You may recall that I reported last year on a bird banding project that GMI is supporting. To recap, MOTUS is a program for deploying automated receivers across the country to pick up coded signals from bird tags. 

We are providing technical support to the Northeast Motus Collaboration (#48) and your scribe is acting as a volunteer technical advisor to this group.  There has been extensive bird tag testing at Marshlands with field tests and also drone missions. 

A technical report has been published where we compare two Motus-compatible tags: The NanoTag and the LifeTag/PowerTag. The “NanoTag” is manufactured by Lotek and has been widely used by researchers using the MOTUS system since the beginning. The LifeTag technology was developed by Cornell University, and has since been licensed to Cellular Tracking Technologies (CTT) from which they have developed the CTT LifeTag and CTT PowerTag. These tags demonstrate greatly improved performance in both detection distance and code identification.  The LifeTag is solar powered and will run forever as long as the sun shines whereas the PowerTag is powered by a tiny battery which works for birds that prefer to travel at night.

We have tested a number of samples of each tag variant and the LifeTag and PowerTag far out perform the NanoTag in detection distance.  The NanoTag is detectable only to about 0.5 km whereas the CTT tags have been detected out to 8 km on tests at Marshlands.  Some recent tag detections have been as far as 40 km over water.  This difference in performance is probably due the higher operating frequency (434 MHz) of the CTT tags compared to the NanoTag (166 MHz) which makes the tag antenna more efficient. The improved coding system provides a better signal to noise ratio which also increases detection range.

For those of you who are interested in the technical details here is a link to the test report.  We are also home to one of over 375 automated receiver systems across the globe.

The summer season is over and we are now in full swing with fall migration. We had three walks this season with one each in June, July and August. We had a total of 68 species observed including a Little Blue Heron which was a new bird for the property.

Our June walk has held on Sunday the second. June traditionally is a point where most of the species seen can be assumed to be breeding in the area. We took the group into the woodlands above the marsh. A group of five recorded fifty-one species over a three-and-a-half-hour period covering roughly five miles. Highlights included: Bald Eagle, Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Great-crested Flycatcher, Veery, and Scarlet Tanager among the GMI regulars.

The July walk took place on Sunday the twenty-eighth. A group of seven spent close to four hours covering a little over three miles. While the birds were starting to “quiet down”, we managed to observe fifty species. The biggest highlight was a Juvenile Little Blue Heron, a first for the property. The group was able to get great looks as it perched on some dead snags in the marsh. Late July into August is when Herons and Egrets disperse from nesting sites into the surrounding areas. Other highlights included: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, plenty of Green Herons, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Swamp Sparrow, and Indigo Bunting.

Things slowed down in August as most species have finished breeding activities and males are no longer actively singing for mates or vigorously defending territories. Birding at this time of year becomes a mainly “site-only” activity and some species can be difficult to detect without an audible hint. A group of six spent about three hours in the heat on Sunday, August eighteenth and covered about three miles. We managed to view forty-three species. Highlights include: Wood Duck, multiple Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a pair of Cooper’s Hawks, Eastern Wood-pewee, Yellow-throated Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, and Baltimore and Orchard Orioles.

As mentioned at the beginning, we are now entering fall migration and the number of species will start to increase again. Our next walk is scheduled for Sunday, September twenty-second at 7:00AM.

See you out there!  

Photo courtesy of Jim Moffett  

In addition to our monthly GMI bird walks the July 28th walk will include a roundtable discussion at 10:30am of the following topics that should be of interest to fellow birders:

  • Results of our inaugural Blue Bird trail.  Jim Moffett organized a work party to build and install a dozen Blue Bird boxes this Spring.  Our dedicated volunteers, Dave and Joanne Karkosak, are doing weekly surveys of the nest activity which will be reviewed.
  • Mike Coulter has been using GMI’s SM-4 SongMeter to record bird songs in various parts of the Great Marsh.  Mike will discuss his results so far and future plans.  One of which is to apply for a grant from WildLife acoustics for a number of these devices to further studies of bird songs and the effect of Pa Turnpike noise on their activity.
  • Folks from Willistown Conservation Trust will provide an overview of the MOTUS project.  The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a collaborative research network that uses coordinated automated radio telemetry arrays to study movements of small animals.
  • WCT has received a major grant to build and deploy approximately 40 automated receivers in PA, Delaware and Maryland.
  • GMI has been providing technical support to the MOTUS project.  Jim Moore will do a tour of our MOTUS test antenna farm and provide some results of our tag testing.

We hope you folks can make both events.  For the dedicated birders the walk will start at 6:30AM led by Mike.  If you choose to sleep in the Roundtable will start after the walk – probably about 10:30.

Please contact GMI’s Program director, Lori Moore at 503-544-3868 or if you plan to attend and if you will be arriving at 6:30AM or 10:30AM or anytime in between.  Please check in at the Nature Center when you arrive.

For any birdwatcher whether they be professional or casual, May is the highlight of the birding year. Peak migration in the first couple of weeks offers the chance to see and/or hear the greatest numbers of species in a single day.

This year The Great Marsh Institute is offering a unique charity birding experience, The GMI Big Birding Day, for a group of four people interested in experiencing a memorable day of birding while contributing to GMI’s mission to provide scientific and educational studies. This event will be held on Saturday, May 11th 2019. 176 species have been recorded on the property to date and we are hoping to see/hear over 90 species with a possibility of over 100!.  

The plan is to start birding at 6:00AM with a break for lunch at the Nature Center provided by GMI. After lunch we will continue to bird until as much of the property is covered as possible. We will hike, canoe, and utilize a gator to access all of the different habitats. 

GMI has numerous scientific and educational projects in the works and your donation to these efforts should be well rewarded with a great day of birding.

Mike Coulter 

See you out there,

Further details about the event:

This event is only open to 4 participants and the cost is $100 per person. To sign up for this even please contact Lori Moore:


GMI’s March bird walk had a group of 14 birders’ enjoying the first signs of spring migration. The morning started off with a fly-by Bald Eagle cruising over the marsh. The catfish pond and the upper marsh hosted a pair of American Wigeon along with numerous Wood Duck, Canada Geese, Green-winged Teal and a pair of Black Duck. The first American Tree Swallows made their appearance as well as a FOY Eastern Phoebe. 
Heading out the the marsh and onto the lane, a group of 80 Snow Geese were observed migrating overhead. A beautiful Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in fresh plumage was seen as well. The first Fish Crows of the year were flyovers announcing themselves with their signature nasal calls. 
The wet woods near the turnpike gave the group excellent looks of at least a dozen Rusty Blackbirds and a very accommodating Pileated Woodpecker working the base of a tree at about 30 yards. 
All in all we observed a total of 45 species.
The next walk will be on Sunday, April 14th with a start time of 7:00AM as sunrise will be at 6:26AM. 
See you out there.

Photo Courtesy of George Tallman

When: March 10, 1pm

Where: Nature Center, 28 Moores Rd, Elverson, PA 19520

Come join us on Sunday March 10 at 1pm to build and install 6-7 Bluebird boxes to create a Bluebird trail on the property. Please bring a cordless power dill if you have one.


We are looking for folks that would like to sponsor a nest box for $100.  This donation will help to maintain the nest box. Also we will put up a plaque on the bluebird box with your name or you can name the nest box (be creative).

Monitoring the nest boxes:

We are also in need of some volunteers to monitor the nest boxes on a weekly basis during the breeding season.

Please RSVP to Lori Moore at

 If you are interested in helping build nest boxes, being a sponsor, or monitoring the nest boxes.

Photo courtesy of Jim Moffett

A small group of three birders braved the snow covered marsh on February 10th. This is typically the “slowest” time of the year for the birds but we did manage to observe thirty-two species. 
Some of the highlights include: A pair of Wood Ducks circling the marsh adjacent to the catfish pond, 4 American Black Duck, 7 Ring-necked Duck, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle and 3 American Tree Sparrow. 
As we move out of February and into March the activity and number of species should be on the rise as we move into the very beginnings of spring migration. Our next walk will be on Sunday, March 17th. With the days getting longer and sunrise at 7:10 AM, this walk is scheduled to start at 7:30 AM. 
It’s time to start thinking spring and time to start brushing up on bird songs! (yes, while I know there won’t be a whole lot of singing in the middle of March I like to get an early start; but that’s just me…)
See you soon

Photograph courtesy of Jim Moffett

Our January bird walk took place on Sunday, January 13th. A small group of 5 birders braved the cold and were treated to a total of 27 species. 

As we move further into winter, the waters of the marsh have frozen and ducks and geese have largely moved on to seek open water. We were still able to record 38 Canada Geese and 3 Black Ducks as fly-overs. Despite the cold and frozen water we were able to see and hear some notable species including: Northern Harrier hunting low over the marsh, Pileated Woodpecker calling from the hillside, the first American Tree Sparrow of the season, White-crowned Sparrow working the feeders and three Rusty Blackbirds in the wet areas behind the catfish pond.

Our next walk will be held on Sunday, February 10th at 8:00AM.
See you then!

Photograph taken by Jim Moffett