Research used to assess the health of Pine Bush

— Photo from the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

All hands on deck: Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission science staff and volunteers conduct bird research in the Pine Bush Preserve, one of many summertime monitoring activities.

Have you ever heard of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve? Better yet, have you ever visited it? Walked on the trails? Attended an educational program?

If you have never heard of the Pine Bush, I hope to help you come to know a bit more about it through this column. If you have visited before, I hope to point out something new to you, as I share what’s currently happening in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.

Summer is a busy time here in the Pine Bush Preserve. Seed collection; Karner blue butterfly surveys; bird banding; visiting camp groups; and Pine Bush Pups, our series of programs for preschool aged children, are just a few of the many projects going on.

Of course, there is a lot of action in the animal world, too. Karner blue butterflies are flying, buckmoth caterpillars are on the move, baby birds are hatching, and wildflowers are blooming. 

If you have read this column before or visited the Pine Bush, you know that it is a unique place. This makes it a great location for a variety of different types of scientific research.

This research by preserve staff and university professors helps us assess the health of this rare ecosystem. It also helps us evaluate the effectiveness of management activities in the preserve, letting us know if a certain technique is working or not. The research also gives us the unique opportunity to include the latest findings in our education programs.

Scientific research is being conducted in the preserve to study animals big and small. Camera traps placed in managed and unmanaged parts of the Pine Bush Preserve help us to see what mammals are active in different areas.

In addition to mammals, there are several different research projects that monitor birds. Prairie warblers are a good indicator of the health of the pitch-pine, scrub-oak barrens, as this is the type of habitat that they breed in.

Two birds, the American woodcock and whip-poor-will, which are active in the evening, are also monitored. The whip-poor-will is of particular interest because, in the past, they were very abundant here but have become much less common in the Pine Bush and throughout much of North America.

Fall bird banding is a chance to document what birds are migrating through the area and MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) is a continent-wide coordinated bird banding effort that monitors breeding-season, landbird populations and helps inform conservation and management efforts.

Insects are another important area of research for the conservation staff here. The endangered Karner blue butterfly is monitored and has shown an increase from a few hundred in 1991 to more than 3,000 in 2012.

In addition to the Karner blue, the buckmoth (a New York State species of special concern), and the frosted elfin (which is threatened in New York State) are monitored.

There are also preliminary plans to reintroduce a butterfly, the regal fritillary, and a dragonfly, the banded bog haunter. The bog haunter specializes on the pine-barrens, vernal ponds, another rare habitat in the preserve.

In addition to all the research involving animals, wetlands are regularly visited to collect information about groundwater. Vegetation surveys are conducted to help determine overall ecosystem health and the suitability of restored habitat for some of our most rare animal species.

Another project is investigating how temperature and humidity change in frost pockets. These low valleys between the dunes are cooler at night than the dune ridges, experiencing repeated frosts well into June; their management may be important to buffering certain wildlife from the expected effects of climate change.

Pitch pine is also being monitored to determine if prescribed fire is adequately stimulating new seedlings. 

As you can see, there is a lot of science going in Pine Bush Preserve. I have only brushed the surface in this article. 

All the research that is done comes back to being able to assess the health of this rare ecosystem as part of our effort to create and manage a preserve that is healthy for many kinds of plant and animals for generations to come.

If you are particularly interested in research in the Pine Bush Preserve, please check out our Science Lecture Series. This is a series of free science talks that occur on the third Thursday of every month.

If you want more information about the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, the Discovery Center, or scientific research, feel free to check the website:, give the commission a call at 456-0655, or stop into the Discovery Center at 195 New Karner Road in Albany.