Waterbirds of the Chesapeake Bay: A Monitoring Plan
The Chesapeake Bay is one of the most productive aquatic ecosystems in the world and plays an important role in the life cycle of many bird species. Each year, the rich resources of the Bay attract millions of waterbirds of 140 species from throughout the western hemisphere. Dependency on the Bay varies from species that stopover for a few days during migration to species that live out their entire life cycle within a single tributary. Many species that depend on the Bay are of high international, national or regional conservation concern. Monitoring is an essential component of conservation. Local monitoring programs satisfy regulatory mandates, contribute to continental population assessments, and inform adaptive management programs. Because many waterbirds are top consumers and collectively require a broad array of resources they represent sensitive, cost effective indicators of overall ecosystem health. This plan addresses three fundamental questions including 1) What are the monitoring needs for waterbirds within the Chesapeake Bay?; 2) How much of this need is being addressed by existing programs?;and 3) What programs should be expanded or established to address unmet needs?. All waterbird species were evaluated according to when, where, how, and to what extent they depend on the Bay and whether or not monitoring is central to management decisions. All existing monitoring programs were assessed according to species and seasons of coverage. Unmet monitoring needs were identified by comparing needs and coverage within existing programs. Recommendations were made to fill strategically important gaps in monitoring coverage. Coverage of identified waterbird monitoring needs within the Chesapeake Bay is currently poor. Of the 163 species-by-season combinations where a monitoring need was identified, less than 35% are being met by existing programs. Strengths include breeding colonial waterbirds, winter waterfowl, and species with high conservation priority including bald eagles, piping plovers and American oystercatchers. Significant gaps include breeding marsh birds, migrating shorebirds, wintering sea ducks and seabirds. Examination of the relationships between coverage and survey rationale suggests relatively high coverage by surveys contributing to range-wide population estimates reflecting continental monitoring programs that include the Chesapeake Bay. Recommendations to expand existing programs and establish new monitoring programs would increase coverage of identified monitoring needs from 34% to 78%. Recommendations include the expansion of the Tidal Marsh Bird Survey and the Program for Regional and International Shorebird Monitoring programs into the Chesapeake Bay and the re-establishment of the Atlantic Coast Sea Duck Survey. In addition to these broad platform surveys, targeted surveys should be established for the state endangered black rail and the threatened susurrans form of the Henslow’s sparrow.