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Archive for the ‘Bahamas Piping Plover Project’ Category

PIPING PLOVER RESEARCHERS – THE NEXT GENERATION

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

CWFNJ AND MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY PARTNER IN THE BAHAMAS

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Monmouth University student digging the sediment cores on tidal flat in the Bahamas.

Monmouth University student using a pvc push core to collect sediments on a tidal flat in The Bahamas.

We totally shifted gears for the second half of our week here on Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Piping Plover surveys took a back seat as we focused on working with 20 students from Monmouth University (MU), who were taking part of in a two-week Tropical Island Ecology course during their winter break.

We settled into the Cape Eleuthera Institute, who hosted the students at their world class facilities for an intense (but fun) regimen of hands-on science research, typically marine based, but a Piping Plover unit was added for the MU students. It was particularly exciting to work with the MU students here in the Bahamas because back in New Jersey we have partnered with MU for over ten years on a beach nesting bird internship program during the summer months.

First up was an evening primer for the students on Piping Plovers, including a brief summary of our efforts in NJ on the breeding grounds and recent work by CWFNJ and others on the wintering grounds in the Bahamas. The next morning we were up early to kick off our trial research project; benthic macro-invertebrate sampling at Piping Plover wintering sites in the Bahamas to try to develop an inventory of their potential prey items, and eventually determine what constitutes a highly suitable foraging site. This was spurred, in part, by field observations of tidal flats that appear to be highly suitable, but have no piping plovers present, whereas similar adjacent flats are covered with shorebirds. Perhaps not all flats are created equal and prey availability is the key.

Students collecting and processing the sediment samples as part of research to assess foraging quality.

Students collecting and processing the sediment samples as part of the research to assess foraging quality.

For our field work with the students we chose two sites in Eleuthera where Piping Plovers have been observed; Savannah Sound, a classic low-tide flat in a sheltered area, and Winding Bay, an oceanfront, high-energy beach. The students extracted core sediment samples (20 cm deep) at each site along prescribed transects (10 samples per transect) for two consecutive days. Then it was back to the lab to sift the sand, sort the samples, and identify any invertebrates found. As part of the analysis, the students compared the species abundance and diversity between the two different sites, as well as between different transects within a site.

The results are yet to come and this was just a preliminary test of the methods and logistics involved. We were learning along with the students and while we were happy with the overall outcome, many questions were raised that will have to be addressed if we decide to develop a larger more robust study moving forward. In the meantime, the students got to learn a bit about Piping Plovers in the context of a research project, and inaugurate what we hope is another long-term partnership in the Bahamas.

Back in the lab to identify benthic macro-invertebrates from a Piping Plover foraging site in The Bahamas.

Back in the lab to identify benthic macro-invertebrates from a Piping Plover foraging site in The Bahamas.

A special thanks to the staff at Cape Eleuthera Institute for their hospitality and for letting us be part of their innovative learning experience. Thanks to John Tiedemann and Pedram Daneshgar at Monmouth University for setting the wheels in motion and now helping us implement this partnership. And finally,  “shout-out” to Taylor Rodenberg for stepping up to assist us with the field work – Taylor was one of our MU interns in New Jersey last summer and happened to be one of the students visiting the Bahamas this winter, so she is part of a small group of lucky people to see (and work with) Piping Plovers on both their breeding and wintering grounds!

In Search Of Piping Plovers On Eleuthera

Monday, January 12th, 2015

CWF RESEARCHERS EXPAND SURVEYS TO ANOTHER ISLAND IN THE BAHAMAS

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Todd Pover, CWFNJ Biologist,surveying for Piping Plovers during the last bits of daylight.

Todd Pover, CWF Biologist, surveying for Piping Plovers using the final minutes of daylight.

Our experience so far this week in Eleuthera is a reminder why we do so much pre-trip “recon” for our Bahamas Piping Plover Project. Prior to the trip, we poured over Google Earth maps to try to identify the most suitable habitat for plovers. We read (and reread) the report from the 2011 International Piping Plover Census, the last time any significant surveys were conducted here. Finally, we “huddled” with our partners from Monmouth University so they could help us with logistics, as they have a history of marine-based research here.

Without this preparation we would have been ill prepared, of course, but we still faced many challenges right out of the gate. First and foremost, Eleuthera is more than 100 miles long, with two coasts, so covering even a small portion of the island is difficult in a short period of time. Once we decided which sites were the top priority, we quickly found out that reaching those locations is difficult. There are few official signs to the shoreline on the Atlantic side along the one main “highway”, and many of the “roads” are difficult to traverse, even with a 4WD. A number of turnoffs ended as dead ends or too overgrown to continue.

Piping Plover "Gry E4" was banded as a chick at White Point Beach, in Southern Novia.  Scotia in June 2014. Resighted on Spanish Wells and the first time reported after the breeding season.

Piping Plover “Gry E4” was banded as a chick at White Point Beach, southern Nova Scotia in June 2014. Resighted on Spanish Wells and the first time reported after the breeding season.

It also quickly became apparent that Eleuthera’s rocky coast, especially along the western side is not nearly as suitable for piping plovers as we had experienced on earlier trips to Abaco and Grand Bahama. And some of the beaches on the Atlantic side were too narrow to likely support piping plovers. Not surprisingly, the initial day of surveys ended with a lot of lessons learned, but NO piping plovers.

Day Two we took an entirely different tack. We left our vehicle on the mainland and headed out on small ferries to two islands off the northern coast of Eleuthera; Spanish Wells, a residential community with a commercial lobster port and Harbor Island, a resort town known for its famous Pink Sands Beach. Our luck turned around, as we observed 20 piping plovers (with relative ease) including four that were marked with engraved flags that denoted they were Canadian breeders. This was one of the highlights of all our Bahamas trips to date.

We were also able to track the movement of 18 plovers from a high tide roost on the ocean side beach to a low tide flat on the other side of the island as the sun set. From what we learned on Abaco on previous trips to the Bahamas, this type of information is some of the most critical we can collect to help inform future surveys. We definitely earned our celebratory Kaliks that evening!

On the road to nowhere - locating piping plover sites on Eleuthera was a logistic challenge at times.

On the road to nowhere – locating piping plover sites on Eleuthera was a logistic challenge at times.

Our goals for the surveys this week are modest. We are trying to confirm some of the site information our colleagues Pat and Doris Leary gathered during the 2011 International Census, as well as add some additional sites to the survey inventory. We also are trying to visit high value sites, such as Savannah Sound, to determine which tide or portion of the tide is most productive for the surveys. With this information in hand, we hope to do our small part to help make the 2016 International Census next winter the most productive and accurate to date.

Piping Plovers and Researchers Return to The Bahamas

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
PROTECTING PIPING PLOVER HABITAT CRITICAL PART OF CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION’S WORK

By: Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

We talk quite a bit about “site fidelity” in connection with our beach nesting bird project. And for good reason, whether it be on the breeding or wintering grounds, these birds, like most wildlife, are strongly connected to specific places and types of habitats. Not just in the general sense; many piping plovers return to the same precise site year after year.

Aerial view of one of several hundred Bahamas islands and cays, with tidal flats, highly suitable piping plover habitat, visible stretching around the island.

Aerial view of one of several hundred Bahamas islands and cays, with tidal flats, highly suitable piping plover habitat, visible stretching around the island.

 

We were reminded of this the last several days as we made our way around Abaco, The Bahamas, in search of wintering piping plovers. Having made a number of trips to Abaco since 2011, we have started to narrow down where it is likely we will be able to find them: the Green Turtle Cay Gillam Bay flat at low tide or the adjacent upper beach hummocks at high tide, Casuarina Point to forage at low tide, a number of the main island’s southern oceanfront beaches for roosting, to name a few. We are still finding new sites, not previously surveyed or documented, but we now have a much better idea of what to look for and on what tide or wind condition.

 

The catch is, this only works if the habitat remains intact and suitable. Back in New Jersey, we know this well, as many of the formerly suitable sites for beach nesting birds are lost forever to development or are highly disturbed by recreational activities so the likelihood of reproductive success is low even if they do choose to nest at those locations. Sadly, our breeding pairs of piping plover are relegated to a limited number of suitable sites, which is not a good recipe for recovery of this endangered shorebird.

 

With its hundreds of islands and cays, many undeveloped or lightly settled, we may be inclined to think this is less of an issue on the wintering grounds in the Bahamas. And relatively speaking, this might be true to some extent, but it would be unwise to believe this will always be the case. Economic forces are a driving factor there, as in anywhere in the world, so the lure of development and commercial use of resources is strong in the Bahamas as well.

Black Flag "K2", a Canadian breeder and one of six color marked piping plovers observed on wintering grounds on Abaco, The Bahamas, this past week by CWFNJ's Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger.

Black Flag “K2”, a Canadian breeder and one of six color marked piping plovers observed on wintering grounds on Abaco, The Bahamas, this past week by CWFNJ’s Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger.

 

Fortunately, there is also a strong incentive to protect shorebirds in the Bahamas. The tidal flats and shallow water habitats that shorebirds use are also important for bonefish, conch, and other fisheries that are important to the local economy and provide jobs. Furthermore, birding and wildlife-based activities are increasing an important part of the tourist sector. However, In order to sustain those activities and opportunities, ecosystems must remain intact and pristine.

 

A number of organizations, local and from abroad, are diligently working to designate more protected areas in the Bahamas. One of the top priorities now, an effort being led by the Bahamas National Trust and National Audubon Society, is to protect the vast flats area in the Joulter Cays, Andros, which are especially important for shorebirds such as the piping plover. On Abaco, where we have been focusing our piping plover work, Friends of the Environment  is strongly advocating for protection of East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, and more recently The Marls.

 

During a survey this past week on Man-O-War, one of Abaco’s offshore cays, we were able to locate a banded piping plover that had originally been marked on its breeding grounds in Canada. In discussing the bird with a local resident who had first spotted it, she was surprised that the bird was remaining in the same spot ever since she saw it two months ago. This was site fidelity illustrated in its truest sense, and in the same vein, the researchers in Canada are already anticipating it will return to the same site to nest next spring. From what we know about piping plovers that is highly likely…as long as we remain committed to protecting the habitat they use.

 

Flying Fish Brewing Company Serves Plover Pale Ale, Highlights Importance of Piping Plover Conservation Programs

Monday, November 10th, 2014

“Beer, Birds and The Bahamas” Showcased the International Link
between the U.S. and The Bahamas for Piping Plovers

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Coordinator

Todd and Stephanie explaining the Piping Plover Bahamas Project to guests at "Beer, Birds and The Bahamas."

Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger explaining the Piping Plover Bahamas Project to guests at “Beer, Birds and The Bahamas.”

On Thursday, November 6, over 85 guests attended “Beer, Birds and The Bahamas,” a fundraising event organized by Flying Fish Brewing Company and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation biologists, Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger educated guests about the Piping Plover “Bahamas Project” and showed the connection between The Bahamas and the U.S. for the endangered beach nesting bird species. One-night-only Plover Pale Ale was served and guests had the opportunity to attend brewery tours and play Plover Quizzo. The winners of Plover Quizzo received prize baskets full of Conserve Wildlife Foundation and Flying Fish Brewing Company merchandise.

“Events like ‘Beer, Birds and The Bahamas’ fulfill the purpose of creating a community space inside the Brewing Company,” said President of Flying Fish Brewing Company Gene Muller. “Our audience and Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s audience go hand in hand. People who appreciate wildlife and the environment also appreciate sustainably produced beer.”

“This innovative project is based on partnerships in both New Jersey and the Bahamas – bringing together distant communities who still share a strong commitment to education and a personal connection to their beaches,” said Conserve Wildlife Foundation Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager Todd Pover. “In the same vein, the event at Flying Fish Brewing was an exciting partner-driven way to promote the project.”

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey’s Piping Plover Bahamas Project supports the recovery and long-term survival of Piping Plovers by identifying critical Bahamas wintering habitat for Piping Plovers and other shorebirds of concern on the islands of Abaco and Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Conserve Wildlife Foundation collaborates with a local Bahamas environmental group, Friends of the Environment, to engage the public and increase local awareness of the critical role played by the Bahamas in the full life cycle of the Piping Plover.

The Atlantic Coast population of Piping Plover has been federally listed as threatened in the U.S. since 1986 and endangered in Canada since 1985. Although migration and wintering protection is one of the five main recovery tasks in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Piping Plover Recovery Plan (USFWS 1996), until recently protection has primarily been focused on the breeding grounds. Furthermore, population monitoring is well understood on the breeding grounds, but winter use is not as well documented.

Over the past five years the importance of the Bahamas as a major wintering site for Piping Plovers has become increasingly evident.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and other partners aim to identify critical wintering habitat, provide education and outreach to school children and the public, and build local capacity for future surveys and protection of Piping Plovers in the Bahamas. For more information, please visit our website.

Flying Fish Brewing will donate proceeds from the sale of Plover Pale Ale to the Bahamas Project by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Coordinator for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

BAHAMAS PIPING PLOVER PROJECT

Sunday, February 9th, 2014
WINTERING PIPING PLOVER SURVEYS ON ABACO

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

IMG_3492

The Bahamas piping plover survey tally board in the “central command” room at Schooner Bay Institute.

An integral part of this Bahamas trip entailed surveying several sites not previous covered on Abaco and revisiting some sites not checked since the 2011 International Piping Plover Census. Although we didn’t find large concentrations of piping plovers at any one new site, we did make some noteworthy discoveries.

One of the most exciting find was the resight of a piping plover that was banded on the breeding grounds last summer in Massachusetts as part of a flight behavior study. New Jersey also participated in this research and we briefly thought it might be one of the birds banded in our home state – but it turned out that it was banded (and nested) on Chapin Beach, Cape Cod and is wintering at Schooner Bay, Abaco (amongst 15 other piping plovers found on our survey). (more…)