Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘beach nesting bird project’

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.

 

Learn More:

 

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.

Learn More:

 

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

Beachnester Buzz: First American Oystercatcher Chicks of the Season Hatch

Monday, May 23rd, 2016
New, weekly updates from New Jersey’s beach nesting bird project team

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

American Oystercatcher Chick

American oystercatcher Chick

It has been a busy week on the beach nesting bird project! We had our first least tern nests of the season, as the brief spell of warmer weather (finally) made for a burst of breeding activity. The first American oystercatcher nests hatched, so we have chicks on the beach now, as well.

Least Tern Nest

Least Tern Nest

And there was a big spike in new piping plover nests all along the coast, so we were busy erecting “predator exclosures” to protect the eggs from predators, such as crows, cats, gulls, and foxes. While they are not effective or viable to use on every nest, these wire cage structures are one of our best management techniques to increase hatch success by deterring predators.

Piping Plover Exclosure

Piping Plover Exclosure

 

This week we will be even busier, as we make a mad scramble to protect the nests and colonies before the crowds of beachgoers arrive for the Memorial Day weekend!

 

Learn More:

 

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

International Migratory Bird Day Series: Piping Plover

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016
CWF is Celebrating International Migratory Bird Day all Week Long

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

CWF’s blog on the piping plover is the second in a series of five to be posted this week in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). IMBD 2016 is Saturday, May 14. This #birdyear, we are honoring 100 years of the Migratory Bird Treaty. This landmark treat has protected nearly all migratory bird species in the U.S. and Canada for the last century.

Piping plover. © Steve Byland

Piping plover photo by Steve Byland

The piping plover – a small sand-colored shorebird that nests in New Jersey as part of its Atlantic Coast range from North Carolina up to Eastern Canada –weighs only one to two ounces and is about six to six and a half inches long. These tiny shorebirds migrate all the way to their wintering grounds along the coast of eastern Mexico and on Caribbean islands from Barbados to Cuba and the Bahamas.

 

Migrants can be seen in New Jersey from early March to late April and again from mid-July to the end of October. Females are the first to leave the breeding grounds, followed by males, then juveniles. Breeding plover “hot spots” in each coastal county of New Jersey are Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit, Barnegat Light, North Brigantine Natural Area and Stone Harbor Point.

 

We see a number of migratory piping plovers in New Jersey because the Garden State is roughly in the middle of their breeding range. Todd Pover, CWF’s beach nesting bird project manager, reasons that we have a high number of Eastern/Atlantic Coast Canadian breeders that stop in New Jersey — based on band resights — albeit usually for just a day on their way north to breeding grounds. Therefore, New Jersey may play an important role in the piping plover life cycle not just for breeding, but for migration as well, which emphasizes the importance of protecting shorebirds in all phase of their lives or “full life-cycle conservation”.

 

Piping plovers face a number of threats, including intensive human recreational activity on beaches where they nest, high density of predators, and a shortage of highly suitable habitat due to development of barrier islands and extreme habitat alteration.  Sea level rise and increased storm activity related to climate change will also likely lead to more flooding of nests.

 

Federally listed as a threatened species in 1986, piping plovers have since recovered in some areas of the breeding range. Yet piping plovers continue to struggle in New Jersey, where they are listed by the state as endangered. For more information about piping plover nesting results in New Jersey, please read Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s 2015 report.

Piping plover chick, photo credit: Asbury Park Press/Nancy A. Smith

Piping plover chick, photo credit: Asbury Park Press/Nancy A. Smith

CWF, in close coordination with NJDFW’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, oversees piping plover conservation throughout New Jersey. Staff and volunteers help erect fence and signage to protect nesting sites, monitor breeding pairs frequently throughout the entire nesting season from March to August, and work with public and municipalities to educate them on ways to minimize impacts. Although conservation efforts on the breeding ground remain the primary focus, in recent years, CWF has also begun to work with partners all along the flyway, in particular on the winter grounds in the Bahamas, to better protect the at-risk species during its entire life-cycle.

 

We are working hard to link students across the piping plover’s flyway through our Shorebird Sister School Network, where we pair up schools in New Jersey and the Bahamas, one of the most important wintering areas for Atlantic Coast piping plovers. Now, we are hopefully recruiting some Canadian students as well.

 

Conserve Wildlife Foundation will continue to find innovative ways to save the small migratory shorebird. In 2015, 108 pairs of piping plovers nested in New Jersey, a 17% increase from 2014. What will 2016 bring? Follow us on social media to learn more about the tireless efforts of a team of passionate, dedicated biologists working to save the iconic coastal species.

 

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Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

A Tale of Two Colonies

Thursday, September 24th, 2015
An Insider’s View of New Jersey’s Skimmer Nation

by Laura Hardy and Pam Prichard, Beach Nesting Bird Field Technicians

"Where's Waldo" - Black Skimmer Edition, as the colony takes flight. Photo by Sushanth Allapalli.

“Where’s Waldo” – Black Skimmer Edition, as the colony takes flight. Photo by Sushanth Allapalli.

 

by Laura Hardy:

New Jersey’s largest breeding colony of black skimmers is an uncommon joy. I’ve stood many hours this season totally bemused by these boisterous barking birds. I’m thrilled when, en masse, the colony takes flight right over my head, in the purest National Geographic moment I might ever experience. However, as the colony’s primary monitor, my job isn’t to be dazzled by the birds – those candy-corn bills, the funny barking calls, the gorgeous choreography of their flight – instead it’s to conduct biweekly counts of the birds in order to monitor the colony’s size and productivity.

 

Every summer for the past several years, about 1,000 black skimmer pairs have nested on the little stretch of beach known as Seaview Harbor Marina; nearly 2,600 birds at its peak this season. Black skimmers, plus least and common terns, gather there in an incredibly noisy colony. Piping plovers and American oystercatchers nest on site also.

Laura Hardy, one of the blog authors, pauses as she attempts to count a colony of several thousand black skimmers. Photo by Donna L. Schulman.

Laura Hardy, one of the blog authors, pauses as she attempts to count a colony of several thousand black skimmers. Photo by Donna L. Schulman.

Have you ever tried to count thousands of raucous swirling birds while being dive-bombed by hot-tempered terns? The first time I tried, I didn’t know how or where to start. I started over at least eleven times that first day just to be sure I was right. Even still, my boss saw my number and said I had probably underestimated the size of the colony. Argh!

 

During the next count, I briefly considered multiplying my tally by some random number like 1.4297363 in order to accurately reflect the number of birds my boss thought I should be seeing. Instead, he bought me a step stool that made seeing the birds much easier. Nesting adults had become obscured by growing vegetation in the colony — but the stool made me even more of a target for the dive-bombing terns.

 

During the next couple of count periods, as the colony continued to grow, I worried that I was compensating for the natural tendency to underestimate by over-estimating. The last two or three counts, with the colony at its peak and chicks all over the beach, I thought for sure I was hallucinating – there simply could not be that many birds!

 

Finally, all kidding aside, I’ve come to believe there is some art to the task but, for the most part, I approach counting as methodically as possible. I count individual birds in the colony, by species, and then check my accuracy by counting in groups of five or ten birds, then 50 or 100. It takes some practice to be able to visualize what 100 or 500 birds look like, but it’s useful to be able to estimate the number of birds you see in a quick glance because the colony will flush any number of times during a typical count day.

 

Counting is further complicated by the need to estimate the number of birds on nests, and then later in the season, the number of chicks that are near-fledging or already fledged (able to fly). I also had the opportunity to test my accuracy against aerial photos of the colony and was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy of my on-the-ground count.

 

All of this counting and recounting is important because it allows us to measure the reproductive success of the colony. Black skimmers, and all of our beach-nesting birds, put a huge amount of effort into breeding and the numbers show the Seaview colony had a very productive season with a minimum of 1,000 fledglings so far, but likely as many as 1,500… and still counting!

A recently fledged black skimmer chick stands out against the colony. Photo by Laura Hardy.

A recently fledged black skimmer chick stands out against the colony. Photo by Laura Hardy.

 

by Pam Prichard:

To those of us that monitor beach nesting birds in Monmouth County, black skimmers were known only by a simple drawing on our AREA CLOSED signs that are attached to the fencing erected each spring to help protect endangered piping plovers and least terns. This season, however, held an exciting surprise as we witnessed the formation of a significant new back skimmer colony in New Jersey. Sandwiched between two immensely popular and busy beaches (Belmar and Avon),  the portion of Belmar’s beach along the Shark River Inlet played host to hundreds of least terns, common terns, a pair of American oystercatchers –  and our very own celebrity skimmers.

 

The skimmers quietly started arriving in mid-June, a few at a time. Were they just hanging out? Or were they actually going to start laying eggs? As more appeared day by day before our incredulous eyes, the reality became undeniable. The skimmers were nesting, for the first time since this habitat was set aside to be “natural.” And wow, what a colony it became, with nearly 200 adult Skimmers!

 

The nests were somewhat hidden among sea rocket and seaside goldenrod in the middle of the site, and didn’t attract too much attention at first. It wasn’t until the chicks began to hatch and grow that the real show began. The adults brought the chicks out to the front of the beach and their fan base began to form.

Black skimmer fledglings executing their "infamous" sand flop. Photo by Pamela Jo Capone.

Black skimmer fledglings executing their “infamous” sand flop. Photo by Pamela Jo Capone.

In the early mornings, the bird paparazzi (photographers) would arrive. Word had spread about the appearance of these strange looking, charismatic, comical yet majestic, and very photogenic birds. Everyone wanted a photo of adults skimming the water for fish or the tide line for crustaceans. They wanted to capture that moment when a chick was being brooded or fed. When the colony would all fly up at once, swooping and circling, making their distinctive barking puppy sounds, it was a stunning sight to see and hear. And let’s not forget the distinctive way they kick up sand, or flop down, as if their bill was just too heavy to hold up for one second longer. More than one person asked me if they were dead, and I admit, I would often hold my breath, until I thankfully saw some movement!

 

In addition to the steady stream of photographers, beachgoers visited the site every day to check on the busy colony and find out the latest news. People gathered in front of the fence to watch, enraptured, and to talk about what was going on. They returned day after day, bringing friends, and forging new friendships. Children looked through the scope to see the littlest of chicks, camouflaged so well in the sand. Many people told me they had never seen anything like this in Belmar. The black skimmers were the talk of the town!

 

A resident told me of growing up and playing behind a truck as it sprayed DDT. He said it has been wonderful to see so many species rebound in New Jersey, species like the osprey, eagle and now black skimmers right in Belmar. As of this date (they are not quite done yet), we have had nearly 150 skimmer chicks make it to the fledgling (flying) stage, no small accomplishment. The beach loving public here truly embraced the black skimmers, giving us lots of positive feedback. We all look forward to the return of our “celebrities” again next year.

 

Learn more:

 

Laura Hardy and Pam Prichard are Beach Nesting Bird Field Technicians working in partnership with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.