Highstead Welcomes New Board Chair

At its annual meeting on June 24, Highstead elected a new Board Chair, Dorothy Adams. The board also approved the promotion of longtime Operations Director Geordie Elkins to Executive Director.

The outgoing Board President, David Foster, will focus his efforts on the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities vision, continuing to advance landscape conservation across New England. Foster will remain on the Highstead board.

Adams has a broad range of experience in leading and advising social purpose organizations across the non-profit sector, including as Board Chair at Capital for Change, Inc. and as a partner at Social Venture Partners Connecticut.

Early in his career, Elkins worked at Highstead as a Horticulturist between 1996 and 2001, where he helped plant many of the plants that make up today’s landscape. In 2012 he returned to Highstead to oversee operations, and in the fall of 2019, he joined the Highstead Board.

Category: News

People of Highstead: Tewosret Vaughn

Highstead would not be what it is today without the steadfast leadership and diverse experiences of its team members. Meet the people of Highstead: experts, conservation leaders, scientists, and staff that embody Highstead’s mission to build a healthier, more livable world for all in our staff interview series.

Tewosret Vaughn, Communications Specialist

What is your role?

Tewosret: My role is Communications Specialist at Highstead. I collaborate with staff and partners to create and implement communications supporting the Highstead mission and advancing the Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands, and Communities vision.

What drew you to Highstead?

Tewosret: My north star for my work is that it contributes to a language and culture that supports a healthy relationship with our environment and ourselves. I saw my values in Highstead’s mission and work, and I knew I would learn more than I could imagine by joining the team.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

Tewosret: My favorite parts of my job are that every day I learn something new, or a new strand of discovery unravels for me to explore. Those instances often lead me to opportunities to learn more and collaborate with my talented colleagues.

A person with long hair crouches beneath a camera hood and faces the direction of a tranquil pond surrounded by fall foliage.
Tewosret underneath a large format camera hood.

Where does your motivation come from?

Tewosret: A mix of influences seeds my motivation. I’ve lived half of my life with a deep feeling that the modern consumptive way of living is incompatible with healthy, thriving life on Earth. Even so, I draw motivation from nature’s persistence and adaptability, and the ongoing stories of resilience from my communities, family, and ancestors.

What is the professional accomplishment you are most proud of?

Tewosret: I am proud of pursuing a nontraditional background in creative arts, sustainable farming, and being a first-generation college graduate. I attribute those opportunities to my family and mentors, who saw value in my work and personal visions. Their support is a big part of why I have enjoyed working on meaningful projects with inspiring, kind, knowledgeable, and generous people over the years.

People of Highstead: Tewosret Vaughn. A felted green, grey, and brown hammock hangs in a studio.
Felted wool hammock using natural dyes from regional native and nonnative plants by Tewosret Vaughn
People of Highstead: Tewosret Vaughn. A canvas screen print of pink, white, and black landscape formations and human figures bending forward.
Textile screen print of collaged photographs at Lake Michigan by Tewosret Vaughn

Who are your conservation heroes throughout history and today? Why?

Tewosret: Rachel Carson’s story left a significant impression on me when I was a high school AP Environmental Science student. Her advocacy against chemical pesticide use catalyzed my appreciation for all the planet does to support life and inspired me to pursue an environmentally aligned path.

Today, my dad is one of my first and biggest conservation heroes. He worked as a salmon fisheries coordinator and technician in Washington State. Throughout my youth, he would often tell me stories about his experiences collaborating with his communities to achieve healthier and safer passage for salmon.

And the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, Alutiiq, and local people organizing against the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region in Alaska. They are protecting their way of life intertwined with the land and water. Pebble Mine threatens the habitat of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon population and food sources for around 190 species of migratory birds.

Do you recommend any books, podcasts, or other resources that have had an impact on your life or work?

Tewosret: I return to A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit throughout different seasons of my life. While autobiographical, the book’s essays explore memory, loss, and place. Also by Rebecca Solnit is Wanderlust and explores a history of walking as a social, pleasure, and political act. I’m also a big fan of Orion Magazine and its anthologies and contributors. Currently, I’m reading and learning from Leah Thomas’ Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet.

What advice would you give to the next generation of conservationists?

Tewosret: I would suggest the next generation of conservationists check out the helpful advice from my colleague’s interviews, but I will share my two cents. My brief time in the environmental and conservation movements has taught me it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the urgency to address climate change. I’ve found that taking opportunities to rest, reevaluate, and celebrate successes is a necessary part of conservation work. We are involved in a movement with serious consequences; for many, it is a labor born out of love. Hold on to that love, or whatever it is that moves you, and remember to ground your work there.

Category: Stories


Yale Conservation Scholar Prepares for Future in Conservation

Beau Martinez is a Yale Conservation Scholar and student at the University of Notre Dame studying Political Science and Sustainability. He joins Highstead for a nine-week internship to learn more about conservation and environmental policy by assisting the Highstead Conservation Finance Program in expanding its article series covering emerging federal conservation funding, developing an invasive plant identification guide for Metalmark butterfly habitat restoration purposes, and designing a community conservation workshop for the Hudson to Housatonic Regional Conservation Partnership.

A man stands with his arm crossed and smiles in front of a wooden wall. Beau Martinez, 2022 Yale Conservation Scholar, University of Notre Dame
Beau Martinez, 2022 Yale Conservation Scholar, University of Notre Dame

The Yale Conservation Scholars Early Leadership Initiative is a summer internship program for undergraduates who are traditionally underrepresented in the conservation field and who are interested in conservation-related careers. Program participants develop their networks and work directly with environmental professionals during and after their internships.

What do you hope to gain from your time at Highstead? How does your Highstead internship fit into your career plans?

Beau: I hope to be introduced to multiple subject areas I am not yet familiar with, so I can fully prepare for a future in conservation work. These new areas of interest in invasive plants, conservation finance, and regional planning will all contribute to my goal of working in the field of conservation and environmental policy analysis after college.

What was your favorite course in undergrad?

Beau: My favorite undergrad course so far was a course called Climate Change and Armed Conflict. We analyzed the increased regional and international competition over the reduced quality and quantity of natural resources as a result of climate change. I especially enjoyed learning about the international naval disputes between northern countries in the melting Arctic Ocean.

What advice would you give to students looking to pursue a career in conservation?

Beau: The world of conservation is multifaceted and complex, and it is essential to consider your skills and interests to determine which industry suits you best. That may mean exploring areas of academia and industry sectors you have little experience with, as well as networking with conservation groups and organizations, to find what interests you most.

What advice have you received that has stuck with you?

Beau: “No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.”

What drew you to Highstead?

Beau: Conservation and environmental management are new areas of interest for me, and I was not sure which avenues I wanted to work in. When I was researching all the internship sites available for Yale Conservation Scholars, I noticed that Highstead offered a motley of programs ranging from plant identification to conservation finance and policy analysis, which I believed would help me narrow down my interests.

Any surprises so far?

Beau: There are many aspects of a new job I have come to expect, but there are others I hardly ever even consider. When I first came to Highstead, I appreciated how incredibly proud everyone was with their own work and willing to share their personalized connection with Highstead’s property and mission with me.

How does the Highstead internship compare to your past work experience?

Beau: At Highstead, the level of trust from my supervisors has granted me extensive freedom to utilize my own creativity and problem-solving skills to complete projects, an aspect I have yet to experience at any other job. Also, the overwhelming beauty of the workspace is incomparable to the previous dimly-lit office buildings I worked at.

Who are your conservation heroes throughout history and today and why?

Beau: I have grown an appreciation for author and conservationist John Muir for his role in the establishment of establishing the National Parks Service alongside President Theodore Roosevelt, and for his founding of the Sierra Club, an organization I have followed for years. I have also learned a lot about our role in protecting our world and its resources through the authors, such as the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, and Henry David Thoreau.

Category: News, Stories


Emerald Ash Borer Influences Forest Change And More

Five years ago, almost 10% of Highstead’s mesic forest canopy was comprised of ash trees. Today, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), a beetle native to Asia, has eliminated almost every one of these trees.

How did they do that? Emerald ash borers (EAB) lay eggs in ash trees’ braided bark, and once larvae hatch, they feed on the inner bark. This obstructs the ash tree’s ability to transport vital water and nutrients throughout its system. Most ash trees will die 3-5 years after infestation.

Canopy gaps from dead ash trees.
Corresponding thick layer forest floor.

The loss of the ash trees reduces total forest growth and living biomass in the forest. It also changes the structure of the forest, which in turn is changing the habitat for animals. Standing dead trees become an important food source for species like woodpeckers that also eat EAB larvae. However, where the ash canopy has died, invasive vegetation like multi-flora rose and hardwood saplings flourish due to increased sunlight reaching across the forest floor, providing cover for the vulnerable New England cottontail and other shrub-specialist wildlife species.

Emerald Ash Borer adult exit holes
Exit holes in bark where EAB adults emerge after feeding inside as larvae.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), you can help in the effort to stop the spread of emerald ash borer by:

  • Knowing what an ash tree looks like and monitoring the ash trees you see on a regular basis;
  • Swiftly reporting any ash trees that are declining and may pose a danger to people or structures; and
  • Being careful when moving any firewood or young trees.

Category: Stories

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Planting the Seeds of Change in an Overlooked New Haven Neighborhood

Newhallville is a one-square-mile residential New Haven neighborhood that is home to 7,000 residents and has no library, no grocery stores, no community center, and no medical services. Though it is separated from Yale University by just one street and sits next to the popular Farmington Canal trail, until a few years ago, the neighborhood had no park and not one place to sit outdoors. A lot has changed through the leadership and partnership of Doreen Akubakar, Founder and Director of CPEN (Community Place-making Engagement Network).

Newhallville, a New Haven neighborhood, is home to the Urbanscapes Native Plant Nursery
Photo credit: Robin Ladouceur

That progress will be on display on June 11 from 10 am-1 PM, when Newhallville will be home to the second in a series of “All Things Pollinator” events. CPEN and Highstead are collaborating to bring a range of speakers to the event which will feature presentations about ecotype seeds, pollinators, birding, and more at the Urbanscapes Native Plant Nursery, 133 Hazel St., New Haven, CT. The day will also include a native plant sale featuring pollinator-friendly plants grown in the community’s new UrbanScapes Native Plant Nursery. The nursery was erected in 2021 through the efforts of Newhalville residents, volunteers, and partner organizations, including Highstead’s Operations Director Geordie Elkins and Grounds & Facilities Manager Jesse Hubbard.

A vision of a more vibrant community

When Doreen Akubakar first arrived in Newhallville it was as a parent engagement liaison in the community charged with encouraging more parental involvement in education. What she saw was a neighborhood that was “First or last in everything,” says Doreen. “Poverty, crime, and unemployment were among the highest in the city, and the number of businesses was limited to a couple of bodegas.” But what she actually saw was an opportunity.

Photo credit: Robin Ladouceur

“I’m a visionary,” says Doreen. “I can see the potential so clearly. And I’ve learned to make that vision a reality by inviting in partners that can share in the vision and help make things happen.” Her vision included a vibrant outdoor community hub centered on access to green spaces, community, and opportunity. “My career has centered around the environment, and I know that access to the outdoors changed my own life. I thought that we could begin to transform Newhallville’s residents by welcoming them to green spaces and building community around those experiences.”

She began with small beautification projects and quickly expanded to the creation of a dedicated community park adjacent to the greenway. What was once called the “Mudhole” is now a park and community outdoor space open to all neighbors from March to November. There are youth programs, community breakfasts and bike tours every Saturday, birding programs, and a soon-to-be-launched public Wi-Fi network.

Connecting with neighbors and partners

Key to the success in Newhallville is connection – with community members, partners in New Haven and beyond, and supporters who embrace Doreen’s vision. “We hope that people will make the trip to New Haven on June 11 to see the work in action, buy some native plants, or donate to support the All Things Pollinator event,” says Geordie Elkins, Highstead Operations Director.

All Things Pollinator

June 11
10 am to 1 pm
UrbanScapes Native Plant Nursery, 133 Hazel St., New Haven, CT.

During the event, the following presentations, displays and information tables will be hosted by CPEN and partners:

Highstead/Ecotype Project– Geordie Elkins – Sowing seeds and transplanting
NOFA/Eco59/Ecotype Project– Native ecotype seed- Food/Pollinator connection
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) – How to Survey a Flower
Pollinator Pathway – Pollinator Pathways in CT
Wiggle Room – Worms and Healthy Soils
Menunkatuck Audubon Society and Audubon CT – Bird-friendly native plants
WildOnes – Landscaping with Natives Information table
New Haven Free Public Library – Seed library

Save the Dates

Mark your calendars for these additional events in the series. All will be held at UrbanScapes Native Plant Nursery, 133 Hazel St., New Haven, CT. from 5:30 to 7:00 pm.

  • July 21st – How to assess a yard for pollinator habitat – Xerxes Society
  • Aug. 18th – Planting a 4×4 pollinator garden
  • Sept. 15th – Fall clean-up and seed collecting

Category: Stories

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Infrastructure Law Includes Funding Opportunities for Tribal Governments and Entities 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes more than $15 billion in specific funding for Tribal Governments and Entities. Programs funded by the law span several sectors, including transportation, water, resilience, energy, environment, and broadband. 

The result of a collaboration among First Light, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Highstead Foundation, the project was designed to aggregate the funding opportunities and programs from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that are most relevant to the needs of  Tribal Governments and Entities. The collaboration arose out of conversations between the Highstead team and Ciona Ulbrich regarding the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and funding for Justice 40. “While this particular initiative focused on opportunities for Tribal communities working with First Light, we thought that this set of information might be of interest to Tribal governments or entities around the country,” says Ciona Ulbrich, Senior Project Manager at Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Catalyst with First Light.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides funding for approximately 380 new and existing programs, making it difficult and time-consuming to navigate. Highstead’s Tara Whalen, Manager of Conservation Finance Programs, and Jackie Rigley, Conservation Finance Associate, pared down the list and provided contacts, important dates, and website links to program information with the aim of making this new federal funding more accessible.   

Among the programs highlighted were the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Climate Resilience Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fish Passage Program. The Highstead team also announced the release of the Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful Challenge,” which will fund $1 billion in ecosystem restoration projects over the next 10 years. 

The resources above include programs from a range of categories and federal agencies. Information such as funding amount, deadlines, contact information, and relevant links are compiled in the PDF. The presentation highlights 10 programs that were most relevant to the audience.  

Programs were organized by category (eg. water, resilience) and funding type. Funding type refers to eligibility. “For Tribes Only” means that only Tribal governments and entities are eligible to apply for and receive this funding. “Set aside” means that a certain portion of funding for this program must be allocated to Tribal governments and entities, and a competitive program means that Tribal entities are eligible to apply for and receive this funding alongside other entities such as states. 
If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to us at:

Category: News

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Highstead Visitors Gain First-Hand Look at Migratory and Resident Birds

More than two-dozen visitors met at the Highstead Barn in Redding, Connecticut, on May 14 for a morning among the newly arrived long-distance travelers and resident birds on this year’s World Migratory Bird Day.

A group of people gather outside a barn.
Guests were first invited to the Highstead barn to connect and split into groups.

Local farmer, naturalist, and neighbor Bill Hill; Highstead Operations Director Geordie Elkins; and Highstead Senior Ecologist Ed Faison led two groups on walks through the Highstead forest and up to the grassland meadow. They traversed beneath keystone native oak trees, passed blooming native wildflowers, and stopped by the Highstead deer exclosure to observe how White-tailed deer and insect species like the emerald ash borer continue to shape the forest.

The Highstead deer exclosure.
The Highstead deer exclosure.

Abundant birdsong provided the morning’s melodic score. While some avian species remained elusive, the groups gained glimpses of some less common visitors like the yellow-breasted flycatcher in the shrubby understory, and the recently arrived bobolink appeared among 40 acres of carefully-managed meadow habitat on the clay drumlin.

Migratory Bird Density - KOKX Radar Extend in Connecticut weather radar image. Migratory and Resident Birds.
Weather radar image from a National Weather Service station in Upton, NY on a clear night. Colors indicate bird migration, not a stormfront. The brighter the color, the greater the bird density.

The walks took place in the middle of one of the planet’s most significant annual mass migrations—when birds travel from their winter retreats to their spring and summer habitat in the northern hemisphere. The night before the event, over 400 million birds were estimated to have flown over the United States, and more than 360,000 of them flew over Connecticut. This mass migration will continue through the summer and will repeat in the fall when migratory birds make their return journeys, following the changing seasons and their available food and habitat resources.

A bobolink perches on a tree branch.
A bobolink perches on a tree branch.

As Geordie explained to walk participants, researchers use weather radar to assess bird densities and trace their pathways. These routes often coincide over the most densely developed parts of the Northeast region, putting them at risk for limited stopover locations, collisions with buildings, and confusion caused by artificial light. Unfortunately, researchers estimate an overall 25% reduction in North American bird populations since 1970, highlighting the critical importance of conserved lands like those at Highstead, throughout Redding, and beyond.

On-site events like bird and ecology walks provide opportunities for neighbors and the wider conservation community alike to learn together and to connect with the land and each other. Even more, sharing time among the birds and in our natural environment may inspire further actions toward protecting our interconnected planet. Those steps may include joining a local environmental effort like your nearest Audubon or land trust. It may even involve changing how you care for your landscape to have more natural and wild characteristics to provide valuable habitat for birds and pollinators.

Sign up for the Highstead E-News and receive the first word on upcoming in-person events and updates on Highstead’s happenings and projects.

A group of people walk away through grass toward a wal of trees. Migratory and Resident Birds.
Guests make their way down the clay drumlin.

Category: News

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10 Birds that Give Life to the Highstead Landscape

The Highstead landscape awakens on spring and summer mornings with a special beauty. Dew evaporates from the hilltop grassland meadow, leaves in the oak and red maple forests unfurl, and various birds break into song. These avian inhabitants choose the Highstead landscape where a mixture of habitat is available for their year-round, migratory, breeding, or nonbreeding needs. Highstead bird communities consist of species with wide geographical ranges, different ecosystem niches, and particular life cycle needs.

Whether busy flying overhead or ground feeding for insects and worms, these different birds are key players in the everyday ecological processes unfolding over seasons. Ruby-throated hummingbirds assist with essential pollination and blue jays with seed dispersal of oak trees, while red-bellied woodpeckers and other birds feed on “pests” and insects, keeping populations under control. Some species, like the barred owl, scavenge carcasses and control the population of rodents and small mammals. Further, birds are reliable bioindicators of environmental health or decline. For example, the American woodcock is sensitive to pesticide and heavy metal accumulation.

Get to know 10 species of birds at Highstead that reflect different habitat niches, and particular life cycle needs. Perhaps you will find them in your neck of the woods or have an opportunity to see them among the meadows, forests, and wetlands at one of Highstead’s future in-person guided walks.

Birds of Highstead

1. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). 10 Birds.

Bobolink are a charismatic grassland specialist with a unique, bubbly song and color patterns. As one of our longest-distance migrants, this songbird arrives in Connecticut in early May after flying about 6,000 miles from the grasslands of central South America.

Since they prefer tall grasslands, uncut pastures, prairies, and overgrown fields, New England populations historically grew after European colonization brought large-scale deforestation and agricultural expansion.

Today, Bobolink populations are declining due to widespread application of harmful pesticides; habitat loss from early-shorn hay harvests, which hinder nesting success; and meadow loss due to human development and the regrowth of forests. At Highstead, Bobolink utilize 40 acres of carefully managed meadow habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species evaluates Bobolink as a species of Least Concern.

Listen to the Bobolink (All About Birds – Cornell University)

2. Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera)

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera). 10 Birds. Photo by: Highstead Foundation.

Where and when can you find the Blue-winged Warbler around Highstead and the Eastern region? These songbirds sing their buzzy insect-like song seemingly without end in the early part of their breeding season (May-June) throughout Highstead’s maple-ash wood canopy gaps. They specialize in shrubland habitat or forest openings where regenerating vegetation or a dense shrub layer occurs. On these shrubs, bright yellow-green male warblers sing for a mate and may even harvest insects from leaves by dangling upside down.

Due to their specific habitat needs, Blue-winged Warbler populations are generally in decline following decades of landscape changes and forest maturation following agricultural abandonment; however, the IUCN Red List categorizes Blue-winged Warblers as a species of Least Concern.

Listen to the Blue-Winged Warbler (All About Birds – Cornell University)

3. Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus). 10 Birds. Photo by: Highstead Foundation.

This large (crow-sized) Highstead forest-dweller forages for insects like carpenter ants and the larvae of wood-boring beetles, like the invasive emerald ash borer. Their efforts leave rectangular holes in live, dead, or dying trees and logs—you might find deep cavities in rotten wood where woodpeckers nest, roost, and search for food. Look high and low as Pileated Woodpeckers fly and forage in the upper forest canopy and at the base of large trees in mature forests.

Male birds will drum into trees throughout the winter season in their efforts to set and defend their territory. Both male and female birds partake in drumming as part of their courtship rituals in the spring. They may also drum in response to intrusion upon their nests.

Due to their habitat requirements, Pileated Woodpeckers need large alive and dead standing and fallen trees for both the insects they provide and as containers for their large nest cavities. Their numbers are increasing as forests age and their status is evaluated as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Listen to the Pileated Woodpecker (All About Birds – Cornell University)

4. Veery (Catharus fuscescens)

Veery (Catharus fuscescens). 10 Birds. Photo by: Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Ever heard a Veery “veer”? In late spring and throughout the summer, Veery will sing a spiraling song around dawn and dusk, particularly in forested wetlands, like the Red Maple Swamp at Highstead. After an impressive migration of continuous flapping on their strong and efficient wings—they have been tracked to travel up to 160 miles/285 kilometers in one night’s flight. These thrushes will spend the warmer seasons among their breeding grounds in New England, across the upper Midwest, and into Canada. They breed in wet areas, in interior deciduous forests, near streams and swamps, and where dense understory offers protection for their nests.

Unfortunately, Veery populations are decreasing. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Veery declined over their range by 42% between 1966 and 2014. South American forest transition to agricultural land-use practices and fragmented forest breeding habitat in the northern hemisphere may be to blame. However, Veery is a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Listen to the Veery  (All About Birds – Cornell University)

5. Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). 10 Birds. Photo by Highstead Foundation.

The Eastern Kingbird patrols the skies over the Highstead Pond for flying insects that make up most of its spring and summer diet. Once the seasons pass, the aggressive flycatcher will winter in the forests of South America and subsist on fresh fruit. While at the pond, the territorial kingbird will work to chase larger birds like crows, hawks, and herons away.

Its scientific name, Tyrannus tyrannus denotes “tyrant” or “king,” but its title is not the only characteristic that demands attention. Notice the golden cap on its head? Other kingbirds may have orange or red crowns, but this distinctive feature may remain concealed until a potential predator arrives, when a kingbird may raise its crown before diving at the intruder in an attempt to thwart them. Listen for their song, which can be described as a current of electricity running through a wire.

Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) indicate that 47% of Eastern Kingbird decreased between 1966 and 2017, an era of habitat loss and degradation from human development as well as forest succession, increased pesticide and insecticide use, and reduced prey abundance. Eastern Kingbird is a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Listen to the Eastern Kingbird (All About Birds – Cornell University)

6. Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). Photo by: Highstead Foundation.

“FEE! BEE!” Eastern Phoebes are among the first migratory birds to arrive at Highstead, and the last to leave their New England breeding grounds for their winter homes as far as Mexico. In New England, Phoebes favor brushy habitats like woodland and pond edges, where they hunt for flying insects.

These flycatchers will make themselves at home among rock ledges and human-made structures like bridges and eaves suitable for their nesting (including those on the Highstead barn). One way to tell if you’re looking at a Phoebe is to notice if their tails bob up and down when perched. Phoebes are usually sighted near the Highstead Barn.

Eastern Phoebe numbers are increasing, and they are evaluated as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Listen to the Eastern Phoebe (All About Birds – Cornell University)

7. Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis). Photo by: Highstead Foundation.

The scattered trees, meadows, and partially open habitat throughout the Highstead landscape appeal to the Eastern Bluebird. These small thrushes are fairly common in our region. Despite urbanization, pesticide application, and competition from other cavity-nesters like the non-native European starling and house sparrow, bluebird numbers are increasing. Human-made nest boxes have become a suitable aid for Eastern Bluebirds when available cavities are harder to find.

The Eastern Bluebird is evaluated as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Listen to the Eastern Bluebird (All About Birds – Cornell University)

8. Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea). Photo by: Warren Bielenberg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, National Park Service
Photo Credit: Warren Bielenberg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What was that red flash? A trick of the eye? A cardinal? No it’s even brighter red!  Once you get a closer look or hear the raspy, rambly “chick-burr” beckon you through Highstead’s mature oak forest, you’ll find a Scarlet Tanager.

The male birds are bright red in body, contrasting against the green and browns of a temperate woodland habitat, with black wings and tail. They are denizens of the canopy of tall and undisturbed forest tracts, and breeding pairs will nest high in the trees among pine-oak, oak-hickory, beech, hemlock-hardwood, and even boreal forest stands as far north as Canada. Females and immature males blend more among their surroundings in olive and yellow feathers and darker tails and wings. After the breeding season, adult male plumage will molt to a yellow-olive color while retaining their black tails and wings.

Scarlet Tanager populations are trending stable and are listed as a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Listen to the Scarlet Tanager (All About Birds – Cornell University)

9. Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina)

Come May, Wood Thrush arrive to breed in Connecticut and deciduous New England Forests from wintering in forests as far south as Panama to southern Mexico. While they are generally an interior forest bird, you may also see or hear their “ee-o-lay” song in residential areas or among forests edge. Understory species like spicebush and blueberry are some of the Wood Thrush’s favorite regional plant foods, and small invertebrates and even salamanders are some of their prey.

The species’ status improved in the 2020 IUCN Red List update to Least Concern after seven years of being labeled ‘Near Threatened’. This may be due to improved habitat stewardship and data collection, but Wood Thrush remains a declining species in our region. The North American Breeding Bird Survey details a total population decline of almost 50% between 1966-2019.

Listen to the Wood Thrush (All About Birds – Cornell University)

10. Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Barred Owl (Strix varia). Photo by Highstead Foundation.

Highstead’s most common resident owl is the Barred Owl. You’ll often hear their characteristic hoot (“who cooks for you?”) day or night in the mixed and mature oak forest and wooded wetlands at Highstead. This species does well in deep, unfragmented woods that support optimal habitat like old trees for cavity nesting and small prey animals like invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, chipmunks, voles, mice, and other birds.

Beyond its origins in the eastern United States, Barred Owl ranges extend into Canada and through the South and Midwest, bypassing most western states except for Idaho, Montana, and the Pacific Northwest. Overall, populations are increasing, but the species’ habitat requirements leave them sensitive to tree harvest or severe forest fire activity. Their IUCN Red List status is Least Concern.

Listen to the Barred Owl (All About Birds – Cornell University)

Category: Stories

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Biden Administration Launches $1 Billion “America the Beautiful” Challenge

On April 11, 2022, the Biden administration launched the $1 billion “America the Beautiful” Challenge, which will fund locally led ecosystem restoration and conservation projects throughout the United States.

The Challenge aligns with Biden’s “America the Beautiful” Initiative, which seeks to conserve 30% of United States water and land by 2030. The administration released an initial report on the initiative in May 2021 which outlined the key principles of America the Beautiful. Projects must serve one of the following key areas of need:

  • Conserving and restoring rivers, coasts, wetlands, and watersheds
  • Conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and other important ecosystems that serve as carbon sinks
  • Connecting and reconnecting wildlife corridors, large landscapes, watersheds, and seascapes
  • Improving ecosystem and community resilience to coastal flooding, drought, and other climate-related threats
  • Expanding access to the outdoors, particularly in underserved communities

An initial commitment of $440 million of Federal Resources will kickstart the Challenge and be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. A major portion of the initial funding was implemented through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which passed in November of 2021. 

The Challenge has a “one-stop-shop” competitive grant application process, coordinating funding from several Federal agencies and private philanthropy. This streamlines the process for States, Tribes, territories, local groups, and NGOs to apply.  

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will set aside funding specifically to support Tribal Nations’ efforts, and  “applications will be encouraged to prioritize projects that uplift Tribal and Indigenous-led efforts.” In 2022, the America the Beautiful Challenge expects to award at least 10% of all funding to Tribal grants.  The Challenge is also aligned with the Justice40 Initiative, which aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. 

This year alone, $85 million is allocated to the America the Beautiful Challenge. The Request for Proposals on the Challenge was released May 4, 2022. The Proposal Due Date is Thursday, July 21, 2022. For more information, refer to the applicant tip sheet, and attend their Applicant Webinar on Thursday, May 19. Stay tuned in our Policy Series for updates. 

America the Beautiful Challenge co-leading agencies
Co-leading organizations: The U.S. Department of the Interior, United States Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Category: News

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People of Highstead: Tara Whalen

Highstead would not be what it is today without the steadfast leadership and diverse experiences of its team members. Meet the people of Highstead: experts, conservation leaders, scientists, and staff that embody Highstead’s mission to build a healthier, more livable world for all in our staff interview series.

Tara Whalen
Tara Whalen, Manager of Conservation Finance Programs

What is your role?

Tara: I am the Manager of Conservation Finance Programs. I support the work of our partners and the Regional Conservation Partnerships through research, collaborative efforts, and outreach on environmental policy and finance. I also serve on the Conservation Finance Network editorial team and the Sebago Clean Waters steering committee.

What drew you to Highstead?

Tara: After finishing up my Masters of Science in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management, I met with many land trusts and conservation organizations in the region to get a good sense of what a career in conservation could look like. When I visited Highstead, I was excited to learn about the regional scale of their work and the many different kinds of innovative projects that the team was involved in.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

Tara: I most enjoy the collaborative nature of the work. Since starting at Highstead, I have learned so much from my colleagues and partners, and I find working as a team is very rewarding. I also really value the creativity of the people I work with and the willingness to try out new ideas and approaches to the tough environmental challenges we face.

Where does your motivation come from?

Tara: My motivation comes from a deep love and respect for the natural world that was instilled in me at a very young age. As a family, we spent a lot of time outside, taking walks and helping my mother in the garden. I have always sought work that connected me to the land and have enjoyed working as a park ranger, environmental educator, and wilderness instructor. My past work experiences and studies have galvanized my interest in environmental justice and a desire for meaningful work where my efforts will both protect the land and natural resources, and the right of all people to have access to and a connection with the natural world.

What is the professional accomplishment you are most proud of?

Tara: I am most proud of how much I have grown professionally. You can take many different paths with a career in conservation, and it can be difficult to navigate at times. I am happy to say I am now in an organization and position that allows me to utilize the skills and relationships I’ve built over the years and, at the same time, challenges me every day to continue to grow and learn.

Do you recommend any books, podcasts, or other resources that have had an impact on your life or work?

Tara: I came across an essay written by William Cronon titled The Trouble with Wilderness several years back, which has had a huge impact on how I think about the natural world and conservation. More recently, I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which I really enjoyed and would recommend.

Where is your favorite place to recreate in the Northeast? What makes it special?

Tara: My favorite place has to be the forests in Northern New Jersey, where I used to work and lead camping trips for students. I spent so much time in these woods and on the trails that it became my second home. I make sure I make it back there each summer to hike and spend a few nights. It’s a beautiful place that is very important to me.

What advice would you give to the next generation of conservationists?

Tara: I would advise the future generation to stay curious, ask questions, and be open to learning from and connecting with new people. There are so many facets to conservation work, endless new things to learn, and new ways of doing this work. Remember, it is OK if your career path is not a straight line. Different experiences and skills will make you a more agile and impactful conservationist.

Category: Stories

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