Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Shorebirds’ 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: Protecting Shorebirds

Sunday, June 6th, 2021

By: Larissa Smith, CWF Wildlife Biologist

Shorebird Steward Tony Natale

There are many aspects to the Delaware Bay Shorebird Project. During the month of May researchers survey, re-sight and band shorebirds as well as conduct horseshoe crab egg counts. Nine beaches in Cape May and Cumberland Counties have restricted access during May, which allows the shorebirds to feed on the horseshoe crab eggs.

Shorebird Steward Bill Reinert@ Dom Manalo

Shorebird stewards are out on the beaches in all types of weather and insect seasons making sure that the restricted areas are respected. They do this through education and explaining to beach goers the importance of allowing shorebirds to have these undisturbed areas to feed. Stewards really make a big difference in shorebird protection on the bay and we thank them for all of their efforts this shorebird season. This season there were plenty of horseshoe crabs spawning with eggs in abundance, but unfortunately the shorebird numbers were down this season. For more details on the 2021 Shorebird season can be found in the article ,Red knot numbers plummet, pushing shorebird closer to extinction.

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.

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