Harris Center teams with wildlife tracker

  • Todd Alleger of the Northeast Motus Collaboration & Willistown Conservation Trust installs the first of 50 Motus receiving stations with members of NH Audubon, NH Fish & Game, and volunteers. PHOTO BY MARK NUTTER

Published: 12/28/2020 4:55:18 PM

The first of an eventual network of 50 wildlife tracking stations across New England is now operational in southwestern New Hampshire, enabling scientists and conservation agencies to follow the movements of tagged birds, bats and migratory insects across the region.

The station was erected last month in Stoddard on the 515-acre Granite Lake Headwaters property of the Harris Center for Conservation Education, Hancock. It is the newest addition to the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, a global network of nearly 1,000 such stations coordinated by Birds Canada, and which can automatically track a new generation of highly miniaturized radio transmitters small enough to be deployed on animals as small as hummingbirds and monarch butterflies.

The Stoddard site is the first of more than four dozen receivers that will be installed in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island between now and 2022 by a consortium of resource agencies and conservation nonprofits, and underwritten by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Competitive State Wildlife Grant of $998,000, matched by $355,500 in private funds.

The Granite Lake Headwaters site, with its high ridgetop and sweeping views, is an ideal location for a receiving station, and has an enthusiastic collaborator in the Harris Center. The station includes a 40-foot-high mast with a series of directional antennas on top, a solar panel for off-the-grid power, and a cellular modem that automatically transmits the station’s detection data to the Motus system. The receiver constantly scans the surrounding skies, up to 10 miles in all directions, for migrating birds, bats or insects carrying one of several types of miniature transmitters.

“Never before have we had the technology to see the details of individual migration routes,” said Doug Bechtel, president of New Hampshire Audubon. “Motus technology and this New England array, especially in conjunction with the expansion in the mid-Atlantic states, will enable researchers, conservation organizations, and decision-makers to identify important stopover habitats for migrants passing through the region and lead to important conservation decisions and actions.”

“The Harris Center is delighted to participate in this cutting-edge research network,” says Brett Amy Thelen, Science Director of the Harris Center. “In addition to contributing important data about the movements of birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies, Motus is a powerful tool for environmental education. Seeing which species passed by “our” station – and where they went before and after flying over our neck of the woods – pro vides a tangible connection to the wonder of winged migration for our audiences. We look forward to including findings from the New England Motus in our community and school-based education programs for years to come.”

The Motus (Latin for “movement”) Wildlife Tracking System, launched in 2012 by Birds Canada, for the first time allows scientists to follow the movements of small migratory animals across hemispheric distances – tracking Swainson’s thrushes migrating between South America and Canada, for example, or threatened shorebirds from staging areas on the mid-Atlantic coast to the ir nesting grounds in the Arctic. Researchers are using Motus tracking technology to learn if mercury contamination is impairing the ability of songbirds to navigate properly, or if insecticides are altering the behavior of migrating monarch butterflies.

When complete, the New England array will consist of a series of east-west “fence lines” of receiving stations across the region to intercept tagged migrants as they pass through the region. Remarkably little is known about specific migratory routes and timing for most species, and the information generated by the Motus project can inform conservation actions, including identifying and protecting critical habitat. 

The tracking information generated by the Granite Lake Headwaters site – and all Motus stations – is publicly accessible at www.motus.org, including the ability to map the travels of tagged animals, explore the hundreds of projects using Motus, and see what each of the nearly 1,000 stations worldwide have detected.

To learn more about the New England Motus Project or how you can help, contact Carol Foss (cfoss@nhaudubon.org) or Marc Nutter (mnutter@nhaudubon.org).

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