Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘beach nesting bird project’

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.

 

Learn More:

 

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.

 

From Birds to Butterflies

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Why Should We Care About Endangered Species?

by Lindsey Brendel, Technician

Piping plover sheds its breeding plumage as it readies for migration to wintering grounds. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Piping plover sheds its breeding plumage as it readies for migration to wintering grounds. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

As summer melds into early autumn, migration comes underway.  The nesting season for beach nesting birds is drawing to a close, and shorebirds can be seen feasting along the beaches as they fuel their bodies for their journey south. This was my first season working with endangered beach nesting birds.  Watching territory disputes and courtship displays early in the spring transitioned into nest searching and anxiously awaiting the hatch dates of our incubating pairs.

 

I feel an incredible sense of pride in the birds that have survived to fledge. It is impossible not to become attached when you spend weeks closely watching tiny chicks who take a tumble, are then brooded under their parents’ bodies, and finally mature into independent, fully feathered young birds, preparing for their first migration.

 

The start of fall migration also marks the reason I originally came to New Jersey one year ago, that being to study the monarch butterflies’ southward migration along the Atlantic coast. Last year was my first season as a field technician with the NJAS Monarch Monitoring Project, a research and education program that performs daily censuses of migrating monarchs, public tagging demos, and educational outreach. The project runs from September 1 through the end of October, and I will be back and working with the team again this fall.

Monarch butterfly refueling in Cape May as it prepares for fall migration to Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Brendel.

Monarch butterfly refueling in Cape May as it prepares for fall migration to Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lindsey Brendel.

For me, I see the monarch butterfly as the perfect gateway animal into the larger world of conservation.  Their widespread range in North America, and easy recognition means that many people are already familiar with this royal insect. Many school age children have learned about their life cycle in school, and may have even raised caterpillars and been witnesses to metamorphosis. Even if you have never learned about monarchs, their bright and bold appearance, sporting the warning coloration of orange and black, make them hard to miss.

 

That is one of the big differences I see between the beach nesting birds I have grown to love this summer and monarch butterfly. Cryptic and camouflaged are words that describe our beach nesters, specifically the endangered piping plover, who, when standing still, blends in perfectly with the sandy beach landscape. When I talk to people who have gone inside the fenced areas we have on the beaches for the nesting birds, a common response that serves as their rebuttal is that they “didn’t see” any birds, so they thought it would be okay. Situations like this happen frequently, and I have found that teaching, rather than scolding, is a better use of time. I love being able to show people the birds and highlight the fenced off areas as a family zone for our feathered friends; removing any mystery as to why these spaces are off limits.

 

Coming from a background in the arts, outreach is the arena I feel best suited for. I have had the pleasure of leading the beach nesting bird walks at Cape May Point State Park this summer. I love being able to share with others the life of a beach nesting bird, emphasizing that it really is a family affair, and a difficult one at that. The State Park will serve as a major hub for my work this fall, as that is where the Monarch Monitoring Project holds its butterfly tagging demos, and where we teach the public about the 2500-mile migratory journey the monarch butterfly undertakes to reach its wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico.

 

The beach nesting birds I have worked with this summer are endangered. Currently, the monarch butterfly is also under consideration to be listed as an endangered species. One question that comes up at both the bird walks and the butterfly tagging demos is, “Why would it matter if this species was gone?”

 

Sometimes it is asked with genuine curiosity, and other times it is said as a jab. Either way, it is a difficult question for me to answer, and I have to evaluate why I care. I think and worry a lot about the loss of milkweed, lack of nectar sources, and loss of wintering habitat for the monarchs all the time.  After working with beach nesting birds, I will never be able to enjoy a summer thunderstorm the same way again because I will always be picturing a tiny least tern or plover hunkered down on their nest trying to protect their eggs through the wind and the rain.

 

We protect things of value, but what value do these birds or this butterfly have? Why should we care about endangered species? One argument often made about rainforest deforestation is that there are possible undiscovered medicinal properties that could be cures for diseases. It is unlikely that piping plovers or monarch butterflies hold untapped medical value. So, why should we worry about their declining numbers?

 

Lindsey Brendel getting up close and personal with American oystercatcher chick, one of several beach nesting bird species she monitored this summer.

Lindsey Brendel getting up close and personal with American oystercatcher chick, one of several beach nesting bird species she monitored this summer.

For me, my fear is less about losing individual species, and more about the dangers of a widespread ideology where everything is treated as a commodity. I see this as the reason these two species have been pushed to dangerously low numbers and one of the hardest challenges conservation efforts have to face.  We live in a very “me centered” culture, and conservation asks us to acknowledge our place as just one of the many functioning pieces in the world around us. If we are going to be on the beach with our family, we need to understand that the least tern flying with a fish in its mouth is bringing food back for his family on that same beach. If we are going to invest in monoculture farms that heavily rely on herbicide use for our food, then we need to realize that we are taking away the food source for monarchs, and many other insect species.

 

Do I think compromise between humans and critical habitat for endangered species can be achieved? Absolutely. Indeed, one of my favorite parts about working with endangered species is letting go of my role as Supreme Being, and acknowledging that an insect or bird is doing something that I never could.  When a monarch butterfly emerges in the fall, regardless of the fact that it has never taken a long flight before, it starts off on more than a 2,000 mile journey to a place it has never been, but knows instinctively to navigate to. When an intruder gets too close to a plover’s nest, the adult will flop around pretending to have a broken wing, making himself look like the vulnerable and easy target, all in an effort to protect its eggs. Some of the best examples of determination and selflessness are happening right around us in the natural word, and we all have the invitation to expand, and learn, and watch it take place. That is the marvel. That is the mystery. That is where I feel the real value of protecting endangered species comes from.

 

Learn more:

 

Lindsey Brendel is a Technician with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, who worked with Todd Pover on our Beach Nesting Bird Project.

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!