Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘atlantic city’

Giving Absecon’s ospreys a boost

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016
Volunteers brave rain and high water to benefit ospreys!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

 

Volunteers work on a flooded saltmash to remove an osprey nesting platform in Atlantic City.

Volunteers work on a flooded saltmarsh to remove an osprey nesting platform in Atlantic City.

I’ve been surveying osprey colony on Absecon Bay since 2008, after I moved to the local area. It’s been an area with a small but slowly growing colony. In 2008 there were a total of 11 active nests. This year there were 23 active nests. Productivity has been good with an average of 1.72 young/active (known-outcome) nest over the past nine years (more than double what’s needed to sustain the population). Many of the nests in this area were installed in 2005 for mitigation for nests that were removed when the ACUA installed large wind turbines off Route 30. But, some platforms that were placed near the turbines, have been slowly abandoned by ospreys. This year only one nest was occupied there and it did not produce any young.  (more…)

Black Rails: Secretive Denizens of our Coastal Marshes

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
Searching for a Small, Dark Bird at Night, in the Dark

By: Alfred Breed, Field Technician

What you can see at night while listening for Black Rail. Shown are the datasheet and speaker that plays the various calls. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

The nighttime view while listening for black rails in the marsh. Shown are the datasheet and speaker that plays the various calls. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

Shhhhhhhh. Be very, very quiet. Sit perfectly still. Listen. When you are searching at night in the dark for the black rail, the rarest and MOST secretive of the secretive marsh birds, your best sense to use for detection is hearing.

 

The black rail is a small, darkly-colored marsh bird whose numbers are believed to have declined precipitously in the past few decades, primarily due to habitat loss (when their preferred high marsh habitat was filled and developed), as well as sea-level rise and the loss of salt hay farms (in New Jersey). The breeding population is likely extirpated from both Connecticut and New York, while its continued stability here in New Jersey is in question. Its conservation status varies by state, with full protection as an endangered species in New Jersey and some other states, and only the cursory protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in other, mostly southern states. Even in states where they are not listed as threatened or endangered, black rails are rarely seen because of low abundance, their secretive habits, and the inaccessibility of their preferred habitat.

 

Because of both its rarity and extremely secretive nature, the detailed habits of black rails are little known. Furthermore, historic and current population numbers critical to establishing its conservation status are not well understood. It is thought that they mostly feed during daylight hours, quietly traversing the marsh mud in search of seeds and invertebrate prey, thus remaining largely undetected beneath the dense grass mat. But during the breeding season they call, quite loudly, to each other at night.

 

This habit, nocturnal vocalization, is what we hope to use to determine the continued presence of black rail here in our coastal marshes, and eventually their abundance and other critical biological information. As part of a cooperative effort by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, and New Jersey Audubon Society, staff and volunteers are conducting surveys at points throughout the black rail’s potential breeding range in New Jersey and other states. One purpose of such research is to collect and analyze data in order to establish sound, effective, science-based species management plans coordinated across the species’ entire range.

Underway during daylight hours to check-ride new field boat, and deploy an acoustic recording unit that also “listens” for Black Rail.

Underway during daylight hours to check-ride deploy an acoustic recording unit that also “listens” for black rails.

The current phase of the black rail project requires me to transport by boat four expert bird-by-ear surveyors, capable of identifying birds common to the coastal marsh habitat from their song alone, at night. I bring each “listener” to ten randomly selected points within suitable high marsh habitat at the proper tide and during the designated survey period between 10:30 PM and 3 AM. Each 10-point survey route is repeated three times across a six-week period from May-July. Surveyors record all of the identifiable species they hear as well as the direction and estimated distance of the calls from each survey point.

 

The survey consists of two minutes of passive listening followed by several recorded black rail vocalizations broadcast from a very loud speaker that are interspersed with short silences in order to listen for any response. The black rail calls are followed by calls from Virginia and clapper rails, as they will also sometimes elicit a response from our quarry. Surveys are conducted with winds below 12 mph and in little to no precipitation in order for the sound to carry to both human and bird ears. Absolute silence is critical in order not to miss any of the more distant calls that pierce the darkness. The scrape of a boot on the deck, the crinkle of a snack wrapper, or a sudden sneeze has the potential to drown out the sound of a distant call. Discussions about species, direction and distance are held in a quiet whisper.

 

CWF field technician Alfred Breed, the intrepid nocturnal boat pilot for the Black Rail survey project.  Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

CWF field technician Alfred Breed, the intrepid nocturnal boat pilot for the Black Rail survey project. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

This season, our four survey routes encompassed appropriate habitat areas of several of the tributaries to the Great Egg Harbor Bay watershed. In our quiet and isolated marsh stream we are joined only by the birds we hear, many fireflies and less benign insects, spring peepers, croaking bullfrogs, and the occasional splash of a startled muskrat. Periodic traffic noise from the roads that encircle Great Egg Harbor Bay are a reminder that it is difficult to entirely escape civilization here in New Jersey. But listening to the marsh at night, while boating up a narrow isolated tributary that snakes its way toward the transition from marsh to upland, definitely allows for a sense of quiet communion with nature. Because of its extensive lighting, the BL England power plant in Beesley’s Point is truly a bejeweled wonder to behold at night from almost anywhere in the watershed, and the light pollution that emanates from the Atlantic City sky line can be actually quite helpful for nighttime navigation.

 

As far as this season is concerned, all of the hoped for data was successfully collected from each point during the survey periods, with only one survey transect interrupted by an un-forecast pop-up lightning storm that required a quick race back to the safety of the boat ramp. With the surveys now completed, we look forward to sharing the results when they are available for release.

 

This is the first of hopefully many seasons of data collection of this type. As each season’s final results are collected and analyzed, we hope to focus our survey efforts from geographically random points within appropriate habitat, to the areas of repeated detection, and to eventually be able to achieve our long term goal: namely a science-based understanding of the black rail population in our state that informs a viable and effective species management plan.

 

As a result of my participation in this study with four expert surveyors, for three survey nights each, at 10 points per night, and 10 minutes per point, I have had the privilege of intently listening for over 20 solid hours to our nighttime native secretive marsh bird songs in the presence of experts who can teach me what it is we’ve heard. Although I was only able to master a few of the calls with which I was not already familiar, it has truly been a pleasure and a valuable learning experience accompanying these experts into the field. I can’t wait to do it again next season!

 

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife wish to thank Alf for the excellent logistical, navigation, and boat handling skills he brought to this project. Just as we could not conduct the survey without our observer’s expert ears, we would be equally lost without Alf’s expertise on the water. Thank you, Alf!

Volunteers needed to help protect terrapins!

Friday, April 24th, 2015
Training Session scheduled for May 12th at 6pm in Tuckerton
A female terrapin pauses while crossing Great Bay Blvd in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

A female terrapin pauses while crossing Great Bay Blvd in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

We work hard to protect wildlife for future generations to enjoy. One of those species, who is largely an underserved species in New Jersey is the northern diamondback terrapin. Terrapins are so cool yet hardly noticed by many. They face a HUGE amount of threats. To list a few (from greatest to least): Poaching, drowning in crab traps, road mortality, predation (usually of eggs or young), and collisions with boats and boat props. That’s a long list of threats to the health of their population, which no one really knows how they are doing…

What we’ve done with them in Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor is address a problem which was believed to be the root cause for their decline in the area. Studies that have been done in the area have stated that the overall size and age of terrapins has decreased over time. Another documented the total road mortality rate at 70% of individuals that crossed the road (the actual rate in a more recent study was around 30%, but that’s still high and having an impact). Either way, each year many terrapins are being injured and killed by motor vehicles.

Each year we recruit volunteer “Terrapin Stewards” to help patrol area roads. This hardy and extremely dedicated group of volunteers work tirelessly to prevent terrapins from becoming road kill and also collect valuable data on their annual migration to find suitable nesting areas. On May 12th at 6:00pm we are hosting a short training session for anyone interested in volunteering this year. Attendees will also learn more about all of the work that we’ve done over the past 5 years.

Edwin B. Forsythe NWR Osprey Banding

Thursday, June 26th, 2014
Three nestlings produced at the Osprey Cam nest are banded for future tracking!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

In the late afternoon of June 24, 2014, I kicked off the 2014 Osprey Nesting Surveys by banding the three nestings at the Osprey Cam nest. I was joined by Ann Marie Mason Morrison, with Friends of Forsythe NWR, our founding partner with the Osprey Cam, and two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service interns, Jessie and Kirsten who helped bring out all the equipment needed to the nest (two 20′ ladders).

This is one of the most difficult nests to reach in all of New Jersey! It either takes a boat (at high tide) or two 20′ ladders (at low tide) to cross a 15′ wide ditch on the coastal salt marsh. Anyone who has crossed the ditch can attest to how difficult it is. Now you can watch and see what when into banding these three nestlings. A portion of the video was cut when I was attempting to repair the sound at the camera equipment box. At the same time the nest was cleaned of harmful plastic debris that the birds used as nesting material. A total of 3 balloons and a plastic bag were removed from the nest. The three young were banded with USGS bird bands (1088-04358,59 & 60) for future tracking. Check out a photo that I got of “the runt.” Enjoy!

Hatching!!

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013
Three healthy hatchlings at Forsythe NWR!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Chicks!

If you haven’t noticed, we now have three healthy osprey nestlings at the nest at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, as viewed by our Osprey Cam. The first chick hatched on May 25th, the second on the 26th, and the third on the 28th. The eggs hatched in the order they were laid, referred to as asynchronous hatching. The incubation period was ~38 days for all three eggs (average is 35-37 in NJ; 32-43 throughout their range). With the cooler temperatures the longer period is expected. Osprey young are born semi-altricial, or are downy and require close parental care to survive. The male osprey has been very busy foraging and catching more prey to feed all the hungry mouths. Have you tried to identify the prey that they’ve brought in?