo by Bryan Watts.

The low reproductive output this season does not undermine the overall success of red-cockaded woodpecker population growth and habitat management at the Preserve. The number of potential breeding groups has almost doubled since 2010. Three new breeding pairs were established in the 2014 breeding season including a site pioneered without the facilitation of artificial recruitment cavities, a first in Virginia since the 1980s. Long term restoration of the habitat at Piney Grove by the Nature Conservancy along with partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, has now provided red-cockaded woodpeckers with substantially more breeding and foraging opportunities than have ever existed at this site. This management has benefitted the entire suite of species that rely on the open-canopy southeastern pine ecosystem. The preserve harbors the greatest density of northern bobwhites, red-headed woodpeckers, brown-headed nuthatches, prairie warblers, and field sparrows in Virginia. The Piney Grove Preserve serves as a model for southeastern pine management within the region and, along with adjacent sites such as the Big Woods Wildlife Management Area and State Forest, forms the cornerstone for long-term ecosystem restoration.

Preparing a color band to be applied to a young red-cockaded woodpecker

Preparing a color band to be applied to a young red-cockaded woodpecker. Unique combinations of color bands are used to identify and follow individuals through their entire lives. Photo by Bryan Watts.

The Center for Conservation Biology will continue annual monitoring of this population with the next activity being the winter census, during which all red-cockaded woodpeckers in the population will be counted to determine status and movement of individuals between groups.

The brood's runt

Consistent with other broods during the 2015 breeding season, this brood has a runt (bottom) that weighed less than half of its larger siblings. This individual did not survive to fledging age. Brood reduction via mortality of smaller young is a common occurrence that serves to match the energy demand of the brood to that provided by parents and insures that at least some young remain healthy and survive to fledging age. Photo by Bryan Watts.

July 6, 2015

CCB launches new and improved Mapping Portal

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Marie Pitts and Bryan Watts

Information is the one lasting contribution that science makes to society. Information is also the common thread that joins all of the diverse disciplines of conservation biology together. The primary focus of The Center for Conservation Biology is the collection, interpretation, and dissemination of information that is central to solving today’s environmental problems. We believe that information is vital to effective conservation and we are committed to meeting the information needs of an expanding community of end users.

In 2009, The Center launched the Virginia Bald Eagle Nest Locator, an online platform that allows users to interact with up-to-date eagle survey results. Due to regulatory requirements, this data resource is in high demand and making the information available online has improved and streamlined the permitting process. This application receives more than 20,000 visits per year. To learn more about the bald eagle annual survey, or to interact with survey data, visit the Eagle Nest Locator data in the Mapping Portal.

An adult bald eagle and two 10-wk old chicks near a nest

An adult bald eagle hangs out near the nest with two 10-wk old chicks along the James River. The Eagle Nest Locator, which displays data from the bald eagle annual survey, is available with new tools on the CCB Mapping Portal. Photo by Bryan Watts.

Screenshot example of the Eagle Nest Locator

Example of the Eagle Nest Locator, including the primary and secondary butter areas.

Responding to the conservation community, The Center has added new features to the Eagle Nest Locator. Beginning in early 2015, The Center requested assistance from AidData (a group with tremendous technical capacity that provides geo-referenced data focused on global aid) to update the features and offerings of the Mapping Portal. Some notable upgrades include: a substantial distance and area measuring tool, a “Generate Link” button that saves the current map view in the URL bar so that you can bookmark or share it with others, a “Print Report” button that generates a one-page report pdf file, and a set of Draw Tools that allow you to add your own lines, shapes, and markers. You can learn more about the new Mapping Portal features on the Mapping Portal FAQ page.

Screenshot of the CCB Mapping Portal

Main components of the CCB Mapping Portal.

Screenshot of the Print Report tool

The “Print Report” tool creates a one-page pdf file that includes the current map view, the current active legend, the names of all active layers, the coordinates of the map center, the date the report was generated, and a link to map at the time the report was generated.

In addition to several new applications, CCB is providing an expanded list of data resources to the Mapping Portal including the National Eagle Roost Registry and recent Colonial Waterbird Surveys. Communal roosts used by bald and golden eagles are locations where numerous eagles spend the night. Roosts are federally protected from disturbance, and the Mapping Portal provides information for regulators by showing roost centroids, polygons, primary/secondary buffers, and a topographic map. Waterbird species are also represented in the Mapping Portal, with layers for the 2003, 2008, and 2013 Colonial Waterbird Surveys. All of these surveys have systematically covered all 24 species of colonial waterbirds throughout the Coastal Plain province of Virginia, and allow for the development of conservation strategies for these sensitive populations. Layers for ongoing citizen science projects OspreyWatch and the U.S. Nightjar Survey have also been added. Stay tuned for newly added data layers!

Brown pelican and double-crested cormorant chicks

Brown pelican and double-crested cormorant chicks on Smith Island in the upper Chesapeake Bay. Both pelicans and cormorants are counted in the CCB colonial waterbird surveys. Surveys from 2003, 2008, and 2013 are currently available to view in the Mapping Portal. Photo by Bryan Watts.

Screenshot of website

The OspreyWatch layer shows a live feed from the website, where users around the globe contribute osprey breeding data.

Additional Links:
Data Distribution Policy
Data Use Agreement

July 2, 2015

Red Skies at Morning, Black Rail Warning

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Mike Wilson

Like the old sailor’s adage, surveys conducted by The Center for Conservation Biology are providing an ominous forecast on the status of black rails within the mid-Atlantic region. Black rails are declining rapidly and are on a crash course for extirpation from the mid-Atlantic region in our lifetime. Biologists at CCB have been conducting a multi-year effort to document the distribution of the black rail throughout this region and recently completed the 2nd year of a 2-year study to determine the status of black rail in North Carolina. It is our hope that locating populations of this species will allow for their protection and management and will help to ensure their future.

An ominous red sky appears in the morning

An ominous red sky appears in the morning as the black rail survey team finishes the all-night survey on the water to document the distribution of black rails. Survey results are forecasting an impending doom for this species unless conservation actions are taken to prevent their extirpation. Photo by Zak Poulton.

Results of the black rail survey in North Carolina tell a tale much like those of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. In the mid-Atlantic, black rails currently occur in a small number of places relative to the amount of available marsh habitat and have declined substantially within their greatest strongholds. We detected black rails at only 19 of 262 survey points in North Carolina, with 9 of these positive locations in close proximity to one another on the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge has long been known to harbor a significant population of black rails with historical accounts of more than 30 birds. However, surveys on the refuge over the last two years have only detected 8 birds. The remaining 10 detections were widely scattered across marshes in coastal counties, with locations including areas such as the Hobucken marshes, where rails have been known to occur since the 1990s. Detections at these off-refuge locations were typically of single birds.

Black rail

Black rail. Photo by David Seibel.

The reasons for the decline of black rails are not completely understood. It is thought that declines may be a result of sea-level rise, nest predators, mosquito control (i.e., ditching and insecticides) and other incompatible management such as prescribed burning, or a combination of these factors. The mid-Atlantic region is projected to undergo a 2-meter rise in sea level in the next 100 years. Rising sea-level can negatively influence habitat over the long term by transforming the high marsh that rails rely on for breeding sites into low marsh, or in the short term by disrupting reproduction due to higher than normal flooding that damages nests and drowns eggs. Overall, the dramatic population loss of Black Rails across eastern tidal salt marshes provides indication that the ecosystem they rely on is no longer suitable. Emergency management actions are required to prevent further population loss and begin restoration.

Project funding for the North Carolina black rails survey is made available through partnership with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dan McCauley

CCB technician Dan McCauley, dons an anti-bug suit while conducting black rail surveys on a marsh edge in North Carolina. Photo by accompanying biologist and boat captain, Zak Poulton.

July 1, 2015

CCB completes successful season of Red Knot resighting in Georgia

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Fletcher Smith and Bryan Watts

Conditions within spring staging sites along the western Atlantic Coast are critical to the future of the rufa population of red knots, which was recently listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. While staging within these sites, birds must build a large enough energy reserve to complete their flight to the Arctic and arrive with enough of a surplus to initiate reproduction and take advantage of the short breeding season. Although considerable work has been conducted to identify and study staging sites within the mid-Atlantic region, much less is known about the distribution and status of sites along the south Atlantic Coast. Filling information gaps about the importance of this region in the life cycle of this imperiled population has become a conservation priority.

Red knot in breeding plumage

Red knot in breeding plumage stages along the Georgia Coast in May. Photo by Perri Rothemich.

A flagged red knot

A flagged red knot forages along the Georgia Coast. This knot was seen by researchers in San Antonio Oeste, Argentina, until the large migratory flocks departed there on April 26th and 27th. The bird was first seen in Georgia on May 7th at Pelican Spit, completing the 6,000-mile journey in at most 10 days. Photo by Perri Rothemich.

The Center for Conservation Biology recently completed the 2nd year of a 3-year study of red knot distribution and population size in coastal Georgia during spring migration. The focus of fieldwork was to use previously flagged birds to examine duration of residency, local movements, connectivity with other staging areas and the number of birds using the coast of Georgia. The project focused on several locations and involved repeated visits to these sites to read leg flags. Information will be used to better understand the importance of the south Atlantic Coast and to designate critical habitat for this population.

CCB technician Amy Whitear

CCB technician Amy Whitear uses a spotting scope to resight red knots foraging among spawning Horseshoe Crabs along the Georgia coast. Photo by Fletcher Smith.

One of the interesting observations during the 2015 season was the foraging flexibility demonstrated by the knots staging in Georgia. Throughout April, knots fed on small clams. As horseshoe crab spawning events were initiated in late April and early May, knots fed on concentrations of crab eggs during high tide and would then switch to feeding on clams when the outgoing tide exposed them to the birds. This two-fisted strategy is highly efficient and different than those of knots in Delaware Bay that feed mostly on horseshoe crabs and knots in Virginia that feed mostly on clams and mussels. In Georgia, the knots fed exclusively on clams in April, fed on clams and crab eggs in late April through mid-May and then fed exclusively on crab eggs in late May. Large concentrations of other shorebirds (including semi-palmated sandpipers, short-billed dowitchers, sanderlings, and ruddy turnstones) were observed feeding on horseshoe crab eggs as well.

Horseshoe crabs spawn on a sand bar

Horseshoe crabs spawn on a sand bar along the Georgia coast. Similar spawning events took place in several locations daily between late April and the 3rd week of May. Photo by Fletcher Smith.

Several large flocks of red knots were monitored along the coast between Tybee Island and Brunswick. The peak count was on the 23rd of May, when approximately 6,000 knots were seen at the primary roosting and foraging sites. Over 5,000 knots departed Georgia between 24 and 26 May. This late departure suggests that the birds are flying directly from the Georgia Coast to arctic breeding grounds.

A mixed flock of shorebirds forage on horseshoe crab eggs

A mixed flock of shorebirds forage on horseshoe crab eggs on a rising tide in coastal Georgia. Photo by Hillary Thompson.

This project is a collaborative effort by US Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, The Nature Conservancy, and The Center for Conservation Biology. Significant assistance was provided by the staff of Little St. Simons Island and by Pat and Doris Leary and Perri Rothemich. Funding for the three-year project is provided by US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Georgia Power, and The Center for Conservation Biology.

June 24, 2015

Rediscovering Dolly

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Bryan Watts

We mark wildlife in order to identify individuals during future encounters. For some individuals this allows us to determine where they go, how long they live, where they breed and how many young they produce over a lifetime. Releasing a banded bird into the wild is often coupled with a sense of possibility and wonder. We wonder if we will ever hear about this bird again. Will someone, somewhere identify the bird and provide a report of the encounter? In a similar way, when we encounter a marked bird we wonder when and where it was marked and by whom. For some, the story that emerges is unexpectedly rich.

Dolly on her breeding territory along the James River
A beautiful photo of Dolly on her breeding territory along the James River. Photo by Lynda Richardson.

On 26 April 2005, an eaglet was hatched in the Birmingham Zoo by two non-releasable adults given the names Camilla and Gonzo. Camilla was brought to the zoo in 1985 after being shot in Florida. Gonzo was also brought to the zoo in 1985 after he suffered an injury from fishing gear near Seattle, Washington. The eaglet produced by the pair was raised by the zoo until it was 6 weeks old, then driven by Cindy Pinger (Curator of Birds) on 8 June 2005 to the American Eagle Foundation’s (AEF) Douglas Lake hacking facility near Dandridge, Tennessee. The bird was banded with an aluminum band that bore the unique code 629-43814. Following a national naming contest held by AEF, the eaglet was named Dolly in honor of country music legend and AEF patron Dolly Parton.

Dolly along the shoreline of Swift Creek Reservoir
Dolly along the shoreline of Swift Creek Reservoir several months after release on Douglas Lake. She was looking ragged in her second year. Photo by David Bean.

“Dolly” the eagle was housed in the hack tower overlooking Douglas Lake until release on 26 July when she was 13 weeks old. Two days before release, Dolly was fitted with a patagial marker on her left wing that read “5C” in orange digits on a white oval over a green background. On this same day, Dolly was fitted with a tail-mounted radio transmitter and weighed. She weighed 9.8 pounds. After dispersal from the hack site, Dolly was not observed again until 7 months later, when she was photographed by David Bean on 29 March 2006 and identified by her patagial marker on Swift Creek Reservoir just 12 miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia. Following this unusual encounter, Dolly was not noticed again for more than 3 years.

Dolly's aluminum United States Geological Survey band with partial code
Dolly’s aluminum United States Geological Survey band with partial code. Many photos were used to piece together the full code needed to identify Dolly. Photo by Dave Parish.

Captain Mike Ostrander from Richmond runs fishing, wildlife viewing, and history boat tours along a stretch of the James River referred to as Jefferson’s Reach. In the fall of 2009, Ostrander observed an eagle pair establishing a territory along the shoreline of Hatcher’s Island. He would later recognize that the female adult was banded and nicknamed her “Bandit.” Dolly had likely lost the patagial marker and transmitter years before. It would take a number of skilled photographers and many photographs to eventually piece together the aluminum band code 629-43814 to identify Dolly and unlock her long story.

Dolly's young in the nest
Dolly’s young in the nest (rt side) along Hatcher Island on 29 April 2015. Photo by Bryan Watts.

Since the fall of 2009, Ostrander has chronicled the details of Dolly’s life along Jefferson’s Reach. He has watched her lose several nests to storms only to rebuild before each breeding season. He has documented at least 3 different mates. For 4 years he has observed Dolly fight to keep her territory against repeated intrusions by competing females, including one bird that persisted along the boundary of the territory for more than a year. He has observed her vacate the territory when injured only to reappear and exert her control unexpectedly. Although Dolly has attempted to breed through the years, she produced no young until 2015.

Dolly watching over young near fledging age in nest
Dolly (lft) watching over young near fledging age in nest along Hatcher Island on 15 June 2015. Photo by Bryan Watts.

Dolly, now in her 11th calendar year and 6th breeding season, produced a single young in 2015. During CCB’s first aerial survey of the James on 7 March, we observed Dolly incubating. Later in the spring on 29 April, we observed a single young in the nest that was approximately 2 weeks old. This young was observed in the nest throughout the late spring and successfully fledged in June.

From an unlikely beginning in an urban zoo, Dolly has struggled to establish herself and produce young along the James River during a time in the population’s recovery when competitors are many. People along the way who care about bald eagles have contributed to her story, and others have discovered her history through their own curiosity. She has become a fixture along the shoreline of Hatcher Island.

To see Dolly in person and the many eagles of Jefferson’s Reach, take a trip with Captain Mike Ostrander along the James River.

June 16, 2015

VCU Rice Rivers Center researchers publish new work on climate change study

In an interview with the online journal, Scott Neubauer, Ph.D., discusses his work on measuring the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change.

Read more from »

Ariel photograph of wetlands

June 16, 2015

Eagles continue their advance along James River

VCU Rice Rivers Center collaborator: Center for Conservation Biology

By Bryan Watts

The James River continues to be one of the best barometers of bald eagle recovery within the Chesapeake Bay and likely the nation. Not only does the breeding population continue to rise to new highs year after year, but the birds are revealing patterns that reflect their shifting ecology.

A 3-chick brood stands in a nest
A 3-chick brood stands in a nest along the James River. Three-chick broods were produced by only 10% of pairs in 2015 but in other years have represented as much as 20%. Photo by Bryan Watts.

The 2015 aerial survey of the James conducted by The Center for Conservation Biology recorded 236 pairs that produced 313 young. The population increase (6%) over the 2014 season is slightly lower than the 30-year average and begs the question of when the growth of this population will begin to level off. Productivity (1.3 chicks/pair) is comparable to that recorded on the river over the past ten years, with 20% of pairs failing to produce any young and 10% of pairs producing three-chick broods.

Graph illustrating the history of the bald eagle breeding population
Graph illustrating the history of the bald eagle breeding population along the James River since 1964. Recovery in recent years has been dramatic. Data from The Center for Conservation Biology

The sheer size of the population, its momentum, and the short period of recovery from the DDT era are astounding. In 1990 the James supported only 18 breeding pairs of eagles, and as recently as 2000, the river supported only 57 pairs. Charles City County alone now supports 51 pairs. The concentration of pairs within this historic county is part of a larger pattern of distribution along the river. Much of the colonization over the past 20 years has occurred within the upper, low-salinity reach of the watershed. In the early 2000s, breeding density was 4-fold higher along the freshwater reaches compared to the saltier reaches near the mouth of the river. Over the past 15 years, the density gap has continued to widen with the fresher areas now supporting densities more than 10 times higher than those of areas closer to the mouth of the river. This distribution pattern points to the areas along the river that are best suited to support breeding eagles. These same areas are where we should focus eagle management activities.

Maps comparing the 2015 population of breeding eagle pairs to that surveyed in 2000
Maps comparing the 2015 population of breeding eagle pairs to that surveyed in 2000. Data from The Center for Conservation Biology

Since the aerial survey along the James River was initiated in 1962, we have seen the population decline to zero only to roar back in recent years to modern highs. Now that the population appears to be “out of the woods,” why do we continue to invest in surveys of this recovering population? The answer is that this ecological story is not complete. Many questions remain that are significant not just to eagles but to understanding many other predator populations across the planet.

Visit CCB’s Eagle Nest Locator to access an interactive map of nest locations along the James River, or learn more about CCB’s Annual Bald Eagle Survey.

June 10, 2015

Trailblazers club visits Rice Rivers Center

The Trailblazers of Ford’s Colony visited the VCU Rice Rivers Center on May 14; about 30 people came to hike the trails, kayak through the wetlands and bike the surrounding beautiful area. This group focuses on planning visits to sites of “interest” and chose the RRC as one which was of definite interest to this engaged and active group of outdoor adventurers. Having been given a brief presentation on the research, education and outreach done at and through the Center, a participant noted, “It is so good that you are doing this important work.”

Trailblazers club

June 10, 2015

Saving a songbird

The golden-winged warbler (GWWA) is a declining migratory songbird that requires high elevation shrubland habitat. In Virginia, the highest concentration of this species is in the mountains that mark the headwaters of the James and Potomac Rivers (specifically, in Highland and Bath Counties). Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and The Nature Conservancy are all members of the Virginia GWWA Partners, a working group of the Virginia Bird Conservation Initiative. VDGIF contracted with Dr. Lesley Bulluck (Assistant Professor of Biology and an Affiliate Faculty Member of the VCU Rice Rivers Center) to purchase and deploy 25 geolocators in the Allegheny Highlands this spring. This effort is part of a larger, range-wide effort to understand the degree of migratory connectedness among breeding populations in North America and non-breeding areas in central and South America resulting in further connectivity between researchers from far flung parts of the globe — a collaboration perfectly exemplified by the assistance given by three crew members from the University of Minnesota who visited the Rice Rivers Center to show the team how to deploy the units.

Golden-winged warbler male with geolocator
Golden-winged warbler male with geolocator

Geolocators ready to deploy
Geolocators ready to deploy

From left: Gunnar Kramer (with field technicians Kate and Cassie) of University of Minnesota; Jenna Dodson, Nik Moy, and Lesley Bulluck of VCU
From left: Gunnar Kramer (with field technicians Kate and Cassie) of University of Minnesota; Jenna Dodson, Nik Moy, and Lesley Bulluck of VCU

June 10, 2015

“Footprints on the James” class


Beginning on May 18, the much-anticipated return of this fascinating class began. Starting with preparations in town at the VCU Outing Rental Center, the class geared up for a four week journey that will cover the length of the James River. From the headwaters near Irongate all the way to Jamestown, the class is traveling in canoes and kayaks and camping along the way, including a stop at the VCU Rice Rivers Center. The aim of the class is to explore the past and present of the river from a historical and biological standpoint, paying particular attention to the influences these areas have on each other. The class is a collaboration between the Department of Biology and the Center for Environmental Studies.

Follow the Footprints via this story tour:

Follow the Footprints on Instagram: