Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘black skimmer’

A Return to Horseshoe Island

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

This marked the second year that CWF worked in close partnership with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife and Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (EBF) to monitor and manage birds on Horseshoe Island. The island, located just offshore on the southern edge of the Little Egg Inlet, has quickly become one of the most important sites for beach nesting birds in the state, as well as a critical resting and feeding site for migratory shorebirds.

Horseshoe Island hosted the state’s largest black skimmer (state endangered) colony this year with just over 1400 total adults or about 700 pairs. Although flooding and some avian predators impacted the overall nesting success at the island, at least 225 skimmer chicks “fledged” from the site. Horseshoe’s skimmer fledglings, along with those from nearby Holgate, a unit of EBF, and especially from Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County, made 2023 a moderately good productivity year for black skimmers in New Jersey.

A small portion of the black skimmer and royal tern colony on Horseshoe Island.
Photo credit: Teri Bowers
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How to Advocate for Beach-nesting Birds During the Holiday Weekends

Friday, May 26th, 2023

By Sherry Tirgrath, Wildlife Biologist

As we approach the official, and unofficial, beginning of summer, many warm-weather loving citizens of New Jersey are pulling out their swimwear, purchasing their SPF and preparing to flock to the Jersey Shore and contribute to some of the worst traffic seen around the country. It’s important, however, to take a step back and remind oneself to be certain that their beach activities will not affect the livelihood of other creatures that are just trying to survive in the only habitat that can support them. Both Memorial Day Weekend and July 4th holidays occur during the season that beach-nesting birds are incubating eggs and raising chicks. This makes for some conflict between beachgoers and coastal wildlife, so it’s necessary to bring more awareness to the presence of the birds and the importance of giving them space.

Beach-nesting birds are called just that because they depend on undisturbed, sparsely vegetated, and stabile coastline to breed, lay eggs, and raise their young. They nest directly in the sand and their eggs are sand-colored and camouflaged against predators. This also makes them difficult for people to see, and without proper monitoring and protection measures, they can wind up being run over or stepped on. Small chicks, like those of the piping plover, are tiny and very mobile shortly after hatching. While the parents do their best at corralling their chicks and keeping them away from people, sometimes the chicks wind up under a beachgoer’s umbrella seeking shade or wandering too close to potential danger. Anyone with small children would understand the difficulty in keeping their kids from running off somewhere they’re not supposed to go, especially when they can have up to four of them at once. The chicks must forage to feed themselves, so being very mobile increases the likelihood of them finding small invertebrates to eat.

Piping plover chicks are small but very mobile, allowing them to begin foraging shortly after hatching.
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New Horseshoe Island Video Highlights Nesting and Migratory Bird Protection Efforts

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Earlier this year we announced that Horseshoe Island, which recently formed just offshore near Little Egg Inlet, would be seasonally closed to the public to benefit nesting and migratory birds. The closure from March 1 to September 30 is part of a plan put forth by New Jersey Fish and Wildlife and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, who were granted rights by the state to manage the island and its adjacent intertidal waters. CWF played a key role, helping monitor bird activity on the island this year through a cooperative agreement with the Refuge. With the closure period coming to an end, we are happy to report that it was a successful season, especially for colonial nesting species such as the state endangered black skimmer. A full report of the results will be issued later this year but in the meantime, NJFW has released a video about Horseshoe Island. The video features CWF biologists Todd Pover and Emmy Casper, who helped lead the on-the-ground monitoring effort.


Click below to view the video. 

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: A Day in the Life of a Beachnester

Monday, August 8th, 2016

NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

 

For this week’s installment, I thought it would be fun to have you tag along with me on a day in the field, so you can get a sampling of what goes into our beach nesting bird program. Let’s call it, “A Day in the Life of a Beachnester.”

 

skimmer

Black skimmer and chicks at our Belmar colony where we recently banded the young before they could fly. Photo courtesy of Jersey Shore Photography.

Today it is an early 4 am rise to beat the beach crowds and heat, as we are banding black skimmers at our Belmar colony. This is the first time our program has banded skimmers –  it is a collaborative effort with other organizations/agencies in both New York and New Jersey – we hope to find out more about their survival, longevity, and movement, both local and long distance. Everything goes well, we are able to corral and band about 35 chicks in less than an hour. This part of the day represents the science portion of the beach nesting bird project, science for the sake of study and a better understanding of our birds, but more importantly to gather information to help us manage and recover endangered species.

 

With no time to spare, it is now off to Leonardo along Sandy Hook Bay where CWF is hosting a summer wildlife experience for kids. No surprise, I am the guest today to teach the kids about beach nesting birds. I explain why piping plovers and American oystercatchers are at risk, and then give them a chance to use a high powered birding scope to try to read bands I have placed on decoy birds. We definitely have some budding biologists in the mix. Education is key to our project, unlike other endangered species that mostly live out of sight or reach, beachnesters spend the breeding season on the same beaches visited by millions of tourists and residents. If they are going to learn to “share the shore” with our endangered birds, outreach is essential.

 

beachnester buzz plant

Sea beach amaranth, a rare plant, that shares the beach with our nesting shorebirds and also is protected.

Next up is a stop at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, one of our important nesting areas in Monmouth County. For most of the season we are erecting and adjusting fence to protect nesting areas, but today we are working with the park to reduce the fence, as many of our birds have successfully nested and started to leave the area. First we count and locate any remaining least terns – these surveys are the base of our project – we need this data to track population trends and seasonal productivity as metrics of progress towards recovery. Before we remove any fence at this site, we also conduct surveys of sea beach amaranth, an endangered plant that shares the beach with our nesting birds. We locate a few plants and that dictates how we readjust the fence, the plants need protection from trampling by beachgoers or vehicles used by the park to maintain their beach.

 

 

Coordination with municipalities or other land owners that host beach nesting birds is a critical part of our project, as their activities can impact nesting success as much as beachgoer’s recreational use of the beach. So there is one more stop today to assess whether a maintenance request can be granted in a way that won’t put birds at risk. That done, it is time to start the two hour drive back to our office in Cape May County. I am ready for a nap, but no luck, as the truck becomes a mobile office to take care of other unattended business (while someone else drives of course). There are calls with several other towns, check-ins with our seasonal staff members that are spread out all along the coast, and finally dealing with a broken down vehicle (not ours fortunately) and a person who refused to take their dog off a nesting site.

 

Back at the office, it is one last check of email, entering a little bit of the data we collected today, and finally time to head home. Every day is a little different, but this day has been a good cross-section of the range of things we do on the project. It is tempting to think we just pop up fence and signs and hope the birds do well, but protection and recovery of our endangered beach nesting birds requires a comprehensive strategy addressing all the factors that impact nesting success.

 

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