Chris Ward

MSc. F. Candidate
Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management
University of New Brunswick

Chris Ward handling juvenile yellow-rumped warbler in the summer of 2016.

I initially found interest working with birds in my undergrad at the University of Guelph during a Wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) project monitoring breeding success as well as migration using geo-locators. Since then, I have had several opportunities to work with birds, as a raptor rehabilitator and trainer and a casual bander. Through my research experiences, I became very interested in spatial and movement ecology in wildlife. Spending a year working at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in The Bahamas, I worked on several projects associated with elasmobranch movement ecology. After a long hiatus in the warm tropics, I have returned to my avian roots and happily joined Dr. Tony Diamond to work on a Master of Science in Forestry exploring the spatial ecology of the Bicknell’s Thrush.

Proposed Research

The BickBicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) in the Christmas Mountains.nell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) is a near-arctic neotropical migratory songbird associated with high elevation habitats (Ouellet 1993); and has one of the most restricted breeding ranges of any North American bird, with patches of breeding patches across the North East of the United States and South East of Canada (Townsend et al, 2010; Pashley et al 2000, Wells 2007). Their traditional habitat consists of naturally fragmented dense coniferous forest (balsam fir and black spruce) resulting from high elevation or natural phenomena (such as fire, insect damage, and wind blow-down) (Lambert et al 2005; Sprugel 1976, Reiners and Lang 1979). These naturally occurring habitats are mimicked by the forestry industry, where Bicknell’s thrush occupy stands of 10-15-year-old trees planted after clear-cutting (Conolly 2000, Nixon et al 2001). A combination of a reduction in natural habitat caused by logging industry practices such as pre-commercial thinning (Chisholm and Leonard 2008), an increased dependence of breeding birds on commercial forests, and the nature of Bicknell’s thrush’s fragmented breeding range increases their overall susceptibility to extirpation (Birdlife International 2012). Bicknell’s thrush are consequently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with fewer than 70 000 individuals worldwide (Birdlife International 2012), as a threatened species on the Canadian Federal Government’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), and have a documented decline in New Brunswick of 11.5% annually from 2002-2011 (Campbell and Stewart 2012).

Previous work using digital audio recorders have aided in identifying locations and sizes of breeding Bicknell’s thrush ranges in the Christmas Mountains (Postma and Diamond, unpubl.), New Brunswick, however digital audio recorders do not identify individuals and thus the population size of these clusters has yet to be assessed. My project plans on using a mixture of automated and manual telemetry to map breeding territories of Bicknell’s thrush during the summer breeding season in the Christmas Mountains, NB. By identifying individual breeding ranges of Bicknell’s thrush, we can thus estimate number of birds per patch, and hopefully get an estimate of how many Bicknell’s thrush in the breeding cluster identified by Chelsae Postma.

Project study site – a forest road runs down a ridge surrounded by a young forest stand which overlooks the Christmas Mountains.