Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Eleuthera’

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.

 

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.

Bahamas Piping Plover Project

Friday, January 17th, 2014
Eleuthera Edition

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

Piping plover roosting beach on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas.

Piping plover roosting beach on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas.

Up until now, nearly all of our piping plover conservation work in the Bahamas has been focused on the island of Abaco.  One of the objectives of our Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund grant is to identify other islands and partners where and with whom the model we are developing on Abaco might be implemented as well.  With this in mind, we spent the past several days on the island of Eleuthera.

Although we believe the basic elements of our Abaco work are transferable to other islands, a “one size fits all” approach may not entirely work.  The various major islands are unified under the Bahamas flag, but each also has its own flavor, history, and way of life.  The best analogy would be that they operate much like the individual states in the U.S.

On Abaco, we have been partnering with Friends of the Environment, a non-profit organization with a strong education and outreach component to all of their work – not so different from what we do here at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation.  On Eleuthera we are hoping to partner with the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) and The Island School.  Although education is at the core of their work as well, it is also different in that they carry out and support primary research and host visiting scientists and students at their campus. (more…)

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