Conserve Wildlife Blog

Wild for Volunteers Guest Post: Birds, Bats, Frogs and Horseshoe Crabs!

April 27th, 2020

by John King

Some of the species (super) volunteer John King has helped.

When I retired from teaching, one of my first tasks was to search for local organizations that encouraged volunteers, especially in areas of wildlife conservation. Luckily, I found Conserve Wildlife Foundation. I have to say that over the past few years, my volunteer service with CWF has been both rewarding and inspiring!

I have had such varied experiences as building and maintaining osprey platforms; participating in osprey surveys and banding; observing local bald eagle nests; helping with bat surveys; searching for rare frogs, especially the recently discovered Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog; participating in horseshoe crab surveys, tagging, and rescues; helping to restore rapidly-disappearing habitat for grassland birds; and helping to restore and protect vital beach nesting bird habitat on some of the most beautiful beaches in New Jersey.

For each of these ongoing programs, there has usually been one experience that stands out as a “Wow” moment! Something that makes me proud of what I’m doing, and proud of the hard work and dedication of the amazing wildlife biologists and staff at CWFNJ. I’d like to briefly tell you some of those experiences:

1. Osprey: I received a call several summers ago that a storm had blown several osprey chicks out of their nest. I was called to see if I could take my boat and ladder, and try to get them back in the nest before they became dehydrated from being in the baking sun with no parents to protect them.

When I arrived at the scene, one of the chicks was dead, but the second was alive and seemed to be unhurt. I was able to return it to the nest, to the applause of the local Avalon neighbors who had been watching me from their nearby docks! It was a wonderful feeling. And many thanks to CWF’s NJ Osprey Project volunteer Matt Tribulski and project manager Ben Wurst for allowing me to help out with the Osprey Project when needed. I’ve learned so much from you both! I would not have felt confident handling this emergency rescue on my own without all the knowledge that I had gained from you both. Left: Osprey chick after John returned it to the nest.

2. Bald Eagles: While monitoring my first eagle nest for CWF and NJDFW staff members Larissa Smith and Kathy Clark a few years ago,  I spent many hours and days observing the nest, waiting, waiting, waiting. The moment that the first eagle chick was tall enough to poke his tiny, fuzzy, gray head above the rim of the nest for me to see and get a photo was just so wonderful! I continue to monitor two eagle nest sites for CWF.

3. Bat Surveys: My participation in these surveys was mainly behind the scenes, in the setting up and taking down of the nets and equipment; I was not allowed to actually handle the bats, which was fine with me! But just watching these biologists go about their work with precision and care and knowledge, and seeing these (mostly) tiny bats up close for the first time, was awe-inspiring. Thank you to Ethan Gilardi, Meghan Kolk and many others who were so well-informed and professional in handling these amazing creatures.

4. Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog Surveys: After the Calling Amphibian Monitoring Project (CAMP) was discontinued several years ago, CWF biologist Allegra Mitchell began rounding up volunteers to begin searching for a “newly discovered” frog in New Jersey. I signed up to do my best to help, never thinking that I would be lucky to stumble upon a creature about whom so little was known, and whose numbers were apparently so small.

On one of my first forays into a nearby frog habitat, I heard a call that I was not familiar with from my days with the CAMP program. I contacted Allegra for guidance. “Make a recording and send it to me asap!” was her response. So using my phone, I recorded 30 seconds of the call, sent it to her, and almost immediately her reply was, “Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog for sure!” It was a thrill for me.  I’ve since gone on to find several other locations where these frogs can be found, thanks to Allegra and her help. (Left: Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog)

5. Horseshoe crab surveys and tagging: CWF, in partnership with the USFWS and reTURN the Favor, also participates in the annual surveying, tagging, and rescuing of thousands of horseshoe crabs that use the NJ Delaware Bay beaches every spring for spawning. I’ve been able to help with all three of these projects. The highlight for me is watching some of the children who come to these programs with their parents when they get a chance to see, touch and (if they’re brave!) pick one up for the first time.

6. Beach nesting bird fencing: CWF and NJDFW biologists Todd Pover, Meghan Kolk, Kashi Davis, Emily Heiser Galick, and many others have the almost impossible task of maintaining populations of some of the most vulnerable beach-nesting birds in the world, namely the piping plover, American oystercatcher, black skimmer, and least tern.

Each year they recruit volunteers to help erect “symbolic” fencing on some of the beaches where these birds sometimes nest. I always try to join them on the beach for these work days. It’s fun in the sun (although sometimes freezing!), and very rewarding, especially when I get to see a tiny piping plover doing one of his classic mating dances within an area that I had helped fence off!

7. Grassland bird surveys and habitat restoration: CWF and the USFWS are partnered on a project in central New Jersey that is designed to protect and enhance the grassland habitat which several rare and endangered birds need for their survival. I’ve been helping with the seeding of some fields with native grasses. The AH-HA moment for me was seeing (and hearing) my first ever upland sandpiper, one of the endangered species that nests there!  (Left: Upland Sandpiper)

I got to see other locally threatened and endangered birds such as grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks, Eastern meadowlarks, northern harriers, and others, on a regular basis. Thank you to Meghan Kolk and Beth Ciuzio Freiday for inviting me into this project.

Note: At this time, for the health and safety of our staff, volunteers and the communities where we work, CWF is only performing essential wildlife monitoring and conservation duties. While in the field, staff and volunteers are practicing social distancing and following all state and CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Activities described above occurred before the pandemic.

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2 Responses to “Wild for Volunteers Guest Post: Birds, Bats, Frogs and Horseshoe Crabs!”

  1. Barb McKee says:

    John, Wow! Thanks for the interesting stories! Kudos to you for your work with so many different species! So inspiring! It is very nice that you mentioned and thanked all the people who worked with and mentored you!

  2. Carol Russell says:

    Loved reading of your experiences and growth with Conserve Wildlife Foundation and all the activities you’ve been involved with! Sounds like a dream job!

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