Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

How To

Paradise Pond: A Model of Community Conservation
by Ian Hartzler and Cecilia Riley, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

Woodlots in the Gulf of Mexico region provide vital stopover habitat for 269 species of neotropical migratory birds. After millions of songbirds either cross or circumnavigate the gulf, they seek out these habitats in which to rest and replenish fat reserves before continuing their migration. These near-coastal habitats can mean the difference between life and death, especially when unfavorable weather conditions occur over the gulf.

In the Gulf Coast region, urban sprawl and other development is rapidly consuming the habitats needed by migratory birds. However, a counterbalance is coming into play: nature-based tourism, which is developing into a major industry in this region. Through planning and understanding the needs of neotropical migrants, a visionary community can successfully protect the habitat crucial to these birds, aiding in their survival while expanding its economy.

The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (Observatory), whose mission is to study and conserve birds and their habitats in and around the gulf, works with such communities to protect habitat. It stimulates the development of partnerships and provides technical expertise. The Observatory has developed a model for helping cities and towns conserve habitat. Its work with the city of Port Aransas, Texas, to protect Paradise Pond clearly illustrates the model.

The first step is to identify priority habitat. Paradise Pond, which lies within Port Aransas’ city limits on Mustang Island, is the only natural, permanent freshwater wetland on the island. The pond is surrounded by a dense woodlot of black willow—an important stopover habitat for migratory birds. Birders have long touted the value of the pond. Analyses of aerial maps of the region and radar images of birds in migration have confirmed their claims.

The model’s second step is to document the importance of protecting the selected site. Over a 4-year period, the Observatory documented bird activity at Paradise Pond, assessed threats to the site, and considered the needs of the community. Conservation of the site was a good fit with the city’s plan to provide residents a system of “pocket-parks” and to increase its ecotourism industry.

The model next calls for partnership building. Port Aransas’ mayor, city manager, and city engineer enthusiastically agreed to participate in the project, as did a number of local birders. The project received a significant boost when two landowners donated their properties to help establish the Paradise Pond Sanctuary.

The model finally deals with project funding. The funding process is facilitated when a group of partners rallies around a high-priority project. The sanctuary’s partnership leveraged land donations, in-kind services, and a private grant to secure additional monies for visitor enhancements at the pond and to purchase a buffer area near the sanctuary.

With a boardwalk and state-of-the-art visitor facilities now complete, Paradise Pond has been incorporated into Port Aransas’ pocket-parks system and is being enjoyed by an increasing number of visitors. This is a landmark example that demonstrates how conservation organizations can work with communities to protect important habitat for birds and people.

For more information, contact Ian Hartzler, Gulf Crossings Project Manager, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, 103 West Highway 332, Lake Jackson, Texas 77566, (979) 480-0999, ihartzler@gcbo.org.

Calumet BioBlitz
by Don Parker, Chicago Wilderness

Photos by John Weinstein, © 2002 The Field Museum

As if to pull in diners for a Friday night fish-fry on the shores of Wolf Lake, a sign along Avenue O proclaimed “BioBlitz” in big, red letters. The sign heralded the Calumet Biodiversity Blitz—a biological inventory on steroids. On August 23, 2002, more than 150 expert scientists assembled at Wolf Lake, Eggers Woods, and Powderhorn Marsh and Prairie on the South Side of Chicago to identify and record as many living organisms as possible within 24 hours. The purpose of this major undertaking was to underline the extraordinary range of creatures still living in green pockets amidst this collage of factories, warehouses, forest preserves, residences, and highways.

One goal of the BioBlitz was to publicly launch phase II of the Calumet Stewardship Initiative, a comprehensive education and outreach program aimed at fostering long-term participation by local residents in efforts to rehabilitate and protect the region’s natural resources. The initiative seeks in part to assemble 4,800 acres into the Calumet Open Space Reserve. Though a full inventory takes many years, the BioBlitz provides a mass of information (and some much-needed publicity) as conservationists continue to develop plans for habitat recovery.

The event mixed scientists and neighbors. Said Chris Merenowicz, superintendent of conservation at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County: “A lot of young kids get involved in a chosen field of science this way. They see this firsthand, and a lightbulb goes on in their heads.”

At the science tent, late into the night, researchers picked through petri dishes, sorting insects into orders, scouring leaves for mites, scanning monitors for protozoans. All the while, soil invertebrates, projected on the ceiling of the tent, danced for all to see.

“Where should I put this?” cried a volunteer, holding a bluegill in a jug. “Can we have some more alcohol?!” called another from across the tent. “I’m never going swimming in a lake again,” declared another, picking through a dish of tiny creatures taken from Wolf Lake.

“It’s like Planet of the Apes,” remarked Paul Marcum, botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), as one of the vascular plant teams worked its way through vegetation surrounding a large cement pillar left over from a decommissioned Nike Missile Base.

Marcum has been studying this region with other INHS researchers over the past 2 years. So far, the scientists have found seven threatened or endangered species, including the early lady’s tresses orchid. Marcum also has noticed an increase in the invasive Eurasian water millfoil here. He momentarily disappeared in a thicket of purple loosestrife and reemerged to declare he had found the high-quality swamp loosestrife hidden among the invasive species.

Corinne Chengary, who lives just down the block in Hegewisch, brought her family to the BioBlitz. “We walk out here all the time, and come fishing. But today, we can learn about what really goes on here.”

Unofficially, the BioBlitz identified some 2,400 species—some rare and unexpected—but the final tally will likely be higher as scientists continue to analyze specimens.

For more information, contact Debra Shore, Editor, Chicago Wilderness Magazine, 5225 Old Orchard Road, Suite 37, Skokie, Illinois 60077, (847) 965-9275, editor@chicagowildernessmag.org.