Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘american oystercatcher’

HOW YOU CAN HELP: SHOREBIRDS AND SEABIRDS

Friday, May 24th, 2019

By Alison Levine

Update May 30, 2019: Another example of the dangers of fishing (or this time crabbing) line unfolded in dramatic fashion in Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area. CWF biologist Ben Wurst was called upon to put his climbing skills to the test to help an osprey dangling high above the ground. Thankfully Ben was able to get to the bird in time, and our friends at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research nursed the osprey back to health and were able to re-release him near where he was found. Read more about the daring rescue on our Facebook page.

Ben Wurst puts his climbing skills to the test
to rescue and entangled osprey

As thousands of people plan their trips to the Jersey shore for Memorial Day weekend, it is a good time think about how to help out shore and sea birds. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

The 141 miles of seashore in New Jersey are home – or at least part-time host – to many of the birds Conserve Wildlife Foundation protects and nurtures. Osprey, oystercatchers, black skimmers, piping plovers, red knots, and many others rely on a healthy coast to thrive.

Piping plovers on the beach
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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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Beachnester Buzz: Drum roll please, the 2016 breeding results for beachnesters are…

Monday, August 15th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

There are many ways to gauge success for our beachnesting bird project. We look at how well our management tools work, the effectiveness of our partnerships, and how well our educational efforts work, to name a few qualitative measures we use. At some point, however, it comes down to cold hard numbers, how well did the birds do in a particular season and over the long-term. We are at that point in the season, and for the most part, I am happy to report it has been an excellent breeding year. I will caution that these are still preliminary figures, some quality checking of the data needs to be done before they are final, but the trends are clear.

One of a "bumper crop" of piping plover fledglings produced in New Jersey in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

One of a “bumper crop” of piping plover fledglings produced in New Jersey in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

First up are piping plovers. We will come in at ~115 pairs statewide, up modestly from the 108 pairs in 2015, and the second consecutive year of an increase after hitting our historic low of just 92 pairs in 2014. So, we have climbed back closer to our long-term average, but there is still room to improve. The really good news is our productivity this year – close to a statewide record at 1.37 chicks fledged per pairs – puts us in the position to continue our population increase. If trends hold, because piping plovers demonstrate high site (or region) fidelity, when we produce a lot of fledglings, our breeding population rises in the next year or two. With three straight years of well above average fledgling rates for New Jersey now in the books, our prospects look good in the short term for our breeding population levels.

Least terns and black skimmers, which nest in colonies, sometimes numbering hundreds (or even thousands), are more challenging to count and assess, but we had at least modest success this year for both species. As is typical, our least tern colonies were variable, with some completely failing and others being highly productive. The Monmouth County region, one of our strongholds for least terns in New Jersey, didn’t have one colony that was a standout but most of them had at least some success. In South Jersey, our two largest colonies at Holgate (EB Forsythe NWR) and Seaview Harbor were very successful and helped make up for losses and failures at other colonies. The majority of our state’s black skimmers are concentrated in one large colony at Seaview Harbor, and although skimmers are our latest nesters (so the season isn’t quite over for them), they appear to have been very successful there, which means a good season overall for the state.

We also track American oystercatchers, although only for the portion that nest on the barrier beaches and spits. Because the biggest percentage of oystercatchers in the state nest on back bay and marsh islands, we cannot determine true statewide population or productivity levels, but the population on the beach habitat appears to be rising in recent years. Typically breeding success is lower for oystercatchers on the beach habitat due to high levels of human disturbance and predators, but productivity has been relative high the past two years. Of particular note this year was Stone Harbor Point, where a record number of 27 pairs nested and produced over 30 fledglings.

The reality is our beachnester staff works just as hard in years when the birds do poorly, as when they do well like this year, but it is SO much more rewarding when we have a good season. So as we wrap up the season, we are all feeling in a bit of a celebratory mode now!


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Beachnester Buzz: Piping Plover Fledglings

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Amazing transformation of a piping plover from tiny chick to fledgling in just 25 days. Both photos by Northside Jim.

 

The highlight of this past week was our first piping plover fledglings of the season. This means the first group of chicks has reached the stage where they can fly, which is our metric for success. Hatching the chicks is always great, but our goal is population recovery and the primary way we can increase our low population in New Jersey is to produce more fledglings to come back in future years to breed here.

 

The doubly exciting news is ALL four of the chicks that hatched at Barnegat Light reached the flying stage. This is notable because typically, on average, we only fledge about one chick per pair in New Jersey. This is not enough to grow or sustain our long-term population. Population modeling tells us we need to fledge about 1.5 chicks per pair range-wide to grow the population and about 1.25 chicks per pair to sustain it.

 

Of course, not all our piping plover pairs will fledge four chicks, in fact, some may not fledge any. So the Barnegat Light news was a good way to kick off our fledgling season and hopefully it is a sign of above average productivity this year.

 

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Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Beachnester Buzz: Least Terns Chicks Starting to Hatch

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Least tern photo by Northside Jim.

Least tern photo by Northside Jim.

The beach nesting bird field staff is firing on all cylinders now, frantically trying to keep up with nesting activity. In some regions of the New Jersey coast, piping plovers and American oystercatchers are still laying eggs, while at other sites there are chicks on the beach, even one site (Barnegat Light) where the chicks are already approaching their “fledgling” stage when they will be able to fly.

CWF Field Technician Jesse Amesbury busy conducting annual piping plover census at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

CWF Field Technician Jesse Amesbury busy conducting annual piping plover census at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Most of the least tern and black skimmer colonies are now established, with least terns starting to hatch chicks and black skimmers just laying eggs. Counting the colonies is one of the most challenging parts of the job, imagine trying to count 1,000-1,500 birds at a time in some instances!

After helping with the winter segment of the International Piping Plover Census in the Bahamas, CWF switched gears this week to help conduct the breeding portion in New Jersey.

After helping with the winter segment of the International Piping Plover Census in the Bahamas, CWF switched gears this week to help conduct the breeding portion in New Jersey.

All the normal beachnester tasks are keeping us busy, but the main focus this past week was the annual piping plover “window” census, where field biologists all along the Atlantic coast count the number of birds present between June 1-9, so we can get a range-wide breeding population estimate. As for New Jersey, it looks like our population will go up, at least slightly, for the second year in a row. Although this is still a very preliminary estimate, it looks like we have weathered the statewide low in breeding pairs we recorded in 2014, thanks to good productivity the past two years.

Of special note is a spike in Monmouth County (outside Sandy Hook), where we have gone from 2 pairs the past several years to 12 pairs this year. Although a smaller bump, we also went from 1 pair to 4 pairs within Barnegat Inlet, an area we have long hoped for more pairs. It takes a tremendous effort to realize even small gains in our piping plover recovery effort, so we are especially excited about this news!

Our work is never done...CWF Wildlife Biologist Emily Heiser posting a new nesting area for endangered least terns.

Our work is never done…CWF Wildlife Biologist Emily Heiser posting a new nesting area for endangered least terns.

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Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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