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This Month in the Marsh - Gearing Up for Field Season!

My name is Bri Panos, the Coastal Avian Biologist for Audubon Mid-Atlantic. Starting this May, 2024, I’ll be coordinating field data collection for the Marshes for Tomorrow Project. Marshes for Tomorrow is an initiative led by Audubon Mid-Atlantic and its partners to create an implementation plan for tidal salt marsh restoration on a landscape scale in Maryland. With sea level rise impacting the resiliency of Maryland’s salt marshes, Marshes for Tomorrow will prioritize 25,000 acres of salt marsh for protection through restoration actions.

Audubon employees in the salt marsh (Bri is on the right!)

What is a salt marsh, and why should we care so much about them?

Salt marshes are a unique habitat that are considered “globally rare”, with only 45,000 km2 found worldwide. Salt marshes support a wide variety of species, from wading birds to blue crabs (fish) to invertebrates alike. In the  Chesapeake Bay, we are concerned about declining populations of imperiled Saltmarsh Sparrows and threatened Black Rails. Salt marshes also buffer coastal communities against storm surges.

Saltmarsh Sparrow perched on a branch (photo taken by Frank Lehman, 2019)

What are we doing to protect the salt marsh?

The salt marsh is an incredibly important habitat that we are striving to protect, using a variety of innovative conservation and restoration methods. For more information on restoration techniques being implemented in Maryland, check out this resource! Before and after restoration actions are implemented, we aim to collect baseline data to determine how populations of birds are impacted. This field season, I invite you to learn more about the birds we see in salt marshes and how we monitor them.

What kind of bird survey techniques will we do?

Our field team, including staff from Audubon Mid-Atlantic, University of Delaware, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, will be using bird survey techniques created and fine-tuned by the team at the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program (SHARP). These surveys involve observing key salt marsh species, such as Saltmarsh Sparrow and Black Rail, using a method known as “playback”. During the surveys, we play select marsh bird vocalizations using a hand-held speaker to elicit a response from the same species. Additionally, we plan to catch, using nets set up on poles in the marsh, and band Saltmarsh Sparrows to identify their body condition and estimate the breeding population of each site. After banding, we search the marsh grasses for signs of nests. By aiming to protect salt marsh habitat for the Saltmarsh Sparrow, whose population is in decline, then other salt marsh species benefit as well!

Photo of the type of field equipment we will be using in the field, including ARUs, binoculars, speakers and MP3 players for playback, and the datasheets we'll be filling out for the surveys.

Audubon’s field season will run May 20th - July 16th. I am excited to share updates on what we see out in the marsh this summer! Follow along with the blog on the Marshes for Tomorrow website as well as Audubon Mid-Atlantic’s social media and newsletter!

Follow along on Facebook and Instagram!

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