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Posts Tagged ‘bahamas’

Plover Power

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
Reflections Three Years into the Shorebird Sister School Network Program

by Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Deep Creek Primary students with the migratory and wintering Piping Plover decal.

Deep Creek Primary students with the migratory and wintering Piping Plover decal.

As we begin to wrap up our third year of the Shorebird Sister School Network, we are able to reflect on how far we have come in just a short time. In our first year, we started with just one class at Amy Roberts Primary School (Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas), led by teacher Jan Russell, which was paired up with a class at Ocean City Intermediate School (Ocean City, New Jersey), led by teacher Deb Rosander. We presented the students with information on the full life cycle of the Piping Plover, commonly referred to as “our birds” in New Jersey. Really they are residents of The Bahamas, spending over half their life on the warm sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise water. Piping Plovers in The Bahamas,  in most cases, see less disturbance than what is experienced by plovers on their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.

 

We not only focus on breeding, migration, and wintering of the plovers, but the importance of their habitat to a suite of species. In The Bahamas, the tidal flats used by the Piping Plovers are of huge importance to the ecological value and economy of The Bahamas, as the flats are also used by bonefish, conch, and shark species. We had both classes conduct similar projects  interpretive signs placed on the breeding and wintering grounds  using their writing skills and original artwork. The students also participated in field trips where they learned how to use spotting scopes and binoculars to find and identify shorebirds.

Shorebird Sister School Network leaders and CWF biologists, Stephanie Egger and Todd Pover at Amy Roberts Primary School, one of the first sister schools in the program.

Shorebird Sister School Network leaders and CWF biologists, Stephanie Egger and Todd Pover at Amy Roberts Primary School, one of the first sister schools in the program.

Three years later, we still are teaching our core lessons, but have vastly expanded on the curriculum and projects, as well as extending the program onto another island, Eleuthera, which is just south of Abaco. We now are working with Cherokee Primary in the settlement of Cherokee Sound (Abaco) and Deep Creek Primary (Deep Creek, Eleuthera). We have continued working for the last three years with Amy Roberts Primary School and Ocean City Intermediate School. Back in the United States, we have added a second class from Ocean City, as well as the Leeds Avenue Elementary School Environmental Club (Pleasantville, New Jersey) led by Mary Lenahan. We’ve added new components to the curriculum such as bird anatomy, foraging differences between species of shorebirds, invasive species, habitat assessments (including macroinvertebrates) and marine debris.

 

We continue to implement interpretive signs as a project with classes that are in their first year of the program, but have come up with new and exciting projects to keep the students (and teachers) motivated and engaged to continue participating as a sister school. For example, during the second year we worked with Amy Roberts, we removed 1,500 Australian pine (Casuarina spp.) from Green Turtle Cay as it degrades the habitat for piping plovers and other species. We created a Piping Plover activity book complete with crossword puzzles, word searches, and mapping activities designed mainly by the students at Ocean City Intermediate School, Leeds Avenue Elementary School, and Amy Roberts Primary School. Because Cherokee Primary and Deep Creek Primary are new to the program this year we hope to have their students create interpretive signs, while the second and third year students in the Program may develop PSA-type videos this year and pen pal letters to their respective sister schools in the United States.

 

Throughout the year, each class receives one or two classroom lessons and a field trip. We keep busy during the few short weeks we have in The Bahamas; coordinating the field trips, conducting surveys, presentations, and working to continue to build and strengthen our existing relationships with partners, such as Friends of the Environment and local citizen scientists. This year, we’ve reached over 120 students in the program, both from the Bahamas and in the United States.

Official Shorebird Sister School Network Logo

 

One of the most rewarding aspects of the Shorebird Sister School Network is that we are able to provide lessons to the some of the same children throughout multiple years in the program, which strengthens the conservation messages we are trying to instill in the upcoming generations. We hope to foster a greater appreciation for wildlife, especially for the Piping Plover and its habitat, and inspire students to help now and later on in their lives as adults ensure the recovery and survival of the bird for years to come.

 

Learn More:

 

Stephanie Egger is a wildlife biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Bahamas Revisited

Sunday, February 21st, 2016
Piping Plover Research and Conservation Five Years Later

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

CensusPine2

 

The wintering segment of the 2016 International Piping Plover Census has just wrapped up in the Bahamas. This marks six winters of my own involvement with piping plover conservation work in the Bahamas – starting with the last international census in 2011 – so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the changes I have observed in the years between the censuses.

 

First and foremost, we now know much more about how many piping plovers winter in the Bahamas and where they are located, including some areas where there are particular high concentrations of piping plovers and other shorebirds. This knowledge is due to the significant increase in survey effort put forth by partners in the Bahamas during the census, but also surveys conducted by Bahamas National Trust and National Audubon Society, as well as our own work at Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF), in the years since 2011 to supplement the earlier surveys and better understand how piping plovers use the sites.

The author, CWF's Todd Pover, scoping out  piping plovers during the census.

The author, CWF’s Todd Pover, scoping out piping plovers during the census.

 

This is demonstrated by the results of the 2016 census. As just one example of how this extra research paid off, in 2011 when we visited Casuarina Point on Abaco for the census, we knew from local birders and e-Bird that piping plovers were frequently seen there, but not that it was only for a narrow window during low tide to forage, nor that depending on wind conditions or disturbance, they could be at another more remote flat across Cherokee Sound. So in 2016, we had surveyors in place at the correct tide AND in both locations at the same time, thus allowing us to record 26 piping plovers, instead of 0 in 2011. Using similar information gathered across the island we found 178 piping plovers in 2016, compared to 76 in 2011 (and 82 on Eleuthera in 2016 vs. 30 in 2011).

The CWF 2016 International Piping Plover Census team for Abaco and Eleuthera: Pam Prichard, Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger, Michelle Stantial, Emily Heiser, Brendan Toote (left to right).

The CWF 2016 International Piping Plover Census team for Abaco and Eleuthera: Pam Prichard, Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger, Michelle Stantial, Emily Heiser, Brendan Toote (left to right).

 

Even with some oversights like those, the 1066 piping plovers tallied in the 2011 census revealed that the Bahamas was one of the most significant wintering locations for piping plovers, second only to Texas. And with band resight data, we now know that the Bahamas is THE most important winter location for the Atlantic coast population (as compared to the Great Lakes and Great Plains populations). Although the final count for the 2016 census is not complete yet, it has already topped the 2016 figure and will account for a good part of the remaining unknown wintering birds and locations. New surveys in the Turks and Caicos, more intensive surveys in Cuba, as well as the Southeast/Gulf Coast U.S. (which is critical for all three populations of piping plover) should make this the most comprehensive and informative survey to date.

 

While improved census results are important, one may reasonably still ask how the census is going to translate into better conservation. The Bahamas is a good example of what can be done with the data  last year the Bahamas government set aside the Joulter Cays as one of a series of new national parks, to a large degree based on its importance for shorebirds, especially piping plovers, as a result of information initially gathered from the census and follow-up surveys. This marked the first time shorebirds played a significant role in such a designation, so this is a watershed event for shorebird conservation in the Bahamas (and the Caribbean).

 

I have noticed other “sea changes” in attitude on a smaller scale. When I first visited the Bahamas (Abaco) during the 2011 census, aside for some birders, piping plovers were little known by the public there. Now when I come, I am recognized as the plover guy and piping plover bumper stickers can be spotted around the island on golf carts and trucks. There is even a new post card, entitled “Birds of the Bahamas” that has a piping plover side by side with a flamingo, the national bird. And there is refreshingly little of the rancor we sometimes have in the states over their protection – the habitats piping plovers use in the Bahamas, especially tidal flats, are also important for valuable resources, such as conch and bonefish, and other marine species, so protecting them is less of a conflict.

birds of the bahamas postcard

 

The important role the Bahamas plays in the piping plover life cycle is now much better known by the public and other stakeholders. Many of the participating partners have not only provided technical shorebird expertise during the surveys, but worked hard to provide education and outreach towards a long-term conservation goal. One area my colleague Stephanie Egger and I are most proud of in this realm is our Shorebird Sister School Network, where we pair up schools and students in the Bahamas and in New Jersey, using piping plover migration as the link. Now in its third year, this project is working to create a new generation of young conservationists (and piping plover lovers)!

 

This is not to say our work is done. There is still more to learn, a banding study is being conducted to help us better understand survival compared to other wintering (and breeding) regions, more detailed aspects of site fidelity, and how birds move around sites within islands. Still, piping plovers are no longer a novelty in the Bahamas as was largely the case when I first came in 2011. The challenge over the next five years will be how to harness the increased awareness and knowledge to aid recovery of this endangered species.

 

A special thanks to Friends of the Environment, who have been our piping plover partner on Abaco from the beginning, please check out all the great work they do! Also to the Disney Conservation Fund and The National Audubon Society for funding, as well as Bahamas National Trust for other support and the conservation work they do in the Bahamas in general. Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey, sponsors of the International Piping Plover Census, for supporting CWF’s inclusion in the surveys. Thanks to Rolling Harbour Abaco for setting up the Abaco Piping Plover Watch this winter to help us keep track of piping plovers and raise local awareness. Thanks to those who participated in the CWF led 2016 census on Abaco and Eleuthera: Brendan Toote, of the College of the Bahamas, Michelle Stantial, of SUNY – ESF, Pam Prichard, and CWF’s own Stephanie Egger and Emily Heiser. And finally, thanks to our local citizen scientists on Abaco who participated in or provided valuable knowledge for the 2016 census, especially Ali Ball, our “super” volunteer!

 

 

Learn More:

 

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

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey “2014 Annual Report” Released

Friday, March 27th, 2015

CWF Releases its First Annual Report Ever Using a Story Map Format: “2014 Annual Report

By David Wheeler, Executive Director

Technology has proven to be vital to Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s work protecting rare wildlife species over the years. Our biologists depend greatly on modern technologies to band, track, and share online the journeys of wildlife. Our webcams broadcast the most intimate behaviors of nesting birds and bats across the web. And we seek out ever-evolving communications technologies to spread the word about the inspiring stories of wildlife, from social media and infographs to e-books and Story Maps. These technologies offer newfound abilities to share complex data on multiple levels, while still incorporating the awe-inspiring photography and videos that bring wildlife’s stories to life.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey is excited to offer our 2014 Annual Report in a unique format that utilizes one of those technologies – Story Maps. In the past year, we have explored the wonders of American oystercatchers with our first Story Map – and now the annual report allows all of our projects to be highlighted in this interactive format.

A screen capture of one of the pages of the CWF 2014 Annual Report Story Map.

A screen capture of one of the pages of the CWF 2014 Annual Report Story Map.

Visit the multiple pages within this Story Map to learn about Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s many projects and partnerships in 2014, and the imperiled wildlife species in need of our help. Find examples of the innovative and dedicated leadership of our biologists and volunteers. And take an online journey across the state to learn how our projects made a difference in all corners of New Jersey in 2014 – a great year for wildlife in the Garden State!


 

PIPING PLOVER RESEARCHERS – THE NEXT GENERATION

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

CWFNJ AND MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY PARTNER IN THE BAHAMAS

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Monmouth University student digging the sediment cores on tidal flat in the Bahamas.

Monmouth University student using a pvc push core to collect sediments on a tidal flat in The Bahamas.

We totally shifted gears for the second half of our week here on Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Piping Plover surveys took a back seat as we focused on working with 20 students from Monmouth University (MU), who were taking part of in a two-week Tropical Island Ecology course during their winter break.

We settled into the Cape Eleuthera Institute, who hosted the students at their world class facilities for an intense (but fun) regimen of hands-on science research, typically marine based, but a Piping Plover unit was added for the MU students. It was particularly exciting to work with the MU students here in the Bahamas because back in New Jersey we have partnered with MU for over ten years on a beach nesting bird internship program during the summer months.

First up was an evening primer for the students on Piping Plovers, including a brief summary of our efforts in NJ on the breeding grounds and recent work by CWFNJ and others on the wintering grounds in the Bahamas. The next morning we were up early to kick off our trial research project; benthic macro-invertebrate sampling at Piping Plover wintering sites in the Bahamas to try to develop an inventory of their potential prey items, and eventually determine what constitutes a highly suitable foraging site. This was spurred, in part, by field observations of tidal flats that appear to be highly suitable, but have no piping plovers present, whereas similar adjacent flats are covered with shorebirds. Perhaps not all flats are created equal and prey availability is the key.

Students collecting and processing the sediment samples as part of research to assess foraging quality.

Students collecting and processing the sediment samples as part of the research to assess foraging quality.

For our field work with the students we chose two sites in Eleuthera where Piping Plovers have been observed; Savannah Sound, a classic low-tide flat in a sheltered area, and Winding Bay, an oceanfront, high-energy beach. The students extracted core sediment samples (20 cm deep) at each site along prescribed transects (10 samples per transect) for two consecutive days. Then it was back to the lab to sift the sand, sort the samples, and identify any invertebrates found. As part of the analysis, the students compared the species abundance and diversity between the two different sites, as well as between different transects within a site.

The results are yet to come and this was just a preliminary test of the methods and logistics involved. We were learning along with the students and while we were happy with the overall outcome, many questions were raised that will have to be addressed if we decide to develop a larger more robust study moving forward. In the meantime, the students got to learn a bit about Piping Plovers in the context of a research project, and inaugurate what we hope is another long-term partnership in the Bahamas.

Back in the lab to identify benthic macro-invertebrates from a Piping Plover foraging site in The Bahamas.

Back in the lab to identify benthic macro-invertebrates from a Piping Plover foraging site in The Bahamas.

A special thanks to the staff at Cape Eleuthera Institute for their hospitality and for letting us be part of their innovative learning experience. Thanks to John Tiedemann and Pedram Daneshgar at Monmouth University for setting the wheels in motion and now helping us implement this partnership. And finally,  “shout-out” to Taylor Rodenberg for stepping up to assist us with the field work – Taylor was one of our MU interns in New Jersey last summer and happened to be one of the students visiting the Bahamas this winter, so she is part of a small group of lucky people to see (and work with) Piping Plovers on both their breeding and wintering grounds!

In Search Of Piping Plovers On Eleuthera

Monday, January 12th, 2015

CWF RESEARCHERS EXPAND SURVEYS TO ANOTHER ISLAND IN THE BAHAMAS

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Todd Pover, CWFNJ Biologist,surveying for Piping Plovers during the last bits of daylight.

Todd Pover, CWF Biologist, surveying for Piping Plovers using the final minutes of daylight.

Our experience so far this week in Eleuthera is a reminder why we do so much pre-trip “recon” for our Bahamas Piping Plover Project. Prior to the trip, we poured over Google Earth maps to try to identify the most suitable habitat for plovers. We read (and reread) the report from the 2011 International Piping Plover Census, the last time any significant surveys were conducted here. Finally, we “huddled” with our partners from Monmouth University so they could help us with logistics, as they have a history of marine-based research here.

Without this preparation we would have been ill prepared, of course, but we still faced many challenges right out of the gate. First and foremost, Eleuthera is more than 100 miles long, with two coasts, so covering even a small portion of the island is difficult in a short period of time. Once we decided which sites were the top priority, we quickly found out that reaching those locations is difficult. There are few official signs to the shoreline on the Atlantic side along the one main “highway”, and many of the “roads” are difficult to traverse, even with a 4WD. A number of turnoffs ended as dead ends or too overgrown to continue.

Piping Plover "Gry E4" was banded as a chick at White Point Beach, in Southern Novia.  Scotia in June 2014. Resighted on Spanish Wells and the first time reported after the breeding season.

Piping Plover “Gry E4” was banded as a chick at White Point Beach, southern Nova Scotia in June 2014. Resighted on Spanish Wells and the first time reported after the breeding season.

It also quickly became apparent that Eleuthera’s rocky coast, especially along the western side is not nearly as suitable for piping plovers as we had experienced on earlier trips to Abaco and Grand Bahama. And some of the beaches on the Atlantic side were too narrow to likely support piping plovers. Not surprisingly, the initial day of surveys ended with a lot of lessons learned, but NO piping plovers.

Day Two we took an entirely different tack. We left our vehicle on the mainland and headed out on small ferries to two islands off the northern coast of Eleuthera; Spanish Wells, a residential community with a commercial lobster port and Harbor Island, a resort town known for its famous Pink Sands Beach. Our luck turned around, as we observed 20 piping plovers (with relative ease) including four that were marked with engraved flags that denoted they were Canadian breeders. This was one of the highlights of all our Bahamas trips to date.

We were also able to track the movement of 18 plovers from a high tide roost on the ocean side beach to a low tide flat on the other side of the island as the sun set. From what we learned on Abaco on previous trips to the Bahamas, this type of information is some of the most critical we can collect to help inform future surveys. We definitely earned our celebratory Kaliks that evening!

On the road to nowhere - locating piping plover sites on Eleuthera was a logistic challenge at times.

On the road to nowhere – locating piping plover sites on Eleuthera was a logistic challenge at times.

Our goals for the surveys this week are modest. We are trying to confirm some of the site information our colleagues Pat and Doris Leary gathered during the 2011 International Census, as well as add some additional sites to the survey inventory. We also are trying to visit high value sites, such as Savannah Sound, to determine which tide or portion of the tide is most productive for the surveys. With this information in hand, we hope to do our small part to help make the 2016 International Census next winter the most productive and accurate to date.