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Habitat Management and Bird Monitoring at Mt. Zion/Piney Tract IBA

Audubon PA and the Seneca Rocks Audubon chapter purchased this sprayer for PA Game Commission to use for control of woody vegetation on SGL 330; photo by PA Game Commission
Over the last two years Audubon Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Game Commission, Seneca Rocks Audubon Society, Penn State University, and Clarion University have improved grassland habitat and monitored bird response at PA State Game Lands 330 (SGL 330) in Clarion County, Western PA. This site is well known for its grassland birds, especially Henslow’s Sparrows, having been reclaimed to grasslands after strip mined decades ago. As with many “legacy minelands” in the AMJV, habitat management targeting priority birds is needed to maintain or enhance grasslands, improve shrublands, or mitigate the soil compaction to encourage reforestation. On SGL 330, partners decided to focus their efforts on improving habitat for the Henslow’s Sparrow, a species for which Partners in Flight estimates PA supports 8% of the breeding population and which has suffered continuing declines for decades.

University researchers and their students designed experimental plots to monitor bird densities (pre- and post-management), vegetation response, and small mammal communities. Surveys were conducted to inventory other areas of SGL 330. In 2009, ~10 acres of woody growth was removed from the center of a large grassland expanse, and several strips of “rank” fescue were dozed to promote vegetative diversity and bare soil. In 2010, another 50 acres were cleared of woody growth. Thus far, researchers have located 60 nests of grassland birds (1 American Woodcock, 1 Bobolink, 4 Eastern Meadowlark, 3 Savannah Sparrow, 37 Grasshopper Sparrow, and 14 Henslow’s Sparrow), banded 419 grassland birds (130 Henslow’s Sparrows), located breeding Henslow’s Sparrow on previously uninventoried plots, and estimated densities of several breeding grassland birds on managed and control plots.

Final analyses and findings are pending from these initial projects, but this information will be useful for the AMJV and its partners as we begin planning for ‘legacy minelands’ in the region. Future considerations include expanding experimentation with herbicide treatments (especially to control black locust stump sprouts), beneficial plantings, and continued coordination of activities among partners interested in SGL 330. Grants from the Wild Resource Conservation Fund of Pennsylvania, the State Wildlife grant program administered by the PA Game Commission, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation funded this work.