Atlas 2000

(This column was first published in the May 15, 2000 Buffalo News.)

    In 1988 senior local ornithologist Robert Andrle completed a major project, the publication of The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State.He had organized more than 4300 of the state's birders to survey breeding activities of the 242 species (plus 3 hybrids) that then nested within the state’s boundaries and had supervised a team that summarized the information and illustrated it in that fine volume. If Andrle had done nothing else over his long and distinguished career -- and he has done a great deal -- this publication would insure that his name would be included on the roster of exceptional state ornithologists together with others like Arthur A. Allen, John Bull, Elon Howard Eton, Frank Chapman, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Emanuel Levine and Roger Tory Peterson.

    That first atlas provided in effect a five year (1980-1985) time exposure of the distribution of breeding birds in this state.

    Now twenty years later and in the new millennium the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs is setting out to replicate that massive project. The new atlas will cover the five year period from 2000 to 2005. Heading up this undertaking, which is designated Atlas 2000, is Kimberley Hunsinger in Delmar. More important for local participants, the western New York regional coordinator is Richard Rosche, 110 Maple Road, East Aurora 14052. I provide that detailed information about Dick Rosche to assist those who wish to volunteer either to take responsibility for censusing or to assist other census-takers. I hope it will also serve as a contact for those who will pass on individual observations.

    To repeat this monumental task, the state has again been divided into census squares that are 10 km by 10 km and each of these squares is further subdivided into four 10 square mile blocks. Statewide there are 5335 of these blocks. For example, the blocks I have been assigned are parts of two squares (2176 and 7177) located just south of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and are numbered 2176A, 2176B, 2177C and 2177D. I’ve already spent some time there because many species are already nesting.

    Our earliest breeder in this region is the great horned owl, which begins nesting activity in early January. The owls do not build their own homes but instead usually take over those that red-tailed hawks laboriously put together last year. Because they breed so early, it is common to see horned owls sitting on their nest with snow piled all around them, sometimes even on the incubating bird's head. Although I played taped recordings of their calls as well as those of screech and barred owls and listened carefully for responses, I was not successful in locating any of these birds. I am sure, however, that several of each species nest in my territory and I hope to find evidence of young birds in the weeks ahead.

    Although I didn't find any owls, I did record my first nesting evidence in one of my census blocks. Mike Galas and I came across a big tom turkey with a harem of a half dozen females. They were accompanied by two males, as yet too young to challenge the flock boss. These wonderful game birds, completely extirpated from our state early in the last century, have now spread back from the remote sections of Pennsylvania where small populations survived. I predict that the new atlas will show a further spread of this species.

    Even if you do not serve as a block volunteer you can help with this project by recording and reporting the birds that nest not only in your neighborhood but elsewhere across the state as well.-- Gerry Rising

Notes: (1) To obtain further information about Atlas 2000, consult the sites of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs.

(2) The Western New York region that reports to Dick Rosche includes all of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara Counties as well as the western half of Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming Counties.