Adehl Schwaderer, Robert Morris University student and Fern Hollow Nature Center employee, shares her watershed research with us.
Allegheny County is home to one of the healthiest watersheds in our area: the Little Sewickley Creek Watershed. Now you might be asking yourself, “What makes a watershed healthy?” The overall water quality of the watershed determines the quantitative value of the system on a predetermined scale of health. How could someone just walking through a watershed, with no prior experience in monitoring water quality, know that an area is “healthy?” One way would be to keep an eye out for the small brown and white striped bird, the Louisiana Waterthrush.
These birds migrate north to Pennsylvania in the spring where they establish territories to find a mate and raise the next generation of waterthrushes. They are also known as an obligate riparian species, meaning that they depend completely on the habitat along the stream for breeding, nesting, and feeding. It has been proven in previous studies that a large amount of Louisiana Waterthrushes in an area is an indicator of good water quality. That is why I have decided to make the focus of my senior thesis to gain a better understanding of the prevalence, distribution, and breeding success and productivity of the Louisiana Waterthrush in the Little Sewickley Creek Watershed (LSCW).
I will begin my fieldwork at the end of March when the male waterthrushes have returned and are establishing territories along the stream banks. I will be surveying eight different reaches of stream in the LSCW, two of which have been impacted in a way that diminishes the water quality. Once I have located the male territories I will be monitoring the nests to collect data about their clutch size and fledgling success, with the help of several volunteers and ornithologists Robert Mulvihill and Dr. Steven Latta from the National Aviary.
There is no detailed recorded data of the presence of this bird in the watershed, other than documented sightings of the species on Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird website. I hope that this study will provide a more detailed look at the health of the watershed as a whole and add to our knowledge of the bird in our area.
Have questions? Want to get involved in the study?