In the thick of it with the rare New England cottontail: An interview with cottontail expert Lisa Wahle
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March 28, 2021 — Rare and elusive, New England cottontail rabbits live throughout the northeast, including on at least three Connecticut Audubon sanctuaries — Larsen in Fairfield, Deer Pond Farm in Sherman/Pawling, N.Y., and Croft in Goshen.
They are indistinguishable in the field from the common eastern cottontail. Their habitat is the young forests and shrub thickets that are quickly disappearing from the region. In Connecticut, more than 50 species of conservation concern rely on those habitats, including Blue-winged Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and Eastern Towhee.
Connecticut Audubon is managing, expanding, and creating those habitats on eight sanctuaries. What’s good for the birds is good for the rabbits, and what’s good for the rabbits is good for the birds.
Conservation biologist Lisa Wahle oversees the New England cottontail restoration project in Connecticut.
In this interview she talks about the project; the difficulty of identifying them in the field; their range; and the Connecticut Audubon sanctuaries where they find refuge. Scroll for a breakdown of the interview’s segments and what each contains:
From the start to the 5 minute 45 second mark — Identifying New England cottontails and the more common and almost identical Eastern cottontail; their range.
5:45 to 8:15 — The New England Cottontail Restoration Project. A petition to consider them for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation success means no listing.
8:15 to 9:53 — New England cottontail is the poster child for young forest habitat. More than 50 species of conservation concern rely on that habitat in Connecticut. Those include numerous birds: American Woodcock, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Field Sparrow, and Eastern Towhee among them.
9:53 to 11:41 — Loss of habitat, and the importance of high quality habitat and connections among habitats.
11:41 to 15:35 — Habitat restoration is needed as old forest replaces young forest. Historically, fire, beaver, wind, and framing created shrub and young forest habitat.
15:35 to 18:51 — Focus areas for restoration throughout the Northeast and with Connecticut Audubon. Western Connecticut and eastern New York are prime areas. So is eastern Connecticut and western Rhode Island but that’s “a sadder story.” The search for New England cottontails at Deer Pond Farm.
18:51 to 27:10 — A close look at Deer Pond Farm, the Croft Preserve, the Larsen Sanctuary, and the Chaney Preserve in Montville. “They need a thicket. These animals are on the menu of every predator in Connecticut.”
27:10 to 31:05 — Range-wide population goals.
31:05 — Contact information for Lisa Wahle.
Video editing by Gilles Carter.