Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘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.

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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

Linda reports that for the past three seasons “Jersey Girl and her mate have nested at their third nest location. This nesting season they raised and fledged two young eagles. Since 2010 the pair has successfully raised and fledged a total of 17 young eagles. They have become local celebrities and many people look for them as they walk along the Perkiomen Trail.

“Jersey Girl” @ L. Oughton

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.

Survival of the Fittest Falcons

Thursday, May 27th, 2021
Female falcon 02/AN. She originated from a coastal nest in Bass River in 2011. Here she was photographed at her nest in May 2020 at Sedge Island.

Just imagine having to defend your home from an invader who wants to steal your home and mate. All you have to protect yourself and home are your bare hands (or talons). You fought this same battle several years ago and staked your claim here. It was a hard won battle that could have been the end.

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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.