Monday, March 4, 2024

Quieter forests, silent spring?

A song sparrow and a white-throated sparrow

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Jason Hill, an ecologist with the Vermont Center For Ecostudies. He recently published a report with data going back to 2010 showing a steep decline in many mountain birds. Some of the data came from the Adirondacks.

Climate change is a root cause, he said.

“The processes driving these long-term trends that are reported in the State of the Mountain Birds report aren’t ephemeral,” he said “They are choices that we make as a society.”

But there are some ways to help local birds. Click here to learn more.

Developers pull out of microgrid Raquette Lake project

Plans for a battery energy storage facility in Raquette Lake have been scrapped, according to a representative of National Grid. The move came after public pushback against the project about environmental concerns and safety fears.

“Following extensive community engagement, the companies agreed that there were challenges in the planned location for the battery energy storage system,” Jared Paventi, communications manager for National Grid, said.

Read the story here.

Climate communication

Studies show there’s a rise of climate anxiety in young people. Fear, frustration and sadness over the effects of warming are becoming more common for children learning about climate change. An event next week at St. Lawrence University hopes to tackle that by focusing on climate communication.

Click here to learn more.

Here are some stories I’m following:

Inside Climate News: New Research from Antarctica Affirms The Threat of the ‘Doomsday Glacier,’ But Funding to Keep Studying it Is Running Out

“If and when new funding becomes available, it will mean restarting the research nearly from scratch, which is a big challenge in the remote area.”

Reuters: Tunisia farmer turns to old wheat varieties as climate change bites

“We must rely on our original Tunisian seeds because, through experience and knowledge, these seeds hold the solution and can contribute to many strategic solutions in addressing food crises,” he said.

Yale Climate Connections: Climate books for Black History Month

“In this very political year, the fight for a sustainable future is also a fight for a fair and equitable society.”

NPR: How a Northwest tribe is escaping a rising ocean

“The Quinaults’ approach, sometimes called “managed retreat,” is a response to human-driven climate change that coastal communities are facing from Boston to Bangladesh.”

Photo at top: A song sparrow and a white-throated sparrow. Photo by Larry Master.

This first appeared in Chloe’s weekly “Climate Matters” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Chloe Bennett is a climate change reporter based in Lake Placid, NY. Originally from North Texas, Chloe has always been drawn to the natural world. In 2022, she graduated from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY where she focused on environmental reporting and audio production. She grew a deep appreciation for the Adirondack Park while interning for the Explorer in the summer of 2022.

32 Responses

  1. nathan says:

    The bird population has been dramatically declining since the 1990’s, i used to get 300 plus birds at the feeders in the 80’s at a time. Over the years dozens of species are no longer seen and many species that would show up in the dozens are very rarely seen and number 1-2 at a time. Climate change, breaking up of surrounding lands into building lots and homes, much more usage of herb,fungus, insect-icides on lawns and crop lands, much more cars and higher speeds. so many baby birds are found along the road after fledging.
    It has become very quiet in the woods from loss of birds and mammals, the trend has sped up. Think of when is the last time you saw a weasel or heard it’s eeps? or a partridges drumming? a pileated woodpecker bickering? or a flock of chickadees passing by?

  2. It has to do with the declining vegetation, food and cover resources. A young forest supports these resources, letting more intolerant vegetation thrive for greater bird and wildlife densities. A great scientific read is ” Managing the Northern Forest for Wildlife” by Gordon W. Gullion. Check out “The Morrison Place” on Google maps on Vermont Route 17 near it’s intersection with the Gore road in Starksboro Vt. for photos of species of vegetation that help increase wildlife densities. You can also Google Ebird Camels Hump State Forest The Morrison Place/Stevens Block for Audubon bird sightings in this managed area that has had extensive vegetation projects since 1987, all done by volunteers.

  3. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Climate change, breaking up of surrounding lands into building lots and homes, much more usage of herb,fungus, insect-icides on lawns and crop lands, much more cars and higher speeds………..”

    And let us not forget the carnivorous feline kind! They kill more than a fair share of birds every year, and other species, such as reptiles, and even insects, all of which have their rightful place in the ecosystem. Cats are considered invasive predators and have been linked to the extinction of numerous birds, reptiles and mammals all over the world. I recall I submitted to this thread, in the past, the story about a former customer of mine, who allowed her cat out of the house every day, and what a killing field I saw every day when I showed up to do my work! It was horrible….. dead chipmunks, birds, squirrels…. Every day new fatalities. People can be the nicest people in the world, which doesn’t eliminate the darker side in them; a side evidently unbeknownst to them. This is why we need more laws….not less laws, contrary to what some might think!

    • Rob says:

      So you think we need new laws because a customers cat was liking chipmunks, birds and squirrels?? That is there natural instinct. Should we make laws because a fox may kill a mouse or a rabbit?? Should we make laws because a coyote may kill a rabbit or squirrel?? Again that is there natural instinct. We have enough laws on the books. We don’t need anymore

    • Bill Keller says:

      Global Change Biology found that cats have caused declines, smaller distributions, or extinctions of 175 species of reptiles, birds, and mammals. Just another human impact on the natural environment. Estimated 2017 numbers, 94 million domesticated cats in the US. Outdoor cats are a human-caused problem, it is our responsibility to find ways to address it. My dogs, another domesticated animal, had to be licensed, verified rabies shot and kept on a lease or control at all times. Not cats. Their owners open the door and let them roam. When their cat becomes pregnant they drop the litter and momma off in the country (I live in the southern ADKs, 30 minutes from Glens Falls) and have had to deal with up to 20 feral cats left behind.

      • JohnL says:

        Dogs would kill the same things cats do if they were left to roam free, and they did run free all the years I was growing up. At some point, people realized that dogs have to be kept on leashes, not because they kill small animals, but because they bite people!! As a paper boy, I can attest that that happened all too often. Cat’s don’t pose that threat. If you want to make the case that cats should be controlled because they eat mice, have at it, but you really can’t compare it to the dog situation.

        • Boreas says:


          Where I grew up in NW PA, roaming dogs and even dog packs were a problem with the deer herd. They didn’t often kill the deer directly, but ran them to death or ran them onto highways where they were killed. I witnessed this type of road kill at least twice. There were even occasionally packs of feral dogs reported. The game regulations at the time allowed hunters to shoot dogs that were running deer. I doubt it still does.

          • JohnL says:

            Same here B. I remember one time when my wife and I were XC skiing at Highland Forest in CNY when a deer came running by us with its’ tongue hanging out (thoroughly exhausted) and a minute or two later a couple domestic looking dogs (not feral) came by on the deers trail. We never knew what happened, but it probably didn’t end well for the deer. Agreed, I’m sure one would be in trouble if they shot a dog, even if it was ‘running’ deer.

  4. Boreas says:

    I left a lengthy comment on the AE article and won’t repeat it here. But what I intended to get across is the “silence” noticed HERE in the breeding grounds is but one factor of the annual struggles of a migratory bird in its lifetime. Most of the year, these migrants are NOT here, and the mortality and stresses that occur during the non-breeding season AND migration itself are equally important to breeding success and lifespan.

  5. Alan Dickinson says:

    Obviously birds are under many stresses in their life cycles. Probably many factors come in play for our declining birds.Interesting when my wife and I bird in the Adirondack park we head to logging land and beaver ponds. Maybe three million acres of for ever wild forest is not in the best interests of our wildlife.

    • JohnL says:

      Re: your last sentence. I’m sure this will be met by many (not me) with one word………GASP!!!

      • Need another wind event like 1950.

        • Boreas says:

          Perhaps another glaciation will follow the warm spell.

          • Balian the Cat says:

            Boreas, I think your comment above is being overlooked or underestimated by the “we need forest management” crowd. Deforestation in the tropic areas most of “our” birds winter plays a large role in this apparent decline. The very human notion that nature somehow NEEDS us to manage it is silly. Humans viewing themselves as part of nature rather than master of it might have helped this and various other significant causes at one time, but I am of the opinion that ship has probably sailed. I believe we can now sit back and watch as natural processes manage US for the foreseeable future.

            • Boreas says:


              Yeah, people tend to settle in to one-word or one-action solutions that will help to mitigate climate and habitat changes. A typical human behavior, but typically ineffective as a true solution to global natural processes. I am not saying humans cannot influence these changes in positive or negative ways, but “positive” and “negative” in relation to what? The Garden of Eden? 1955? Pre-Columbian America?

              We have proven to be poor stewards of the planet – because of and in spite of our big brains. Nature is essentially a synthesis of chemistry and physics, and some other forces we don’t know much about. It is certainly disappointing for humans to see species vanishing during what would be considered an “interglacial minimum” with elevated temperatures, loss of ice cover, and a multitude of other physical changes.

              Bird migration is amazing, but it has its controlling factors. As ice cover changes, so do the biomes and clines on Earth. In the northern hemisphere, Southern species of flora and fauna move north and tundra/polar species run out of habitat and adapt or go extinct. Migration is one type of adaptation that is easy to see, but is difficult and hazardous to the participants. Every impediment humans add to this stress can tip the survivability prospects for delicate migratory species. It isn’t that we don’t understand, it is that it is a low priority in our society. Put us back in animal skins and take away our homes, smart phones, and energy sources and we will start to pay more attention to our environment that has been forgotten.

  6. Alan Dickinson says:

    A house cat is not a natural predator. It is an invasive species which should not be allowed outside the home !

    • Boreas says:


      Domestic cats have been around in North America since the European invasion of the Americas. They have rarely been kept indoors until relatively recently. They historically were typically “working” animals especially around farms and grain storage areas. They are indeed “natural predators” – but what I believe you meant they are “non-native” predators. This is certainly true. But most birds certainly recognize them as predators and avoid them and/or harass them.

      While I certainly AGREE most domestic cats used as pets should be kept indoors for their own safety and health, the bigger problem is uncontrolled feral populations. This phenomena is relatively new and getting worse. Why? Partly because of lack of medium to larger-size natural predators near human habitation. Bobcat, coyote, fox, fisher, and even owls will prey on cats, but paradoxically we do what we can to REDUCE the numbers of natural predators leaving space for feral cat populations to explode. If we encourage native predators, it would put much more pressure on ferals. But even native predators will gladly take a bird or nest if the opportunity presents.

      Birds have evolved for many millions of years to avoid predators of all sorts. Good eyesight, social cooperation, breeding vigor, and flight have been secrets to their success. Given proper habitat, food, and migratory conditions they can usually hold their own against predation. But cut their forests, fill the marshes, poison their food (insects), over-use artificial lighting, and place towers and buildings in their flight paths and you are adding stresses they have NOT evolved with. Bird populations didn’t suffer with the arrival of cats, but with the arrival of humans.

      • Alan Dickinson says:

        Well I agree with you on all the stresses that you mentioned. But there is no way that cats can be considered natural. They are considered an invasive species in many European countries. So just snuggle up to your cat and keep it inside.

        • A recent study by the Smithsonian Institution and the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats kill about 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals each year in the lower forty-eight states. This is far higher—and probably more accurate–than previous figures, and likely exceeds all other sources of human-related losses of these animals. That makes it a major bird conservation concern.

          • Boreas says:

            “…likely exceeds all other sources…”? I would like to see data on “all of the other sources” – assuming independent studies could come up with this data for the Western Hemisphere or globally. For instance, the dramatic loss of insects to a largely insectivorous class of animals alone should be very concerning and is likely due to humans. Of course large chemical manufacturers and politicians would rather blame it on cats. Loss of habitat? Think about it. And insects are but one part of the puzzle.

            And I agree, feral cats are a huge problem. But in your assertion, “domestic cats” seems to include both feral cats and pet cats apparently using “domestic cats” as a species. If I recall, the Smithsonian did not differentiate the two population types. I would think feral cats are as harmful to the environment as pet cats, but I have never seen comprehensive studies comparing both in North America. If you have seen good studies on this differentiation, I would like to read them.

        • Boreas says:

          I think you misunderstood me. I said cats ARE natural predators (obligate carnivores). You said they are NOT a natural predator in your first sentence. Domestic cats ARE indeed a non-native species here, which is essentially the same as invasive as you stated.

  7. Alan Dickinson says:

    Thanks for stating the facts Larry. Those numbers tell the REAL story!

    • Boreas says:

      The Smithsonian article tells A compelling story, but the entire story?? That could certainly subject to debate.

  8. Paul says:

    I don’t know if they can be sure that climate change is the main factor. Even before the winters stated to get more dramatically warmer this was going on for decades from my observations in the Adirondacks. The woods are much quieter now then they were even 20 years ago. It is not only birds that are fewer but other small mammals, like chipmunks and squirrels. Are we sure this doesn’t have to do with the rise in predators over that same period of time. Thinks like coyotes especially. This is the stuff they eat…

    If the main driver is temperature change why wouldn’t birds from those warmer niches move in and take over that territory. Places that are warm are teeming with bird life. This all doesn’t add up.

    • JohnL says:

      Great point Paul. Also, places that are warm have longer growing seasons and are teeming with plant life, e.g. food for humans.

    • Boreas says:


      I agree. There are alarming population drops across a wide variety of animal classes and phyla that are as yet poorly understood. At one time we thought the degradation of the ozone layer decades ago was causing mortality in reptiles and amphibians, but we are not so sure since the ozone layer is recovering slowly, but the animals are recovering as quickly.

      Many things could be contributing – one of which is chemical and microplastic pollution in waterways and vegetation. Each pollutant can have its own effect and it is nearly impossible to evaluate them all. If pollutants affect the base of the food chain in a significant way, it will likely have an affect on the entire chain. We are learning about “forever chemicals” that can disperse widely but never decompose or become less toxic. That is scary.

      IMO, these chemicals are having an effect on insects and plants that birds and other life forms rely on. Monoculture mega-farming essentially creates food deserts for birds that were spotty and more random in previous centuries. Simple marshes and potholes are drying up. Migrating species using their traditional flyways have to rest and feed every so often, but their food and rest stopovers are becoming fewer and less reliable. Cities and suburbs can be another type of food desert for some birds, with its own types of mortality.

      If birds arrive at their breeding location totally depleted, they may not have the necessary vigor to court and nest successfully. They may not die and thus may not show up as mortality statistics per se, but if they do not nest successfully FOR ANY REASON, over time this will obviously impact populations. No species can survive long if they cannot reproduce enough to counteract mortality.

      While I agree that predation and mortality are important factors, we tend to overlook the importance of breeding success and viability of young. That was our big lesson with DDT. There are a multitude of factors that influence breeding success, but each factor is only part of a larger puzzle. Of course we should focus on changing what we can to improve things, but I believe we only know a few pieces of a much larger puzzle.

      Alarmist studies and rhetoric stating X or Y or Z is THE “culprit” pulls scant resources away from the difficult study of the entire global ecosystem. Big Oil, Big Chemical, and Big Pharma naturally try to deflect attention away from themselves by choosing the type of funding to support and help publish, while paying others to pooh-pooh the studies implicating them. Politics in other words. Even “environmentalists” are guilty in such deflection. It is a messed up world. Anyone stating they have THE answer should not be given much credibility.

      Our big brains try to search for solutions, but often the problem IS our big brains.

      • Paul says:

        On breeding success, the coyotes are an interesting one. The more stress they are under the more pups they have. This animal is thriving in whatever the poor conditions are… That is why they are basically everywhere.

        But I am convinced by the science that climate change is part of the answer.

        I just don’t like this new dogma that climate change is responsible for everything.

        • The seminar that I attended, the researchers said that as prey species decline, they will actually produce less young. The quality and quanity of the vegetation (biodiversity) determine the densities of prey species. The vegetation started becoming less diverse in the central highlands of Vermont as the old farmsteads changed to forest. The first vegetation consisted of Aspen, alder, young softwoods, soft mast (serviceberry, three types of cherry, dogwood, thousands of wild Apple trees, and beech stands in many watersheds. We had an over abundance of prey in predator species in our more remote forest. A good scientific read is ” New England Wildlife” by Richard M. DeGgraaf and Marino Yamasaki on habitat,natural history and distribution.
          It describes all the needs of all the regional species and more

    • Greg K says:

      As an ornithologist it pains me to see people thinking that alpine birds will just get up and move to other places without impacting local ecologies or numbers. 1) Do you know that predators for alpine birds are increasing, or you just assuming (let’s be honest you’er just assuming, coyotes don’t kill blackpoll warblers)? 2) Do you think that birds that are adapted boreal and alpine forests in a specific niche can just leave? Are these habitats are abundant else ware, can thee specific species survive in current numbers in a warmer climate? 3) Even if they did just leave to warmer climates, wouldn’t they LEAVE and thus we would see a decline in numbers in alpine areas. Paul, you’er not doing research simply because you have ideas, you actually need to test them. Stop confusing your unsubstantiated opinions with actual research.

  9. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Bill Keller says: “Outdoor cats are a human-caused problem, it is our responsibility to find ways to address it.”

    If it is we even acknowledge what responsibility means!

  10. geogymn says:

    Good conversation. I like to add that I observe more birds of prey. Not sure if that is due to my slowing down, due to age, and looking up more. Or maybe a resurgence after the DDT crisis.
    I know that the Sharp-Shinned Hawk (or maybe Cooper’s) that is nesting in my neighbors grand Norway Spruce has decimated the local passerine population. To note we had Catbirds living amongst our hedge for decades but alas haven’t had the pleasure of their company in four years.
    We are regularly showered by plucked feathers as said hawk devours his prey from his favorite perch in the Silver Maple whose canopy overhangs my perch (deck). Not to mention there constant shrill making claim to their territory.

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:


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