Motus wildlife tracking station

Todd Alleger of the Northeast Motus Collaboration & Willistown Conservation Trust installs the first of 50 Motus receiving stations in Stoddard with members of NH Audubon, NH Fish & Game, and volunteers.

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

The station was erected last month in Stoddard on the 515-acre Granite Lake Headwaters property of the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock.

According to a New Hampshire Audubon news release, it is the newest addition to the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, a global network of nearly 1,000 such stations coordinated by Birds Canada. It can automatically track a new generation of highly miniaturized radio transmitters small enough to be deployed on animals such as hummingbirds and monarch butterflies.

“Never before have we had the technology to see the details of individual migration routes,” Doug Bechtel, president of New Hampshire Audubon, said in the news release. “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 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.

The effort is underwritten by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Competitive State Wildlife Grant of $998,000, matched by $355,500 in private funds.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the lead agency for this collaborative project; partner agencies include the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Non-governmental partners include New Hampshire Audubon, Maine Audubon, Massachusetts Audubon and the Northeast Motus Collaboration, which is led by the Willistown Conservation Trust and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Avian Research Center, both in Pennsylvania.

The partnership identified the Granite Lake Headwaters site, with its high ridgetop and sweeping views, as an ideal location for a receiving station, and found an enthusiastic collaborator in the Harris Center, the news release said.

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.

“The Harris Center is delighted to participate in this cutting-edge research network,” Brett Amy Thelen, Science Director of the Harris Center, said in the news release.

“In addition to contributing important data about the movements of birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies, Motus is a powerful tool for environmental education,” Thelen said. “Seeing which species passed by “our” station – and where they went before and after flying over our neck of the woods – provides 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 their 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.

According to the news release, 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 New England array will complement existing arrays in New York and the mid-Atlantic, down the Eastern Seaboard, and in southern Canada. Other regional arrays are being planned for much of the rest of North America.

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.