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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.

Continue reading on USGS.gov

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

CWF in the News: Volunteers help salamanders cross NJ roadways

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

https://i1.wp.com/www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2021/03/19/NNJH/8d71f555-3ccd-4e67-b853-b91ad51421f9-Spotted-Female_In-Hand_MacKenzieHall.jpg?ssl=1
A volunteers handles a spotted salamander. Photo by Mackenzie Hall

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation has been partnering with NJ’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) since 2002 for the annual Amphibian Crossing Project. On warm, rainy nights in the early Spring, we work with a fleet of incredible volunteers to hustle amphibians across the road at three key rescue sites. Still groggy from their winter hibernation, roads can be incredibly dangerous for the slow moving frogs and salamanders trying to reach their breeding grounds.

Over the course of this project, we’ve crossed an estimate 14,000 individuals at the Byram Township site alone!

Commenting on last Thursday’s crossing, the first of 2021, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator Christine Healy had the following to say:

“We were a little unsure of what to expect, since the temperature was a little on the cold side, but we crossed 1,215 amphibians at Byram Twp., 1,132 at Stillwater, and 963 at Liberty Twp.

I’d call that a success! Really proud of all the volunteers who made it happen.

Conditions look like they could be good toward the end of this week for round two!”

Christine Healy, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator

Bruce A. Scruton of The New Jersey Herald recently spoke with Christine to discuss the Amphibian Croosing Project and its storied history.

You can read the profile over on NJHerald.com to learn more about what it takes to help hundreds of our amphibian friends hop and meander across dangerous roadways.

Click here to read more.

Spotted salamander on a log
A spotted salamander peeks over a log. Photo by Mackenzie Hall.

CWF In The News: Eastern Coyote, Friend or Foe to LBI? Conservationists Weigh In

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

A resting coyote with typical coloration. Photo by John Picken.

The expansion of Eastern Coyotes (Canis latrans x lycaon) throughout the northeastern United States has been a cause for alarm in some communities, but are they as dangerous as some fear?

A particularly adaptable wild canid, the eastern coyote is distinct from their western cousins and is considered to be a hybrid species, created when western coyotes and other wolf species, like the eastern wolf, interbred in the early 1900s. This new larger coyote species has been able to expand its territory out from its central/western roots and can now be found along much of the eastern coast of the United States.

The eastern coyote’s presence on our coasts now finds itself at odds with the humans who call these more cosmopolitan coastal areas their home, like on Long Beach Island where increasing coyote sightings over the past few years are beginning to worry residents.

Monique M. Demopoulos of TheSandpaper.net reached out to Conserve Wildlife New Jersey for a conservationist’s perspective.

CWF Habitat Program Manager Ben Wurst and Executive Director David Wheeler gave their thoughts in the article published on March 11th.

Reading read the full story over on TheSandpaper.net!

It is uncertain how endangered piping plovers, seen here at Barnegat Light, will be impacted by the coyote presence. (Photo by Ryan Morrill)

Want to learn more about eastern coyotes and their ecology here in New Jersey?

Watch David Wheeler’s Living with Eastern Coyotes: The Incredible Story of our Newest Wild Neighbors over on the CWF YouTube channel!


Duke Farms Bald Eagles Hatch Two of Three Eggs

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

by Larissa Smith, Wildlife Biologist

The two Duke Farms bald eagle chicks peek out from under their parent to catch some sun.

It looks like the Duke Farm’s nest will only have two chicks this season.

One egg remains in the nest bowl and is still being incubated, but based on when the second chick hatched, March 1st, it should have hatched by now. We won’t know for certain why the egg didn’t hatch, but one theory is that it was the first egg laid.

There had been intruder eagles at the nest and fights between the adults and intruders. At one point both adults were off the nest for 20 minutes while an immature was in the nest. Perhaps something happened to the egg during these incidents.

The egg will eventually get buried in the nest or shoved to the side. The adults are busy bringing food to the nest for feedings and both chicks are getting plenty of food.

Watch the LIVE Duke Farms Eagle Cam by clicking here.

Read more about the New Jersey Eagle Project by clicking here.


The Return Of Piping Plovers

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Piping Plover walks through a tidal pool. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Any day now the first piping plover will be returning to New Jersey to nest. It will likely return to the same beach it nested on in previous years, possibly even the same part of the beach. It will be coming from the same wintering location it used in the past. And it probably even used the same stopover sites during migration. This attachment to place or “site fidelity” is one of the marvels of the birding world, not unique to plovers.

In some ways, it’s not so different for us. We order pizza from the same restaurant, time after time. Many of us vacation in the same place, year after year. And yes, we have been known to repeatedly visit our favorite beach. My parents took my sister and I to the beach at Seaside Heights for summer vacation every year when we were growing up. We went on the beach at the same street access, laid our blanket out at pretty much the same spot, ate at the same place on the boardwalk, EVERY time. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I could travel or vacation elsewhere, and so I began visiting places far away, first Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, then the desert Southwest, and onto a lifetime of travel to “far flung” places.

And this is where the analogy with piping plovers ends. Plovers don’t travel on a whim. They can’t decide to fly to the west coast this year instead of their usual Atlantic Coast breeding locales. They are hard-wired for efficiency, their behavior is driven by survival and maximizing reproductive success. They return to the same beach because they know there is suitable nesting habitat and good foraging opportunities there, and “knowing that ahead of time” gives them a breeding advantage over other, younger plovers looking for and trying to establish new territories.

Piping plovers do have some capacity for change. They can shift locations if needed, especially if there is a significant alteration to their existing habitat, severe beach erosion, for example, or if they lose a mate in a given year and need to find a new one. There are, however, limits to this. They are “specialists” that require specific habitats and conditions. Furthermore, recent research on the wintering grounds suggest they will remain at the same location even if it is highly disturbed, and even if it negatively impacts their fitness. So, site fidelity usually trumps other factors.

Of course, all of this has conservation implications. Here in New Jersey, development at or near the beach has already limited both the amount and quality of beach habitat available for them to breed. Even if they wanted to “travel elsewhere” they don’t really have an option of other suitable places to go. And, the beaches remaining for them to use, with rare exceptions, are busy with people, which is not a good recipe for a species highly vulnerable to human disturbance. Still, given what we know about site fidelity, our best option is to “pull out all the stops”, put the strongest protection measures in place, at the sites that are left for them to nest.

This is what keeps me up at night, even after more than 25 years on the job. New Jersey is a tough place for piping plovers to succeed. It is not necessarily a losing battle, but it hasn’t always been a winning one either. As I gear up for another breeding season, I know that I and the dedicated community of other plover monitors will do everything we can to protect them and try to secure their future. But…we need your help too. Stay out of the fence or barriers erected to protect their nests, leave your dog at home, off of nesting beaches, and keep your distance when flightless chicks move outside the fence to feed at the waterline. Please enjoy them, but carefully and at a distance.

This reminds me of the lessons we’ve learned with the Covid pandemic this past year. We can’t beat it alone; we need to work together. We have to take actions that help each other, not just ourselves. This is the model for piping plover conservation too. We will keep protecting them, but ultimately, we need everyone’s help if piping plovers are going to succeed and eventually recover.

Join me on Team Plover!