Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Volunteer Programs’ Category

Monitoring New Jersey Ospreys During a Global Pandemic

Friday, February 5th, 2021
For every dark day there was always hope for a brighter future. Results from the 2020 New Jersey Osprey Project.

Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

This was likely one of the most challenging, at least in recent years, in the history of the New Jersey Osprey Monitoring Project. From social distancing and working from home (with children) to severe wind events and dealing with the impacts of humans on ospreys, 2020 turned out to be quite the year. Overall, our work was largely unaffected by the global covid-19 pandemic. Most of our work is conducted outdoors and away from mass gatherings of people. It was important for us to ensure the safety of our volunteers and the general public safe.

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“Dukes” Homecoming

Friday, January 29th, 2021

by Barbara McKee, NJ Eagle Project volunteer

As a volunteer nest observer working for New Jersey’s Bald Eagle Project under the guidance of Kathy Clark and Larissa Smith, I watch and report on six nests in central and northern NJ. When the Duke Farms eagle cam first went online in 2008, I loved watching the adult pair and their nestlings whenever I was at home on my computer! Web cams give us an intimate look into the lives of eagles. By observing close up, so much can be learned about eagle behavior, and this nest was only five miles from my home in Hillsborough. These were my eagle neighbors! In May of 2019, during the annual banding of the two eaglets at the Duke Farms nest, the younger male (banded E/88), was outfitted with a satellite transmitter and became part of the research program “Eagle Trax” to discover where fledglings go when they leave the nest.

Duke first went online Sept 17, 2019, after he had left the nest area, beginning his journey to adulthood as an independent eagle. Although Duke has made short trips over to PA and even a couple times returned briefly to NJ, to his natal nest area, he spent most of his time in Maryland on the lower Susquehanna River and upper Chesapeake Bay.

Then, early last November, I got an email from Kathy Clark. Duke had once again returned to NJ and was in Hillsborough, very close to our home on the Millstone River. I hustled right out with my scope and camera to see if I could spot him. If I was ever going to see Duke “in the wild” it would be now, with no foliage to block the views, while he was just a few miles away! As I searched the small patch of woods that corresponded to the last tracker location, I realized how challenging it would be to find this “eagle in the hay-stack”! Even with experience in spotting eagles, and having some ideas about the behavior of juveniles, where they might perch and what sorts of terrain they might be attracted to, actually seeing Duke would take a lot of patience and persistence, but most of all luck! To find him with good light in a spot where photos are possible, would take even more luck—what were the odds? Although through his transmitter he is being tracked, the data downloads only once every 24 hours, so I only knew where he had been, not where he was in real time!

“Duke” and an immature female feeding on a deer carcass 11/24/20 @ Barb McKee

I have been blessed to have seen Duke about a dozen times in the last eleven weeks. There have been many other times when I was probably looking right at him without seeing him and this is supported by the information from the tracker! A human playing “hide and seek” with an eagle is definitely at a visual disadvantage! I have learned that young eagles prefer wooded cover, small valleys with tiny streams where they might find a rodent or reptile. They tend to perch near water, not large rivers, but rather small creeks in narrow gorges or beside farm ponds. In winter, the best find for a hungry young eagle is a road-killed deer or other animal in a farm field that is fresh, but already immobile. A find like this keeps Duke perched and roosting close by until the food is consumed. I have seen many competitors for this precious winter commodity: vultures, other eagles, pesky crows, and at one site, even a coyote!

I also realized early on that Duke is just as likely to perch low and be almost invisible as he is to perch in a high tree top silhouetted against a light sky. Twice I flushed him off his perch because I was looking up not down. I learned that Duke has a favorite roosting spot where he has spent almost half of the nights he has been in central Jersey, but also discovered that he spent two nights within 100 yards of his natal nest in a small wooded area at Duke Farms!

I have taken hundreds of photos of Duke. The light isn’t always the best, and Duke is usually quite far away, but my photos and videos have shown a healthy and thriving almost-two-year-old who has learned to hunt and to defend his prey! He has also learned to be patient and careful, and to wait his turn, most notably when “sharing” a meal with much larger and thus more assertive young female juveniles!
I have seen him scatter and chase the competition off his food on fields. I saw him try to “steal” something from a hawk in the air. I have seen him in flight, a sight I never tire of! I even saw him perched over the Millstone River in my own back yard, probably searching for fish! That was truly memorable!

“Duke” in flight 1/19/21 @ Barb McKee

Will Duke decide to stay here in central NJ? Will he eventually mate, build a nest, and have nestlings of his own here? I hope so! Evidence suggests that eagles do return to an area not that far from the area where they fledged and began the challenging journey from fledging to maturity. I hope to share Duke’s adventures for many years to come.

Duke Farms Alumni: D/99

Monday, January 25th, 2021

by: Larissa Smith, wildlife biologist

D/99 January 17th 2021 @ Kristen Branchizio

It is always exciting to receive a report of a New Jersey banded eagle, especially when it is from Duke Farms eagle cam. D/99 was resighted two years ago during the winter of 2019. The blog post Duke Farms Alumni D/99: All Grown Up, has all the details of those sightings.

D/99, January 2021 @ Kristen Branchizio

D/99 has been sighted again, this time in Freehold, Monmouth County. He was seen for several days feeding on a deer carcass along with a few other eagles.

D/99 was the youngest of three chicks in the 2014 Duke Farms nest. It’s amazing to see the “before” and “after” photos. The little fuzzy wobbling chick is now a full grown majestic adult.

D/99 and siblings, April 2nd, 2014

D/99 is now seven years old and could possibly have a mate and be nesting in the area. We hope to get more resightings of D/99 in the future to know that he is doing well and raising his own family.

Part 3: Where are the Three Bridges eagles nesting?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

by: Larissa Smith, Wildlife Biologist

In part one and two of this blog series we followed the Three Bridges eagle pair. The transmission tower where they had previously nested was replaced and a new nesting platform installed. The question was: would the pair return and use the new nesting platform? Eagle Project volunteers have been closely monitoring the tower and surrounding areas for the eagle pair. The eagles have not been seen at their old nesting tower. At one point it looked like they were building a nest on an adjacent tower, but the amount of sticks never increased. Then a new eagle nest was found in a tree about a mile away from the tower location.

After many observations by nest monitors it is believed that this is the Three Bridges pair. While we can’t be 100 percent certain, the fact that they haven’t been seen at their old nest location and that this new nest is close enough to be in their territory. It is not uncommon for eagle pairs to relocate their nest if there is disturbance to the nest site. While it is disappointing, the new nest platform might not go to waste. Nest monitors have seen immature eagles perched on the newly installed tower and nest platform.

As the number of eagles’s nesting in NJ continues to increase, it only makes sense that a pair will eventually use the nesting platform in the future.

#Thankful

Monday, November 30th, 2020

‘Tis the season for osprey nest platform repairs — and being thankful for the volunteers who make it happen!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassadors clean out nesting material from a 20-30 year old nest platform.

After migratory birds depart, leaves fall and northwest winds prevail, a small group of dedicated volunteers descend on our coastal saltmarshes. They’re there to maintain osprey nest platforms. Around 75% of our nesting ospreys rely on these wooden structures to reproduce. They were used to help jumpstart the early recovery efforts of ospreys in coastal New Jersey, where much of their native habitat was lost to development in the 1950-60s. Today many of these platforms are reaching their life span or are very close.

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