Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

CWF Assists the State with Wintering American Oystercatcher Survey

Saturday, January 8th, 2022

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

American oystercatcher winter flock.

Most people are surprised to hear that American oystercatchers are present in New Jersey in the winter. They usually associate the charismatic shorebird as a breeding species here. Our state’s wintering oystercatchers, a combination of breeders from further north and our own, are at the northern extent of the Atlantic coast wintering range.

Annual winter surveys have been conducted in New Jersey in recent years – at high tide they form large roost flocks in inlets, so they are more easily counted. Surveys are done on the ground over a 10-day period in December and this year a half-day aerial count via helicopter was also utilized to better inform the survey. This winter’s survey was organized and directed by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program with assistance from partners, including CWF, and volunteers. CWF Biologists Meghan Kolk and Meaghan Lyon conducted several ground surveys and Todd Pover was one of three surveyors who flew the aerial survey.

As many as 1,000 individual oystercatchers can be present in the late fall/early winter along the Jersey Shore, primarily in the southern region, although counts were on the lower side this year with only 500-600 being tallied. The lower count was almost entirely the result of a very small flock within Hereford Inlet, which typically has one of the highest winter concentrations. Oystercatchers will shift further south along the Atlantic Coast during the winter when persistent extreme cold weather arrives in New Jersey, as it limits food availability. However, the weather was relatively mild leading up to the survey, so it isn’t clear why the numbers were lower this year.

A zoomed in view of wintering American oystercatcher flock through a spotting scope.

Coastal Barn Owl Project Update

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

By Meghan Kolk, CWF Wildlife Biologist

The Coastal Barn Owl Project team is gearing up for another round of nest box installations in coastal southern New Jersey.  After a successful fundraising appeal, we can now thank our donors by adding more potential nesting opportunities for barn owls, a species in population decline. 

Our fourth and most recent box was just installed on October 22 in the saltmarshes of Cape May County.  With each install, the team is becoming more efficient, and we hope to get several more boxes up in key locations before early spring when the owls begin their search for suitable nesting sites. 

The newest barn owl nest box with volunteers Kevin Knutsen, Steve Eisenhauer and Mike Lanzone on left.  Team leaders Tricia Miller and Meghan Kolk on right.  Photo by Lisa Ferguson.

New Jersey Piping Plover Breeding Population Rises Sharply in 2021

Monday, November 8th, 2021

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Pair of Piping Plovers Tending Nest. Courtesy of Northside Jim

The 2021 New Jersey piping plover breeding season was a classic “good news, bad news” result. According to the annual report released by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program earlier this month, the breeding population increased to 137 pairs in 2021, third highest since federal listing in 1986. That is an unprecedented 33% rise over the previous year and just short of the record high of 144 pairs in 2003. On the downside, the number of chicks fledged statewide was just 0.85 chicks per pair, the lowest since 2013 and about half of the 1.50 federal recovery goal. The low productivity was largely the result of a severe Memorial Day weekend nor’easter and persistent predator activity throughout the season.

Holgate, a unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, hosted 46 pairs, the most in the state. This site, which is monitored and managed by CWF through a cooperative agreement with the Refuge, has seen an astounding increase in piping plover pairs in recent years, up about 2.5 times from the 18 pairs it had in 2018. CWF also monitors Little Beach, the adjacent Refuge-owned site, where another 13 pairs nested in 2021. Combined the two sites had 59 nesting pairs, a new record, by far, for the Refuge. Unfortunately, like the statewide results, productivity was very low this year at both Refuge sites, combined only 0.80 chicks fledged per pair, about half the rate just a year ago. The Memorial Day weekend nor’easter flooded those sites, wiping out most nests, and although most of the pairs nested again afterwards, many of those renests (or hatched chicks) were lost to predators, especially coyotes at Holgate.

CWF also oversaw piping plover breeding at the National Guard Training Center, which had just one pair in 2021, but that nest successfully hatched and fledged three chicks, helping boost the state average. Overall, CWF was responsible for monitoring 44% of the statewide population, giving it a significant role in helping guide conservation of this highly vulnerable state endangered (and federally threatened) species.

Although CWF does not conduct the daily on-the-ground monitoring and management of piping plovers at the Barnegat Inlet nesting site, it was a co-leader of the habitat restoration that was completed there two winters ago, and as such has had a big role in the nesting outcomes at the site. The number of pairs using the site has noticeably grown, up to five pairs in 2021 from just one pair when the project began. Productivity has also been consistently high at the restoration site and 2021 was no different with the pairs exceeding the federal recovery goal and statewide average with 1.6 chicks fledged per pair this year.

With the breeding results for 2021 now “in the books”, we are already looking forward to next year. The biggest question will be whether the state can sustain the progress towards recovery it made this year, especially given the big drop in productivity, which typically drives population. But for now, all we can do is wait until next spring to learn the answer to that question.

To read the state’s entire 2021 piping plover report:

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.

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“Jersey Girl”: 2021 Update

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

by: Larissa Smith, biologist

“Jersey Girl” is a NJ banded eagle (B/64). She was reported to us in 2014 by Linda Oughton, who has been keeping track of her and her mate since 2010. They nest is in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. B/64 was banded in 2004 at a nest in Cumberland County NJ, located along the Cohansey River. ‘Jersey Girl” is seventeen years old.

“Jersey Girl” nest 2021 @ L. Oughton
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