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Ashland Bird Conservation Area

General Site Information: Ashland BCA consists of the entire Ashland Flats Wildlife Management Area. Ashland has relatively large areas of early successional habitats, including grassland and shrub land. There are also forested areas and limestone barrens. These habitats support a diversity of early successional bird species, including short-eared owl (endangered), Henslow's sparrow (threatened), sedge wren (threatened), northern harrier (threatened), and upland sandpiper (threatened).

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Ashland BCA Management Guidance Summary

Site Name: Ashland Bird Conservation Area

State Ownership and Managing Agency: Department of Environmental Conservation.

Location: Ashland Wildlife Management Area. Jefferson County, Towns of Lyme and Cape Vincent.

Size of Area: 2037 acres

DEC Region: 6

Vision Statement: Maintain and enhance the grassland habitat present to ensure continued use by grassland birds. Maintain early successional habitats to prevent reversion of these areas to forests.

Key BCA Criteria: A migratory concentration site, a diverse species concentration site; an individual species concentration site; a species at risk site (ECL §11-2001, 3.e, f, g, and h). Species of interest include: short-eared owl (endangered), Henslow's sparrow (threatened), sedge wren (threatened), northern harrier (threatened), upland sandpiper (threatened). The WMA supports a variety of other grassland and shrubland species.

Critical Habitat Types: Large contiguous areas of grassland and shrubland.

Operation and Management Considerations:

  • Identify habitat management activities needed to maintain site as a BCA.
    Encroachment of shrubs into a grassland habitat will begin to limit grassland bird species such as Henslow's sparrow, upland sandpiper, northern harrier, and short-eared owl. The large contiguous area of grasslands located adjacent to the Ashland Road is a critical core area for grassland birds. These grasslands need to be maintained through periodic mowing. Approximately 30% of the area managed as grassland should be left in old field habitats (herbaceous plants) at all times which will require a mowing rotation of approximately three to four years. Where shrub encroachment is absent or less rapid, the mowing rotation can be extended for a longer period of time. The other portions of the grassland can be mowed more frequently for species that prefer less dense growth with less thatch built up.

    Henslow's sparrow is a key management species. Henslow's sparrows prefer older fields with a mixture of dense and moderately tall (> 30 cm) grassy vegetation, and relatively high levels of thatch built up. Shrubs should be kept to a minimum, as Henslow's seldom use grassland areas with more than sparse, low shrubs. Rotational mowing, where portions of the area are mowed every few years, and other portions are allowed to stay in old fields for a longer time period, will maintain a good mixture of grassland habitats over time. The older grasslands will be used by Henslow's sparrow, while the more recently mowed areas would be more suitable for other species such as upland sandpiper.

    Some species of grassland birds avoid areas where a heavy thatch has built up (vesper sparrow, upland sandpiper). When mowing is performed, it may be preferable to bale and remove mowed grass for hay or mulch. This may be accomplished through cooperative agreements with local farmers or mulch dealers.

    Shrubland should be brush-hogged periodically to prevent succession to forest.

  • Identify seasonal sensitivities; adjust routine operations accordingly.
    The timing of mowing is critical. Grassland bird species can begin nesting as early as February or March (horned lark) and may nest into September (sedge wren). Short-eared owls winter in the area and this may further limit management activities performed in the late fall. The best period for mowing is mid-August through early October when dry conditions normally persist. Mowing during this period should result in minimal interference with nesting or wintering activities.

    Short-eared owls need areas of standing grass for winter roosting and foraging. The entire grassland area should not be mowed in any year. Approximately 30% of the area should always be left un-mowed for use by short-eared owls in winter.

  • Identify state activities or operations which may pose a threat to the critical habitat types identified above; recommend alternatives to existing and future operations which may pose threats to those habitats.
    The greatest threat to these critical habitat types would be the lack of active management. Periodic mowing is required to maintain this area in large contiguous grasslands and shrub land. Otherwise, vegetative succession will result in the reversion of these areas to forest.

    Operational budgets are currently inadequate to meet the need of periodic mowing. Additional funding needs to be secured.

  • Identify any existing or potential use impacts; recommend new management strategies to address those impacts.
    Recreational use of the Ashland WMA is considered minimal with peaks during the fall hunting season and winter. Pheasants are stocked on the WMA for recreational hunting. This results in an increase in activity during October and early November. A snowmobile trail exists on the WMA under a TRP (temporary revocable permit) with a local club. Snowmobile use is confined to a designated trail which only transverses the WMA.

    No major use impacts or problems are believed to exist. If use becomes an issue, access to core bird-nesting habitats could be limited during the peak breeding season (April through August 15) and core wintering raptor habitats during the peak of the snowmobile season (January through March).

Education, Outreach, and Research Considerations:

  • Assess current access; recommend enhanced access, if feasible.
    Public access is considered inadequate. Only one small designated parking area currently exists. As a result, most users are forced to park on the shoulders of existing town roads.

    Recommend the construction of two additional parking areas to accommodate public use of the WMA.

    Determine education and outreach needs; recommend strategies and materials.
    There is a need for an educational effort directed at grassland and shrub land bird management. Grassland birds, as a whole, are declining throughout the northeast as their habitats decline. Many shrub land and early successional forest birds are also declining. Kiosks and other educational materials should be developed and focus on the need to maintain grasslands and shrub lands, and the diversity of associated bird species. Establishing viewing sites for winter raptors is an educational effort worthy of pursuit.

  • Identify research needs; prioritize and recommend specific projects or studies.
    A survey of the presence of grassland and shrub land bird species is needed. In particular, an effort is needed to see if golden-winged warblers are present.

    Research that compares the effectiveness of prescribed burning with mowing would be useful. Proven effective, prescribed burning could be used in addition to rotational mowing to maintain critical grassland habitats.

    Henslow's sparrows are rapidly declining throughout New York. Research to determine specific habitat conditions that are preferred by Henslow's is needed, so that management to benefit this species can be refined.

DEC Region 6 Wildlife Manager, 315-785-2263

Bull, John L. 1998. Bull's Birds of New York State. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY.

Jones, Andrea L. and Peter D. Vickery. Conserving Grassland Birds. Three volume set. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Massachusetts Audubon.

Mitchell, Laura R., et al. 2000. Ecology of Grassland Breeding Birds in the Northeastern US. Cornell University.

NYSDEC. 1997. Ashland Flats Wildlife Management Area Biodiversity Report. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

Sample, David W. and M.J. Mossman. 1997. Managing Habitat for Grassland Birds. Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI.

Vickery, Peter D. and Peter W. Dunwiddie. 1997. Grasslands of Northeastern North America. Massachusetts Audubon.

Wells, J. V. 1998. Important Bird Areas in New York State. National Audubon Society, Albany, New York.

Date BCA Designated: 5/6/03

Date MGS Prepared: 1/27/03

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