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Archive for the ‘American oystercatcher’ Category

The Mysterious Oystercatchers of the Delaware Bay: Results of the 2021 Bay-Wide Survey

Friday, October 1st, 2021

By: Meghan Kolk, CWF Wildlife Biologist

American oystercatcher foraging for oysters along the Delaware Bay. Photo credit: Meghan Kolk.

The Delaware Bay is well known for the spectacular phenomenon of spawning horseshoe crabs and migrating red knots every May, but in recent years the American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) have also discovered the allure of the Bayshore and made it their home.  American oystercatchers, a State Species of Special Concern, have been monitored and managed by CWF and the NJDFW’s Endangered and Non-game Species Program along the Atlantic coast beaches for nearly two decades, resulting in a steady population increase.  However, the population that breeds along the Bayshore, first documented in 2016, has not received the same attention and had never been fully surveyed until this year. 

CWF’s interest in this newly discovered population led to a small pilot study of a few known breeding pairs in 2018.  Then this past May, we launched a bay-wide survey of the sandy beaches of the New Jersey side of the Bay from Cape May Point up to Seabreeze, the northernmost beach in Cumberland County.  The purpose of the bay-wide survey is to determine a baseline of the number and distribution of breeding pairs along the Bayshore.  The data gathered from this survey will add to the Statewide population estimate and help determine the amount of time and funding needed to fully monitor and manage the Bay’s population.  More monitoring will be necessary to assess risk factors and reproductive success.  Reproductive success can then be maximized by managing for risk factors such human disturbance, predation and tidal flooding.

This survey was made possible due to the efforts of dedicated volunteers and could not have been completed without their help.  Unlike the Atlantic coast, the Bayshore beaches are often difficult to access, and many can only be reached by boat, making this survey more challenging.  In fact, two sites that we planned to survey proved to be too difficult to reach and were skipped for this year.  Each of the 33 remaining sites were surveyed just once within a specific timeframe, giving only a snapshot of the breeding season.  We hope to be able to collect much more information in the future when more funding for this project is available.  Based on the survey that was conducted, 13 pairs were documented at 8 different sites and 8 nests were documented at 5 different sites.

In addition to the formal survey, I was able to collect some observations as I spent every day in May on the Bay working with red knots.  I took notice of the prey items that the oystercatchers were choosing.  I often observed them feasting on oysters, which were plucked off exposed rubble at low tide.  They also spent time at the man-made oyster reefs that were constructed at several beaches to act as breakwaters to slow the erosion of beaches.  They also favored ribbed mussel beds, which become exposed as the tide recedes.  The most interesting foraging behavior I witnessed was an oystercatcher plucking a fresh slipper shell off a horseshoe crab as it came to shore to spawn.  It seems the Bay offers a variety of good food sources for a bird that mainly preys on bivalve mollusks. 

I also noticed that flocks of up to 11 oystercatchers were traveling together up and down the Bayshore.  This is a peculiar behavior since oystercatchers are highly territorial during the breeding season and are typically only seen in flocks once the breeding season is over.  Could it be that the Bayshore is a popular spot for non-breeding young adults to hang out? 

So much more research is needed to answer the many questions we have about the mysterious Bayshore oystercatchers. 

Asbury Park Students learn firsthand from CWF Biologists

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

CWF biologists Todd Pover, Meghan Kolk, Ben Wurst, and Erin Foley have delivered a series of hands-on lessons – on the beach and in the classroom – in Asbury Park this summer. So far, students have learned about owls, beach nesting birds, and ospreys.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is proud to partner with Asbury Park School District and New Jersey Natural Gas to teach students about Asbury Park’s rare wildlife, and how to protect and preserve the environment the kids – and the wildlife – call home.

Check out photos of this summer’s fun!

Students took to the beach to learn about beach nesting birds with Todd Pover and Erin Foley:
Meghan Kolk dissected barn owl pellets with students to learn more about their diet:
And Ben Wurst met students at the local football field to view an active osprey nest atop a light pole:

HOW YOU CAN HELP: SHOREBIRDS AND SEABIRDS

Friday, May 24th, 2019

By Alison Levine

Update May 30, 2019: Another example of the dangers of fishing (or this time crabbing) line unfolded in dramatic fashion in Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area. CWF biologist Ben Wurst was called upon to put his climbing skills to the test to help an osprey dangling high above the ground. Thankfully Ben was able to get to the bird in time, and our friends at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research nursed the osprey back to health and were able to re-release him near where he was found. Read more about the daring rescue on our Facebook page.

Ben Wurst puts his climbing skills to the test
to rescue and entangled osprey

As thousands of people plan their trips to the Jersey shore for Memorial Day weekend, it is a good time think about how to help out shore and sea birds. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

The 141 miles of seashore in New Jersey are home – or at least part-time host – to many of the birds Conserve Wildlife Foundation protects and nurtures. Osprey, oystercatchers, black skimmers, piping plovers, red knots, and many others rely on a healthy coast to thrive.

Piping plovers on the beach
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Oystercatcher nesting season is underway

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

By Emily Heiser, Wildlife Biologist

Many piping plover and American oystercatcher pairs have been busy laying their eggs over the last few weeks. As beach nesting bird biologists, we invest a lot of time into every pair at our sites. We revel in their successes and feel defeated at their losses. Unfortunately, many nests did not fare well in the April 25th Nor’easter that was coupled with new moon tides. Luckily, it is early enough in the season that all of them have begun, or will soon begin, attempting new nests.

The breeding habitat of the American oystercatcher in New Jersey consists of coastal beaches, inlet systems, and salt marshes.  Population estimates in New Jersey suggest 350-400 breeding pairs can be found here from March through August. Much of the monitoring and research done with American oystercatchers in New Jersey takes place on the coastal beaches where other beach nesting birds, such as piping plovers, least terns and black skimmers, are found. In 2016, more than 120 breeding pairs of beach nesting American oystercatchers successfully fledged 83 chicks. This was an especially productive year for those pairs and productivity levels were well above the target goal of .5 chicks per pair.

Photo courtesy of Sam Galick.

Oystercatchers arrive back on their breeding grounds here in New Jersey in early March to set up breeding territories and begin nesting.  Once paired up, adults typically lay one to three eggs.  Both the male and female will take turns incubating the nest for 28 days.  Once chicks hatch, they are semi-precocial, which means they are born in an advanced state, but are still reliant on adults for food and protection.  Oystercatcher chicks are fledged (or able to fly) 35 days after hatching.  After fledging, most Oystercatchers migrate to the southeast, but a wintering population does remain here in New Jersey.

American oystercatchers are listed as a Species of Special Concern in New Jersey.  A “Species of Special Concern” is a status determined by the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife and applies to species that have an inherent threat to their population or have evidence of recent population declines.  Since American oystercatchers share the same habitat as other endangered or threatened beach nesting birds (piping plovers, least terns, and black skimmers), they also share the same threats to their nests and young.  Human disturbance, a host of predators, and flooding events, such as the one that took place last week, are just some of the many threats beach nesting birds face daily.

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has long partnered with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species program in the monitoring and management of New Jersey’s endangered beach nesting birds.  Fencing and signage are placed in nesting areas to alert beachgoers to the presence of nesting American oystercatchers and other beach nesting birds.  Throughout the summer, CWFNJ and partners will be out on the beaches monitoring and collecting data that will be used to track population trends and identify threats to oystercatchers and their young.

Emily Heiser is a wildlife biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.


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Beachnester Buzz: Drum roll please, the 2016 breeding results for beachnesters are…

Monday, August 15th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

There are many ways to gauge success for our beachnesting bird project. We look at how well our management tools work, the effectiveness of our partnerships, and how well our educational efforts work, to name a few qualitative measures we use. At some point, however, it comes down to cold hard numbers, how well did the birds do in a particular season and over the long-term. We are at that point in the season, and for the most part, I am happy to report it has been an excellent breeding year. I will caution that these are still preliminary figures, some quality checking of the data needs to be done before they are final, but the trends are clear.

One of a "bumper crop" of piping plover fledglings produced in New Jersey in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

One of a “bumper crop” of piping plover fledglings produced in New Jersey in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

First up are piping plovers. We will come in at ~115 pairs statewide, up modestly from the 108 pairs in 2015, and the second consecutive year of an increase after hitting our historic low of just 92 pairs in 2014. So, we have climbed back closer to our long-term average, but there is still room to improve. The really good news is our productivity this year – close to a statewide record at 1.37 chicks fledged per pairs – puts us in the position to continue our population increase. If trends hold, because piping plovers demonstrate high site (or region) fidelity, when we produce a lot of fledglings, our breeding population rises in the next year or two. With three straight years of well above average fledgling rates for New Jersey now in the books, our prospects look good in the short term for our breeding population levels.

Least terns and black skimmers, which nest in colonies, sometimes numbering hundreds (or even thousands), are more challenging to count and assess, but we had at least modest success this year for both species. As is typical, our least tern colonies were variable, with some completely failing and others being highly productive. The Monmouth County region, one of our strongholds for least terns in New Jersey, didn’t have one colony that was a standout but most of them had at least some success. In South Jersey, our two largest colonies at Holgate (EB Forsythe NWR) and Seaview Harbor were very successful and helped make up for losses and failures at other colonies. The majority of our state’s black skimmers are concentrated in one large colony at Seaview Harbor, and although skimmers are our latest nesters (so the season isn’t quite over for them), they appear to have been very successful there, which means a good season overall for the state.

We also track American oystercatchers, although only for the portion that nest on the barrier beaches and spits. Because the biggest percentage of oystercatchers in the state nest on back bay and marsh islands, we cannot determine true statewide population or productivity levels, but the population on the beach habitat appears to be rising in recent years. Typically breeding success is lower for oystercatchers on the beach habitat due to high levels of human disturbance and predators, but productivity has been relative high the past two years. Of particular note this year was Stone Harbor Point, where a record number of 27 pairs nested and produced over 30 fledglings.

The reality is our beachnester staff works just as hard in years when the birds do poorly, as when they do well like this year, but it is SO much more rewarding when we have a good season. So as we wrap up the season, we are all feeling in a bit of a celebratory mode now!


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