Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Beach Nesting Birds’ Category

Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration: Measuring Success by More Than Just the Numbers

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Pi Patel, one of the eight piping plovers chicks that fledged from the Barnegat Inlet Restoration site in 2021. Photo courtesy of Matt Reitinger.

The success of a habitat restoration project is typically measured in numbers, number of acres restored, the abundance of target species, breeding success of the wildlife using it, that sort of thing. And we certainly have good numbers for the Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration Project… 40 acres restored, including two foraging pond, five pairs of piping plovers using the site this year, a substantial increase from one pair just two years ago, and breeding success above the federal recovery goal and well above the state average for two years running since the project was fully completed.

But there’s more to the success than numbers, it can also be told through names. So first a disclaimer; we name our banded piping plovers in New Jersey. This practice is sometimes frowned upon by other researchers who fear anthropomorphism undermines their scientific credibility or leads to misunderstanding about biological processes.  Point taken, but in the case of piping plovers, we believe naming can potentially lead to better engagement in their conservation through dynamic outreach, much the way Monty and Rose, Chicago’s famous plovers have garnered huge public support. Also, in New Jersey our banded plovers typically have four bands, so it is much easier for our monitoring staff to identify and communicate about a bird named “Major Tom” than orange over light blue (left), orange over black (right). Finally, some people are just plain curmudgeons about this issue, but endangered species recovery work is hard, so having a little fun with it isn’t such an awful thing! So, let’s get to the names and the “stories” they tell.


Meeting Monty and Rose, Piping Plover Ambassadors

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Rose at Chicago’s Montrose Beach, July 2021. Courtesy of Tamima Itani. 

Monty and Rose were hardly strangers when I finally met them “in-person”. I had been admiring Chicago’s famous pair of piping plovers for nearly two years. I had read the adoring newspaper headlines about them and followed them closely on social media. I had seen, even hosted a screening for the short film made about their story. I proudly wore a hat emblazoned with their colorful logo.

From a strictly biological perspective, Monty and Rose aren’t much different than any other piping plovers; they have the same distinct markings, exhibit the same behaviors, and face the same threats that have landed plovers on the endangered species list. But there is nothing ordinary about this pair when it comes to the attention afforded them and the excitement they’ve created.

So early this summer I found myself on a plane headed to Chicago to experience the Monty and Rose phenomenon firsthand. Along for the pilgrimage were Kashi Davis and Emily Heiser, who head up New Jersey’s beach nesting bird program, and with whom I’ve share nearly my entire career. With nearly 60 years of “plovering” between us, you wouldn’t think we’d have much to learn from yet another pair of plovers. To be honest, the trip was as much about being inspired by Monty and Rose and the people involved in their story, as it was about anything else. But on the practical side, I was especially interested in how they managed to pull off a dawn to dusk volunteer monitoring program from incubation to hatch to fledge. And I really wanted to know how they generated all that excitement.

The novelty factor accounts for some of the appeal, the first plovers nesting in Chicago in many decades. But interest in Monty and Rose has continued to rage on several year running now, and a second film is scheduled for release in September, so it isn’t just that. Improbability also plays a part, a small pair of shorebirds and their even tinier chicks nesting on a busy city beach in the shadow of skyscrapers. The naming of the birds, a reference to Montrose Beach, where they nest, also seems to play an important role in the connection people feel for them. There is a great sense of pride – they are their plovers. And with just one pair at this site (and in the entire region), all the attention is funneled to them.

You feel the excitement the moment you walk on “their” beach. People constantly pop by to ask how Monty and Rose are doing. The volunteer monitors happily trade personal stories about them or offer a look in their scope to get a closer peak. Strangers wander over to ask what everyone is looking at. We met Bob Dolgan, the creator of the Monty and Rose film (and its upcoming sequel), and Tamia Itani, the pair’s “plover mother”, organizer of the volunteer effort, and now author of a Monty and Rose children’s book. Both had their own take on why the Monty and Rose story has gone viral, although I’m not sure I’ll ever know exactly what that “secret sauce” is. No matter, I left Chicago completely inspired by Monty and Rose and their protectors, recharged and ready to carry on with my own plover projects back home.

A few days after returning from Chicago, I took a day trip up to Gloucester, Massachusetts to meet some members of another piping plover volunteer group. Like the Monty and Rose crew, they annually help shepherd one pair of plovers (actually, they have two pairs this year) through the perils of nesting on a city beach, although Good Harbor Beach is decidedly quieter than Montrose Beach in Chicago, at least on the mid-week morning I visited. This group also manages to staff the beach with monitors from dawn to dusk on most days and has its own Facebook page that it maintains to educate the public and generate enthusiasm for their community’s plovers. They have been doing this longer than the Monty and Rose effort, but quietly out of the spotlight. They proudly wear their Piping Plover Ambassador badges.

Seeing those badges made me realize that although the Monty and Rose story has been invaluable for creating interest in plover conservation – piping plovers are definitely having a “moment” thanks to their story – it’s the hundreds of monitors who are the real piping plover ambassadors. I started my own “plover career” 28 years ago as a volunteer. I was immediately and inexplicably smitten by piping plovers, although I didn’t realize it would completely change my life. I’m just as captivated by piping plovers today and I remain equally inspired by my fellow protectors, paid and volunteer, who steadfastly fight to help maintain a place for piping plovers in our world. And provide them a voice.

Delaware Bay Shorebird Stewards Hit The Shore To Educate Beach Goers

Thursday, May 13th, 2021

by Larissa Smith, Wildlife Biologist

Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s Delaware Bay Shorebird Stewards will be on Restricted access beaches in Cape May and Cumberland Counties from May 15th through the 31st. We will be educating beach goers about the horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.

Plan a visit to the bay in May to witness this spectacular wildlife phenomena!

Watch the video above to learn more.

Thanks to The American Littoral Society for their help on this project.

USGS: Regional Habitat Differences found among East Coast Piping Plovers

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Introduction by Todd Pover, Senior Biologist

USGS scientists study the nesting habitats of Atlantic Coast piping plovers. This unvegetated patch of sand and gravel allows piping plover chicks and eggs to hide from predators. (Credit: Susan Haig, USGS. Public domain.)

CWF’s on-the-ground conservation efforts, such as the deployment of fence and signage to protect piping plover nesting areas, often get the most attention, and for good reason as our frontline work is one of the most important things we do. At the same time, we are involved in a number of other strategies to protect at-risk species and track their progress towards recovery.

Our biological monitoring data are also used by scientists to support their research; such was the case with a research paper recently published by the USGS and USFWS that looked at nesting habitat used by piping plovers in different portions of the Atlantic coast breeding range, including here in New Jersey.

Researchers concluded there were significant differences in the type of habitat selected by plovers depending on the region where they nested, which has important implications for land use/management policies and can help inform habitat restoration projects.

Read the United States Geological Survey’s story below.

Piping plovers, charismatic shorebirds that nest and feed on many Atlantic Coast beaches, rely on different kinds of coastal habitats in different regions along the Atlantic Coast, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Atlantic Coast and Northern Great Plains populations of the piping plover were listed as federally threatened in 1985. The Atlantic coast population is managed in three regional recovery units, or regions: New England, which includes Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Mid-Atlantic, which includes New York and New Jersey; and Southern, which includes Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.

While the Atlantic populations are growing, piping plovers have not recovered as well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions as they have in the New England region. The habitat differences uncovered by the study may be a factor in the unequal recovery.

Continue reading on

USGS studies nesting habitats of the threatened Atlantic Coast piping plover population to help inform species recovery plans. (Credit: Susan Haig, USGS. Public domain.)

The Return Of Piping Plovers

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Piping Plover walks through a tidal pool. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Any day now the first piping plover will be returning to New Jersey to nest. It will likely return to the same beach it nested on in previous years, possibly even the same part of the beach. It will be coming from the same wintering location it used in the past. And it probably even used the same stopover sites during migration. This attachment to place or “site fidelity” is one of the marvels of the birding world, not unique to plovers.

In some ways, it’s not so different for us. We order pizza from the same restaurant, time after time. Many of us vacation in the same place, year after year. And yes, we have been known to repeatedly visit our favorite beach. My parents took my sister and I to the beach at Seaside Heights for summer vacation every year when we were growing up. We went on the beach at the same street access, laid our blanket out at pretty much the same spot, ate at the same place on the boardwalk, EVERY time. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I could travel or vacation elsewhere, and so I began visiting places far away, first Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, then the desert Southwest, and onto a lifetime of travel to “far flung” places.

And this is where the analogy with piping plovers ends. Plovers don’t travel on a whim. They can’t decide to fly to the west coast this year instead of their usual Atlantic Coast breeding locales. They are hard-wired for efficiency, their behavior is driven by survival and maximizing reproductive success. They return to the same beach because they know there is suitable nesting habitat and good foraging opportunities there, and “knowing that ahead of time” gives them a breeding advantage over other, younger plovers looking for and trying to establish new territories.

Piping plovers do have some capacity for change. They can shift locations if needed, especially if there is a significant alteration to their existing habitat, severe beach erosion, for example, or if they lose a mate in a given year and need to find a new one. There are, however, limits to this. They are “specialists” that require specific habitats and conditions. Furthermore, recent research on the wintering grounds suggest they will remain at the same location even if it is highly disturbed, and even if it negatively impacts their fitness. So, site fidelity usually trumps other factors.

Of course, all of this has conservation implications. Here in New Jersey, development at or near the beach has already limited both the amount and quality of beach habitat available for them to breed. Even if they wanted to “travel elsewhere” they don’t really have an option of other suitable places to go. And, the beaches remaining for them to use, with rare exceptions, are busy with people, which is not a good recipe for a species highly vulnerable to human disturbance. Still, given what we know about site fidelity, our best option is to “pull out all the stops”, put the strongest protection measures in place, at the sites that are left for them to nest.

This is what keeps me up at night, even after more than 25 years on the job. New Jersey is a tough place for piping plovers to succeed. It is not necessarily a losing battle, but it hasn’t always been a winning one either. As I gear up for another breeding season, I know that I and the dedicated community of other plover monitors will do everything we can to protect them and try to secure their future. But…we need your help too. Stay out of the fence or barriers erected to protect their nests, leave your dog at home, off of nesting beaches, and keep your distance when flightless chicks move outside the fence to feed at the waterline. Please enjoy them, but carefully and at a distance.

This reminds me of the lessons we’ve learned with the Covid pandemic this past year. We can’t beat it alone; we need to work together. We have to take actions that help each other, not just ourselves. This is the model for piping plover conservation too. We will keep protecting them, but ultimately, we need everyone’s help if piping plovers are going to succeed and eventually recover.

Join me on Team Plover!