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Archive for the ‘Get Involved’ Category

The Importance of water temperatures, windstorms and shoals on the Delaware Bay

Friday, May 19th, 2017

By Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC

As we begin our field work on Delaware Bay shorebirds, our 21st season, oddly enough we are once again faced with extraordinary circumstances. As usual, the birds, after various flight of up to 6 days of nonstop flying, arrive in emaciated conditions. For example, in one catch this week we caught several red knots at around 86 grams far lower than normal weight of 130 grams. Putting that into perspective, a woman of 145 pounds would tip the scale at 93 pounds while a male of 175 pounds at 113 pounds! In other words, these birds are desperate to feed on the only prey on which they can build weight fast, the eggs of Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs.

But the various impacts of climate change and destructive forces of sea level rise, storm surge and out of normal weather patterns can wreak havoc on the timing of the horseshoe crab spawn. It messes with the heating and cooling of the bay and when combined with the normal variation one expects in an estuarine system, it creates almost unpredictable consequences.

Adding more uncertainty to this mix is the ongoing harvest of crabs for bait and the irresponsible bleeding by international medical companies. Both kill hundreds of thousands of crabs every year while doing nothing to create new crabs. Their combined impact has put the brakes on any recovery of the population after they both nearly mortally wounded the Bay population in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Higher numbers of crabs would overcome a lot of early season uncertainty; lower numbers exacerbate them.

And thus, the story of this early part of the shorebird stopover. It starts with the odd weather this April and May. Can everyone remember how warm the weather of this winter? The map below is a reminder that it was one of the warmest on record. The figure below that shows how the Bay’s water warmed early reaching the threshold temperature for horseshoe crab breeding by early May. We trapped sanderling in the first week and were surprised to see a truly great crab spawn on May 4. Thank God for that.

The bays water temperature as measured at the Lewis DE buoy, increased earlier than normal until the first week of May. By that time it reached the threshold for horseshoe crab spawning. But by the second week it plunged as a consequence of the cooler than normal weather.

By the second week of May and yesterday (May 16) temperatures plunged in horseshoe crab world. We generally consider water temperature of near 59 degrees necessary for crabs to spawn in great numbers. We reached 62 degrees on May 4, then it went down to 58 degrees, lingering there for five crucial days.

At the same time, we suffered brutal westerly winds. Wind from this direction gins up waves on Delaware Bay that crash against many of the important crab spawning beaches. Crabs don’t spawn in waves.

Westerly winds turn the Delaware Bay into a tumult of breaking waves because of its relative shallow depth. Horseshoe crabs won’t breed in breaking waves

And just as the first flush of shorebirds came to the Bay, over 5,000 red knots on the New Jersey side, all the spawning shut down. All tried desperately to find enough horseshoe crab eggs to regain lost weight and begin the process of doubling their body weight.

Fortunately, breaking waves and cold water will prevent crabs from spawning on the beaches but not in the intertidal creeks. One of the key features of the New Jersey bayshore are its abundant tidal creeks. Most drain only tidal watersheds, draining and filling marshes twice every day. Naturally they build sand shoals because sand moves around the Bay generally in a south to north direction along the Cape May peninsula. When sand encounters the currents of the creeks, it settles forming shoals.

A small creek just north of Dennis Creek on Delaware Bay. The tidal creek mostly drain tidal marsh, the daily ebb and flow warming the waters making crab spawning possible when the bay waters are too cold

These shoals support most shorebirds during these early days. This is so because the intertidal flow of water into the marsh and out again warms the water that flows over the shoals. The shoals themselves are practically paradise for breeding crabs because of the loosely consolidated and large grain sand. They breed with abandon laying eggs in the shifting sands that brings many of the eggs to the surface where shorebirds can prey upon them. And they do.

This diagram by Joe Smith shows how the creeks of Delaware Bay create superior spawning and shorebird foraging habitat. Sand movement on the Cape May section of the bay moves northward because of tidal currents. This moves sand from south to north. When the American Littoral Society and CWF placed sand on Pierces, Kimbles and Cooks beaches, some part moved northward to the adjacent beaches. Ultimately it ended up on south Reeds making it a great spawning site. But on the way the sand falls out of the current and settles on the creek shoals. These shoals are large grain sand, loosely consolidated, making them perfect for crab spawning. At the same time the shoals shift exposing eggs to the sea, thus making them available to the birds. This is why the shoals are among the most important habitat on the bay.

This is what happens in the early days of this season. It was nip and tuck for most of the scientists, not knowing if the shoal resources would hold up to an ever-growing number of shorebirds arriving in desperate condition.

But today (May 19) we enjoyed warmth with the promise of the season back on track.

In the last 5 days, we were able capture enough knots, turnstones and sanderlings to track conditions and add new flags to the population for a later determination of population size. Despite adversity, so far so good. The data for each species is below.

Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.


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Video: ‘Rare Wildlife Revealed’ brings art, wildlife to audiences around region

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s “Rare Wildlife Revealed: The James Fiorentino Traveling Art Exhibition” can be found at the famed Hiram Blauvelt Museum in Oradell with a free reception this Friday night, May 19 from 6 to 8 PM. Former Governor Tom Kean will join nationally renowned artist James Fiorentino and CWF Executive Director David Wheeler for brief remarks, and guests will also be served refreshments.

The Hiram Blavelt Museum was established in 1957 as a natural history museum to garner support for wildlife conservation. Today, it is one of only five museums in the United States to exclusively display wildlife art. The museum is located at 705 Kinderkamack Road, Oradell, NJ 07649.

This innovative three-year exhibition is spotlighted in a nine-minute video by videographer Ed English focusing on a previous stay at the Studio 7 Fine Art Gallery in Bernardsville. The exhibition has also been featured at D&R Greenway in Princeton, the Mayo Performing Art Center in Morristown, the Flying Fish Brewing Company in Somerdale, the Salmagundi Art Museum in New York City, and the Princeton Environmental Film Festival in Princeton.

Rare Wildlife Revealed will be shown at Hiram Blauvelt Museum through July 30, 2017.

To learn more about hosting a future showing of Rare Wildlife Revealed – whether for an extended exhibition or a single night’s event – please contact Liz Silvernail, CWF Director of Development at 609.292.3707.

20 Years of Shorebird Conservation and Research on Delaware Bay

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

By Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates LLC

A Monumental Work of Conservation

This year marks the 21st year of the Delaware Bay Shorebird Project. As one of the longest running shorebird projects in the world, the only one of its kind in the US, we wanted to memorialize this monumental work. To do so we convened a daylong series of presentations by scientists and managers from all over the world who have worked on the bay. Here are the abstracts. They are worth a look by nearly anyone interested in shorebirds and Delaware Bay.

The participants of the workshop on 20 years of conservation and research on Delaware Bay.

The presentations ranged widely. We heard talks diving deep into the science of shorebird ecology, like Phil Atkinson’s talk on the use of isotopes of carbon and nitrogen locked in feather samples and what they tell us about where knots spend the winter. Or Paul Smith’s talk on how modeled estimates of shorebird numbers compare to numbers counted from an airplane. On the other side of our scientific work were talks like Laura Chamberlin’s describing the role volunteers play in saving stranded horseshoe crabs rolled over by heavy seas or impinged in concrete rubble and derelict wooden bulkheads. In between were talks like those by David Stallneckt on the role of shorebirds in the transmission of flu viruses and how that knowledge might prevent the next pandemic of flu in people.

I liked Joe Smith’s talk on the restoration of Delaware Bay beaches and Ron Porter’s talk on the movement of shorebird tracked by tiny devices called geolocators.

Altogether they spoke loudly of the 20 years of intense study and conservation by our devoted team of scientists, managers and volunteers. In those 20 years of conservation of Delaware Bay we learned basics of protecting any place loved by people who love wildlife.

Dollars on the Beach

As with many places in this divided country of ours, and in many places in the world, we have witnessed on Delaware Bay a sad and wholly preventable natural resource tragedy. It’s now 20 years since the Atlantic Coast fishing industry nearly decimated the horseshoe crabs of Delaware Bay. They didn’t aim to do this of course, but as with any tragedy of the commons, once the crabs gained value as a bait, everyone wanted their share before it was lost. They hauled away millions of crabs, no one really caring about the consequence to the bay or the wildlife that depended on the crabs. It was a race to the bottom, that would not have been stopped if it weren’t for the scientists and managers that stood up to the industry, many of which gave presentations in our workshop.

Shorebirds feeding on eggs while crabs spawn.

The battle gave us several important lessons.

The first revolves around the value of the bay, the crabs and the shorebirds. We biologists, managers and public outreach people often see the natural value of this ecosystem in terms of its meaning to us. We are inspired by the knot’s magnificent journey covering 10,000 miles, often flying 6 days continuously.  We are awed by the natural system that responds to change much as our own body fights for life against all the many abuses we cause or suffer.  But we often miss the real value. During my time on the bay we have defended this valuable natural resource from many assaults, the winner take all crab harvest, the greedy exploitation of crab blood by medical companies, the overreach of aquaculturists plotting out the use of intertidal zones without regard to impact. Underpinning each of these threats is not esoteric value, but real wealth.

I once had a conversation with Rob Winkle, before he retired as Chief of Law Enforcement for NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. He said “Larry you’ll never be able to protect these crabs, because to many people, they are dollars on the beach”.  In other words, natural wealth is wealth, pure and simple. The question is – do we protect this wealth for our children and grandchildren to make up their own minds about how to spend it?

Protection Requires a Relationship

The real value of natural resources speaks to the second lesson. Protection is not only an action composed research, monitoring and management, it is also a long-term relationship with a place. Those of us working on the bay for 20 years know this very well. The abstracts speak to the relationship and our continuing efforts to understand and improve, to rebuild what was lost, to anticipate what comes next. If in 1997 we started work in the bay to publish a few papers and move on to the next interesting place, the battle to save this vital shorebird stopover and horseshoe crab spawning area would have been lost. The dollars crawling up on the bay beaches means protection doesn’t end with fighting one short-sighted greedy use, because there will be an inevitable successor. It takes a long-term relationship to develop protection and keep it vital and active.

I learned this many times in my career, most recently from my good friend David Santos now a professor at the University of Belem in northern Brazil. We have been doing work in the northern coast, a major wintering areas for Arctic nesting shorebirds. After a passionate discussion on how to best bring greater protection of the area he said “you come here for a few weeks and think you can save this place”. He was right, the truth is we can only help if we commit to work in northern Brazil for enough time to get it right.

And this is my final lesson. There is no easy way to develop a long-term effort to prevent the inevitable series of short sighted use of a natural resource without the help of the people who care.

Clive Minton on Delaware Bay.

When Clive Minton and Humphrey Sitters first came to the bay to start the project that is now 20 years old, I was awed by their experience, skill and knowledge. I thought why are they doing this? Neither were being paid only supported to do the work. I was employed as the Chief of NJ Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered Species Program. Now I know, it is only because they care. They are fascinated by the bird’s natural history, they publish scientific papers on the subject but they come year after year because they care.

There’s more to this than just tree-hugging emotionalism. In the US, we have gradually professionalized conservation, ensuring only paid staff do the work with only minor roles for users. It’s an entirely credible position in times of flush budgets. Its pitfall becomes obvious in the age of Trump, years of budget cuts and increasing influence of resource industries dismantle that achieved in the good years. Overall it ends with natural resources declining in nearly every section of the country.

Clive and Humphrey, come from England and Australia where conservation depends heavily on volunteers. It’s a pastime to research, monitor and conserve birds, not necessarily something that pays. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has over a million members, but over 18000 volunteers working at 200 preserves and only 1300 staff. Remember this is in a country that has a population of 53 million. By contrast in the US with a population of over 300 million National Audubon Society half the number of members and staff and nearly the same budget.

In our experience these numbers don’t speak to the reality of how people actually feel in the US, or at least hear on the bay. We can say without reservation that the research, monitoring and conservation on the bay depends on the dedication of many volunteers taking part in our work. We literally could not do the work without their help.

John, upper right in red shirt, is a volunteer steward protecting beach important to Delaware Bay shorebirds. This is he first year. Next to him is Humphrey Sitters, the editor of Wader Study, an international technical journal on shorebirds and a highly trained expert on shorebirds. He has worked on Delaware Bay as a volunteer scientist for 20 years. It is the work of these two and many others that makes the protection of Delaware Bay a success.

And so, this is the final lesson. The best way to overcome this cycle caused by the relentless exploitation of the bay’s natural wealth is building a team of people devoted to it study and conservation. This involves the many professionals who care enough to maintain a focus through the ebb and flow and agency prerogatives, a team of retired professionals and young adults seeking experience for their nascent careers and just as importantly as many people who care enough to put time into the yearly care of this valuable natural systems.

Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.


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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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LBIF Earth Day Native Plant Sale: The Leftovers

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
Give back to nature by planting native this spring!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Beach plum (prunus maritima) trees act as great source of food for pollinators when in bloom in late April.

This past weekend we held our second annual native plant sale, in partnership with the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies, NJ. Despite some light rain, we had a great turnout at the event. All of the plants that we offered for sale were grown in New Jersey and without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides. They also provide a great source of food and cover for wildlife, especially pollinators.

If we all reduced the amount of lawn that we maintain and planted native, then in turn, our local environment would benefit. With the native plant sale at LBIF, we stress the need to plant native to help provide habitat for wildlife and reduce runoff to Barnegat Bay. If we all do a little, then our combined efforts will make an impact.

The perennials, shrubs, and trees that we sold were hand selected for their environmental benefits and aesthetic beauty. Without being sure what people wanted, we sold out some some species very quickly, so we are looking into holding a follow up sale at LBIF next month.

If you missed out on the sale and are still interested in purchasing some plants, here is what we have left:

Perennial wildflowers Quantity left
Solidago sempervirens Seaside goldenrod 7 Quart Quarts = $5
Baptisia tinctoria Wild yellow indigo 0 Quart #1 = $10
Eupatorium perfoliatum Common boneset 3 Quart #2 = $15
Solidago canadensis Canada Goldenrod 0 Quart
Helenium autumnale Common sneezeweed 10 Quart
Liatris spicata Dense blazing star 0 Quart
Lobelia siphilitica Blue lobelia 0 Quart
Rudbeckia laciniata Cutleaf coneflower 8 Quart
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii  New York Aster 3 Quart
Shrubs
Baccharis halimifolia Groundsel tree 2 #1
Iva frutescens High tide bush (marsh alder) 0 #1
Prunus maritima Beach plum 0 #2
Rhus copallinum Winged sumac 2 #2
Trees
Cercis canadensis Eastern red bud 0 #2
Acer rubrum Red maple 0 #2
Betula populifolia Gray birch 1 #2
Pinus virginiana Virginia pine 0 #2
Quercus phellos Willow oak 0 #2
Scientific name Common name   Size container

All plants are available for pickup in the S. Ocean County/N. Atlantic area. Please email Ben Wurst if you are interested in purchasing any of these plants!

 

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