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Survey Doubles Known Golden-winged Warbler Population in Roan Highlands

The Southern Golden-winged Warbler Group meet to coordinate the survey blitz; photo by Chris Coxen, Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy.
The Southern Golden-winged Warbler Group coordinated a survey blitz in the Roan Highlands that essentially doubled the known population of Golden-winged Warblers (GWWA) in the region and further indicates that the Highlands are a stronghold for the population and a priority area for research. Consisting of partners from NC, TN, VA, and GA, the group met twice in 2012, with the March meeting setting the stage for the GWWA Survey Blitz that took place in the spring of 2012. AMJV partners from the U.S. Forest Service (Cherokee and Pisgah Ranger Districts), North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NC WRC), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), North Carolina Audubon Society, and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) participated in the blitz around Western North Carolina and East Tennessee in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. The blitz targeted potentially suitable habitat for GWWA with efforts focused primarily on private lands in the Roan Highlands area and on previously unmonitored areas of National Forest lands. GWWA monitoring has historically taken place on public lands - such as the grassy balds along the
Appalachian Trail. The population status on private lands has largely been unknown.

With careful planning and coordination among partners, 176 points were surveyed during the blitz using a standard Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project (GOWAP) survey protocol in May and June 2012. The blitz resulted in detection of 108 GWWA at 83 new locations, with all new locations in Tennessee located in the Highlands of Roan area. Located along the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the Highlands of Roan is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the Southern Appalachians. Known for its expanses of high elevation grassy balds crossed by the Appalachian Trail, the Roan is increasingly seen as a GWWA population stronghold in the Southeast. The region is one of two priority areas for the Southern Golden-winged Warbler Group.

As a result of the information gathered during the blitz, the known Roan population of GWWA was essentially doubled. Data analysis further established the strength of the Roan GWWA population, which will help inform management actions that benefit the species across this region. A strong source population increases the
likelihood that GWWA targeted conservation actions in the Roan will provide meaningful benefits to the preservation of this species in the Southern Appalachians. While the lack of GWWA found away from the Roan provides valuable information for estimating potential success of habitat management targeted for GWWA in distant areas.

The successful planning and implementation of the blitz would have been impossible without the great partnership efforts of those involved with the AMJV. Curtis Smalling from NC Audubon provided support with getting everyone familiar with the monitoring protocol. Nora Schubert, an independent biologist focused on the Roan, designed all survey point locations and monitored species on public lands. Kendrick Weeks, Chris Kelly, and other NC WRC staff monitored lands around North Carolina. SAHC Field Ecologist Chris Coxen monitored all private lands around Tennessee. Dustin Thames and Sterling Daniels of TWRA conducted surveys on National Forest lands. Scott Somershoe, Tennessee State Ornithologist, developed maps with potential survey points and coordinated with the aforementioned biologists upon completion of the blitz to organize partner data into summary maps and tables. Partner efforts generated some very encouraging data about the state of this population around the Roan