Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Delaware Bay’

Good horseshoe crab egg densities draw 34,500 Red Knots to the bay

Monday, July 9th, 2018

by Larry Niles (Part 2 of 3)

The best news is a direct consequence of these good conditions, the number of knots and turnstones increased this year. Our season-high estimates show that there are 34,500 knots in the bay and 21,000 ruddy turnstones. These may be the highest counts on the bay in at least 15 years.

Why? At first one would conclude the increased numbers on the bay represent a real increase in the size of the population, but it is not. Shorebirds need time to respond to improving conditions because they are relatively slow breeders, as are most Arctic breeders. Knot numbers on Delaware Bay basically depend on the availability of crab eggs. In bad years, numbers go down because birds come to the bay and leave quickly. (more…)

Record Breaking Return of New Jersey Osprey

Monday, April 23rd, 2018
Male osprey makes epic return to nest along Delaware Bay; turns seventeen this summer!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Photographer Brian Kushner has photographed this bird over the past ten years. Just this past week he confirmed his return to his nest by ID’ing him by his band # 0788-45514. Click to view large on Flickr. photo by Brian Kushner.

The spring arrival of the North American osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis) to their nesting grounds in New Jersey was delayed slightly due to prevalent north winds. As we saw many birds begin to arrive to their nest sites, which they return to year after year, we were particularly interested in the return of one very special osprey. This individual, if he survived the winter would be the oldest living osprey ever recorded in New Jersey to be observed on his nesting grounds. Ospreys face many threats and their life span averages around 8-10 years, but some can reach 20 years old.

We would not know how old this bird is without the USGS bird band that was affixed to his left leg before fledging in the summer of 2001. Photographer Brian Kushner, who has been watching this nest for the past 10 years, was able to photograph the band, which allowed us to track down his origins. He was banded on July 5, 2001 before he could fly. The nest was less than 5 miles away from where he currently nests along the Delaware Bayshore. Typically it is very difficult to ID birds by their USGS bird bands, and most recoveries or sightings of bands occurs during an injury or death, but Brian’s been able to use his photography equipment to positively ID this bird. Banding data shows that males return as adults to nest in very close proximity to their natal areas while females tend to wander further away to nest.

Ospreys are currently laying eggs and starting incubation, which occurs right after the first egg is laid. Nests with eggs and young are protected from disturbance during this time, and established nests cannot be removed without consulting with NJ Fish & Wildlife and USDA Wildlife Services. Please refer to our “Living with Ospreys in New Jersey” guidance document for more information.

Costume parade and live wildlife highlight Leonardo Nature Center grand opening

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

by David Wheeler

Witches, ghosts, ghouls, bats – and even dogs in costume – helped celebrate the grand opening of the new Nature Center, a partnership between Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) and the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry.

Over 200 people visited Leonardo State Marina on a gorgeous autumn afternoon to enjoy the Halloween costume contest, pet parade, pumpkin painting, and light refreshments.

 

Yet the tiniest creature of all may have been the most memorable –

CWF Wildlife Ecologist Stephanie Feigin teaches children about the big brown bat.

a live big brown bat. CWF wilflife ecologist Stephanie Feigin showed the rapt families the unique adaptations that allow bats to fly, roost, and use sonar, as well as the surprising skeletal similarity between a bat’s wing and a human hand.

 

Maggie Mitchell, Superintendent at Leonardo State Marina, had this to say, “The Marina’s new Nature Center and partnership with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ will provide continued education to the Bayshore Area and expand on our presence in the community, many residents were grateful for this event and we look forward to hosting additional events in the future.”

Stephanie Feigin, CWF wildlife ecologist, Stephanie DAlessio, CWF Education Director, and Maggie Mitchell, Superintendent at Leonardo State Marina.

 

This partnership is designed to educate the public about important coastal habitat and diverse wildlife species that utilize the Raritan Bayshore area.  The grand opening allowed visitors of the center to get up close and personal with both local species like diamondback terrapins, and invasive species like the red eared slider. In addition to those two turtle species, the Nature Center also hosts a corn snake, bearded dragon, touch tanks and other activities for children to enjoy.

 

“Children and adults alike are often amazed to find out some of the wildlife species that live right in their backyards and neighborhoods – and now our Nature Center allows visitors to experience those incredible animals up close,” said CWF Director of Education, Stephanie DAlessio. “We are so excited to create a new generation of environmental stewards to help protect our coastal habitat and the wildlife that shares it with us – all while having fun connecting local families to nature.”

 

Just south of New York City, New Jersey’s Raritan Bayshore hosts an impressive wildlife diversity for such a densely populated metropolitan area. Leonardo State Marina is located in the Leonardo section of Middletown in Monmouth County, west of Sandy Hook and just north of Route 36.

 

The Nature Center is open daily from 10 am to 3 pm, with extended hours until 6 pm on Fridays. CWF and Leonardo State Marina also offer school field trips, summer programs, and special events throughout the year.

You can learn more about the Nature Center at or to inquire about school or community programs, call 732-291-2986 or email Stephanie DAlessio at Stephanie.dalessio@conservewildlifenj.org.

 

 

David Wheeler is the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation and the author of Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State.

Newsworks: Why the Red Knot lives and dies by what happens in NJ

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

NewsWorks ran a feature story on red knots and the incredible team of international volunteers who make Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s past two decades of scientific surveys possible.

Read the full story here.

Firing the net so that the shorebirds can be tagged and released. Photo by Bill Barlow.

 

Dick Veitch (left) and Dr. Larry Niles (right)

 

Shorebirds lift off to an uncertain end from Delaware Bay

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

By Dr. Larry Niles, LJ Niles Associates, LLC

Red knot by James Fiorentino.

I am reviewing a new paper by Sjoerd Duijns, a student working on the benefits of being a fat shorebird. Still, a draft, the paper analyses data from radio-tagged red knots leaving the Bay in good condition (i.e. fat) and finds they may leave later from Delaware Bay than lighter birds but arrive earlier in the breeding grounds because they can pick the best time to leave. They are also more likely to breed successfully and survive the Arctic breeding season to the following fall. In other words, being a fat knot on Delaware Bay makes life good.

So, in light of this new information, how did the red knots and other shorebirds fare in this year’s Delaware Bay Stopover?  One must not be firm, with so many unknowns, but here’s a working biologist’s best guess.

By all accounts it was one of the worst years in recent memory, but with a twist that offers a glimmer of hope.

First, the Bay’s water reflected an unusually cool May and never really warmed to the levels necessary for a really good horseshoe crab spawn until the very end. This caused odd occurrences of crab spawning. For example, crabs bred in greater densities at the southern beaches this year, more than in previous years. The spawn at Norburys Landing, just south of the commercial oyster aquaculture development zone (ADZ), was one of the best this year, and knots and other shorebirds used the area in great number. One can only guess the water temperatures warmed over the wide inter-tidal flats provided just enough to elicit spawning. The same process was true of all the creeks on the Bay.

Laughing Gulls and shorebirds feast on horseshoe crab eggs at Norbury’s Landing just south of the Aquaculture Development Zone. (below)The southern portion of the bay was much more important this year because waters warmed faster on the large inter tidal shelf of this portion of the bay.

Second, the knot numbers never really climbed to the levels of the last three years. I’m guessing this was illusory, a consequence of the count being done on two days at the peak. It’s likely many more birds came to the Bay and seeing many birds for too few eggs, left for better resources elsewhere. Those that left were probably short distance winterers – those from relatively close in Florida and other nearby areas. The Bay’s horseshoe crab eggs would help them too, but they can get by on Atlantic Coast clams and mussels. The long-distance birds are the ones that need the Bay’s resources.

Third, when finally, the spawn got underway, a freak concurrence of wind and tide killed many thousands of crabs, potentially damaging the population and very likely ending any possibility of a really great spawn. The cobblestone road of crabs on the water’s edge. We saw none of that this year. Not once.

 

 

The upper graph compares predicted high tides ( in blue) with the actual high tide (in Red). On the night of 26 May. This occurred during the lunar spring tide, the highest in May. Finally, a brief burst of NW wind pushed the abnormally high tide into waves breaking across the beach berm, carrying with it tens of thousands of horseshoe crabs.

In a freak concurrence of wind and tide, waves pushed horseshoe crab over the beach into the marsh by the thousands.

Grim results, but here’s the twist. In good years, knots leave near the 27th of May. One day they jam the beach gobbling up eggs, the next day there gone. In bad years, they linger. In 2003, we caught birds on the June 10th.  There’s a cost to this of course, in lower survival and failing production. This year was a new in between. By the time of departure on May 27th, less than a quarter of the knots were prepared to leave. But they hung on until the 30th, blessed with a new flush of horseshoe crab eggs created by a middling spawn and a northwesterly wind churning up the beaches and exposing deeply buried eggs. Did the birds gain enough weight?

It’s hard to say, our last catch of just 33 knots suggests they might have, but an end-of-the-season catch makes a poor assessment. Once birds start leaving, the ones behind could be the light birds not ready to leave, or the heavy birds waiting for better weather. We won’t really know until the fall counts in the southbound stopover or the winter count in Tierra del Fuego.

This, our 21st season of intense research and conservation on Delaware Bay by all accounts will be like no other. Throughout all of it, the team of scientists and volunteers remained inspired, energetic and resourceful. In this one month, we conducted more scientific investigation and conservation than most projects do in an entire year. Whatever the outcome of this year’s stopover season, our team can look hopefully to the north and know that all that could be done for the birds was done.

Those of us that were paid for our time sincerely thank those who volunteered their time including; the stewards that manned the closed beaches helping hundreds of people understand why closures were needed; the volunteers in the banding team who endured long hours of preparing equipment, making bands, sewing nets and keeping cages and of course counting, catching and processing birds; the volunteers who doggedly pursue opportunities to resight flagged birds to estimate numbers and yearly survival; the volunteers that provided meals every single night, a welcome relief from a hard day’s work; and finally, the volunteers that went out all over the Bay to save horseshoe crabs in weather both good and bad. We all did our best. God help the birds and horseshoe crabs.

Our banding team on a catch at South Reeds.

Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.


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