.......and Reflections

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Showcases the Benefit of Shorebird Migration Management

I haven't been this excited about any one single event in a very long time. This is a story that couldn't be scripted but should be documented. It is a story that shows all of us that well intended action can be and almost always is the best course for the most stakeholders.

So let's set the the stage by identifying the stakeholders:

North American, fall migrating shorebirds
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
Birders from around a large region
Everyone who cares about conservation regardless of their interest in birds

The story begins with a young new Refuge Manager named Jason Lewis. Jason started in his position just last February and is working hard to balance the many needs of a major National Wildlife Refuge in arguably a hot bed of migration both heading north in the spring and south in the fall. He responded this spring to "The Biggest Week In American Birding" by making Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge as accessible as practical, working with several area organizations to provide quality birding experiences for the masses of birding enthusiasts pouring into the region.

To Jason's credit, his biology background, and his training and interest in birds, he appreciated not only the public interest in the migration but also the gravity and scope of avian migration in Northwest Ohio. While it may be assumed, it is important that a new manager of a major refuge, grasps the significance of the place he is managing. Jason Lewis is matching the value of his quality resource to the needs of the biodiversity that makes up Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Ottawa NWR is one of America's finest with a history of good management, great education services, a professional dedicated staff and progressively dealing with growing demands from non-consumptive wildlife enthusiasts such as birders, photographers and folks that appreciate places that harbor America's wildlife. Management of wetlands and upland habitats for hunting, trapping and fishing are a huge challenge in and of itself. Managing for biodiversity and access for wildlife viewing and nature appreciation compounds the challenges of any refuge.

Jason Lewis was committed to showcasing shorebirding on the Refuge and began drawing down a large and significant pool for the spring migration and got no help or support from Mother Nature who rained the mudflats away for the spring event. But those birds moving north in the spring must come back this way again in the fall as they head for the Gulf States, Central and South America. Jason and his staff held their course and that made this story a delightful reality.

As September gave way to October this large impoundment with water drawn down to produce mud flats and shallow waters, provided rich and abundant micro and macro invertebrates that shorebirds need to fuel their monumental and challenging journey. And come, they did...... in unprecedented numbers and diversity of species. It is estimated that as many as 80 Hudsonian Godwits foraged the impoundment. Another 180 American Golden Plovers, 60 Black-bellied Plovers, 55 Long-billed Dowitchers, 45 Stilt Sandpipers, and 500  Dunlin were observed in one days count. There were 21 species of shorebirds taking advantage of this rich resource.

Thanks to Jason Lewis and the Ottawa NWR staff, some significant numbers of shorebirds were provided some much needed opportunity to rest and feed along their journey. It is important to understand that the popularity of this rich wetland makes a statement about the scarcity of such places along their journey. We are taking away more of these important places than we are providing them. Ottawa NWR is filling an essential need and providing a model  for shorebird management not only along Ohio's north coast but for all that manage places that are important to shorebird life histories.

The winners here, as it should be, are the shorebirds.

Ottawa and many National Wildlife Refuges showcase their conservation work by providing auto tours that wind their way around and through the refuges. Some refuges allow daily tours and Ottawa does monthly scheduled tours. October's tour is this coming October 16th. But once it was well known that the shorebirds were using the pool in unprecedented numbers, Jason and staff opened the auto tour especially so birders and anyone interested could have access to the site along the tour. Consequently hundreds of birders got to visit the shorebird habitat and see them in such numbers that many had never witnessed. Taking care of the birds and the community when the opportunity presents itself breaks tradition but builds important bridges.

The winner here is the legion of birders and citizens that got a special opportunity to see the very best our wildlife refuge system has to offer. Providing this opportunities for passionate and appreciative citizens going forward will increase awareness, provide great opportunities for public education and garner support and constituencies that will ultimately benefit the Refuge system.

I don't think much more can be said that can highlight the significance of the efforts of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in this story. I would bet that not a one person working at the refuge would think that this was any big deal. To them they are doing as they always have done: fulfilling the mission of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For anyone bashing wasteful government spending, look elsewhere because it isn't happening in our National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks

It takes hard work, good management, dedicated service and a unified commitment to turn a routine fall into an extraordinary event. I am looking forward to enjoying northwest Ohio birding for a long time. It's great to know that Ohio's National Wildlife Refuge will be working to make every spring and fall special for America's birds and wildlife and for those of us committed to wildlife conservation.

Thank you Jason Lewis and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

For more information on the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge check out the following: Tour.pdf

Jason Lewis, Manager, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge:

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