New England Cottontail Monitoring at White Memorial and Throughout Their Range

New England Cottontail, Range and Population Monitoring Focus Areas
(Top image by John Huff Foster Daily Democrat via AP, bottom image by USFWS).
Habitat management performed throughout the range of New England Cottontail (NEC) and assessing the conservation status of the species is being partially measured during the winter of 2016 - 2017 at White Memorial.  A total of two plots were selected on the property, which are located at Apple Hill and on North Shore Road.  The Apple Hill plot is being managed to ensure adequate habitat for NEC and other early successional habitat species.  The North Shore Rd. plot is a grassland that has been permitted to revert to early successional habitat through ecological succession.
Transects were flagged using orange and yellow surveyor tape
on the Apple Hill Plot on East Shore Rd., Morris, Litchfield Co., CT, USA.
This project is coordinated by the NEC Technical Committee and researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey.  The monitoring objectives are to assess occupancy rates of both cottontail species (Eastern and NEC) throughout the NEC range, observe how this occupancy status changes through time, and to determine how management activities influence the changes in the occupancy status of both species.  White Memorial's two plots were part of a total of 283 plots selected throughout CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, and RI.  Connecticut currently conserves the largest number of NEC populations in the habitats of highest priority and is surveying the bulk of the total plots (83 plots).  The plots consist of 200 meter long transects that are spaced every 30 meters, ultimately sampling piece of land approximately 2 hectares in size.  The plots were visited at least 24 hours after a fresh snowfall, when the temperature remained below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and with very little wind or no rain.  Each plot was visited a total of 4 times within a 4 - 6 week time period.  The location of cottontail scat was georeferenced and collected for future molecular analysis to determine the species.  
Cottontail scat and tracks observed in fresh snow.
Various habitat measurements were recorded throughout the plot that described the vegetation density at various heights, land management, and land cover types.  Generally, the vegetation favored by both cottontail species is very dense and can consist of several thorny plant species, which makes working in them very labor intensive and at times dangerous.
Habitats in the Apple Hill Plot on East Shore Rd., Morris, Litchfield Co., CT, USA
We wore protective clothing consisting of chainsaw chaps, leather gloves, and heavy winter coats.  Several volunteers supported this project at every stage.  Jared Franklin, Ireland Kennedy, Rachelle Talbot, and Ben Vermilyea helped with the initial plot layouts in the autumn.  Jared couldn't get enough of walking through the pucker-brush so he returned to help with the surveillance portion.  Liyanna Winchell, Naomi Robert, and Nicki Hall decided to brave the single digit temperatures and searched for cottontail spore.  We observed several areas within the plots where scat was deposited very densely while other areas had little to no spore, all of which was deposited within approximately 36 hours of the snowfall cessation.  Initially, there did not appear to be strong relationship between the habitat characteristics and spore density within each plot, which suggests that animals congregated in these microhabitats.
Nicki Hall (front) and Naomi Robert were a couple of the brave souls who bushwhacked through some of the densest, thorniest habitats and during days when the daily high temperature remained in the single digits.

Wildlife Camera Images -- February 2017


American Crow at Pine Island Ditches

Black-capped Chickadee at Pine Island Ditches

Black-capped Chickadee at Pine Island Ditches

Adult Cooper's Hawk at Museum Bird Blind

Dark-eyed Juncos at Museum Bird Blind

Fox Sparrows at Museum Bird Blind

Mourning Dove at Museum Bird Blind

Northern Cardinal at Museum Bird Blind

Brown-headed Cowbird at Museum Bird Blind

Mixed flock of blackbirds including male and female Red-winged Blackbird, Purple Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, & Rusty Blackbird.

Eastern Chipmunk at Apple Hill

Eastern Chipmunk at Apple Hill

Eastern Coyote at Pine Island Ditches

Eastern Gray Squirrel at Museum Bird Blind

Raccoon at Pine Island Ditches

Red Squirrel at Museum Bird Blind

Striped Skunk at Museum Bird Blind

Virginia Opossum at Museum Bird Blind

White-footed Mouse (eye shine in center of image) at Apple Hill

Yearling Buck White-tailed Deer at Apple Hill

Adult Doe White-tailed Deer at Apple Hill

Adult Doe White-tailed Deer at Apple Hill

Adult Doe White-tailed Deer at Apple Hill

First Signs of Emerald Ash Borer Damage Observed at White Memorial

Emerald ash borer is a highly invasive insect that was introduced from Asia and was first detected at White Memorial in 2014.  White Memorial staff and volunteers utilized a variety of surveillance programs starting in 2012 including Cerceris wasp biosurveillance, double-decker purple prism traps, and encouraging USDA and UCONN to install canopy purple prism traps throughout the property.  We observed our first signs of Emerald Ash Borer damage on the property during the winter of 2016 and 2017.  The damage is caused by woodpeckers picking at the bark of ash trees exposing the lighter-colored underbark to acquire EAB larvae living under the bark.  This pattern is commonly referred to as "blonding".  Blonding is often observed in the canopy of the trees first since that is where the adults often lay their eggs and where the larvae start to feed under the bark.  We often see blonding along the southern aspect of the tree trunk which is likely the preferred location for adults to lay their eggs so that larvae develop faster on the warmer side of the tree.

White ash (Fraxinus americanus) blonding caused by woodpeckers searching
for Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) larvae.
Blonding can be observed along the entire length of the tree trunk, from canopy to ground.
Close-up view of white ash tree blonding.
Close-up view of Emerald Ash Borer exit hole (D-shaped hole) which is evidence of adults emerging from this tree.