Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Island Beach State Park’

SNOWstorm at Island Beach State Park

Thursday, February 26th, 2015
Snowy Owls in Seaside Park, New Jersey

By: Guest Blogger Eric Chandler, Wildlife & Nature Photographer

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Why do snowy owls from the Arctic migrate to New Jersey? I was determined to photograph these beautiful creatures, as well as research why snowy owls return to Island Beach State Park (IBSP) every year.

 

The migratory snowy owl population has been spotted all along the coast of New Jersey. Popular hangouts include Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, Long Beach Island and even further south as all the Atlantic City. Snowy owls have also been spotted as south as North Carolina.

 

Unlike other raptors, snowy owls spend the majority of their time sitting, as they hunt for prey from the ground. Their unique ability to rotate their head up to 270 degrees allows them to sit in one spot and scan large land areas for prey. The sand dunes at Island Beach State Park provide owls with an opportunity to scan for prey from a seated position, while elevated. Extreme winds are also present on ISBP; the offshore and onshore winds produce some pretty wicked combinations, which give snowy owls that at home feel.

 

The only real threat to snowy owls at IBSP is human disturbance. Like all raptors, it is illegal to hunt or trap snowy owls. Even though they aren’t hunted with rifles, they are hunted by photographers, who may step on dunes. I can’t express how many times I’ve watched snowy owls take off due to people getting too close. I’m thankful that they still return instead of finding a new migration home. Occasionally, helicopters fly overhead and the owls just watch them in confusion.

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Don’t be fooled by the size of snowy owls; these birds have wingspans up to five feet and reach up to two feet tall. With such great size, snowy owls are able to hunt ducks, geese, and even large waterfowl if need be. Small rodents such as lemmings and hares are their favorite, they consume over 1,600 lemmings a year! IBSP features a wide variety of prey on their local menu such as squirrels, mice and small birds. Unfortunately, in the three seasons I’ve spent studying and photographing snowy owls, I have yet to witness a snowy owl eat. Snowy owls are diurnal, which means they are active during both the day and night. It never clicked in my head, but if you think about it, during many months in the arctic there are 24 hours of sunlight, which explains why they are diurnal. During migrations, they mostly hunt late in the day.

 

Over the past three seasons of photographing the female snowy owl, I never spotted a male, until this year! To my knowledge, this is the first year the male has been spotted at IBSP. The female is very beautiful, with dark markings throughout her pure white feathers, and bright, cat-like yellow eyes. I could photograph her for days. As I was packing up after photographing the female one afternoon, I saw a massive heard of photographers with their bazooka lenses. They must have spotted something pretty important, so I had to see. Could there be two female snowy owls? Once I arrived, I could not believe my eyes, a pure white snowy owl. Now, I love using the term majestic when it comes to wildlife, it’s a very powerful adjective. This male snowy owl surpasses that adjective for sure. It’s so hard to put into words how beautiful this creature is when seeing it right before your eyes, in order to appreciate its beauty. From his ability to spin his head up to 270 degrees, to seeing him squint his yellow eyes at you. His beauty almost demands to have his photograph taken. The stunning glow of the solid white plumage reflecting off the sunlight was a sight to see. I believe he enjoyed the paparazzi coverage; he wasn’t disturbed at all and sat with us for hours. For weeks after that day, every photographer that I bumped into and had not seen him since.

 

On an early Sunday morning, after shooting the female owl for three-four hours with about twenty photographers, I decided to venture a little bit and search for the male. If you’re not familiar with Island Beach State Park, it is a narrow, 10-mile barrier island with only one road. It’s very easy to get in the car and drive from parking lot to parking lot, but your chances of missing the wildlife are extremely high (many people also acquire a driving on the beach permit.) For me, I love being out in sub 20 degree temperatures, admiring the peaceful empty beach and watching groups of ocean birds play tag with each other. After four miles of walking, hoping to spot the male owl, all of a sudden this huge white bird starts flying towards me. He literally landed on top of a dune right in front of me! I spent the remainder of my day with him and captured some the best photographs of my career.

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Underneath multiple layers with the cold wind blowing in my face on a gorgeous beach without a cloud in the sky, the sun to my back, a prime photography setting, and not a person within miles of my view, this was my sanctuary. If you want to capture the award winning photograph, you must learn patience and be respectful of the wildlife. Don’t chase after wildlife, they will come to you when the time is right. If you didn’t get your opportunity today, you will in the future.

 

So, now we know why this pair of snowy owls enjoys migrating to Island Beach State Park each year. They have plenty of mammals and birds to prey upon, elevated sand dunes to hunt from with almost no threat from larger predators. A few years ago, there was a eruption of snowy owls that traveled the coastline. Researches said this rare abundance of snowy owls usually occurs every 30-40 years! This was due to a large population of lemmings in the Arctic, prior to migration seasons. I find it very interesting that in Paleolithic caves in France, drawings of snowy owls were created over 40,000 years ago. That makes them the one of the oldest recognizable bird species show in in pre-historical art in the world.

 

From drawings in a cave, to photographs that I capture, it’s pretty awesome to share the appreciation of snowy owls from thousands of years ago. They are beautiful creatures and I look forward to their return each winter. Snowy owls migrate back to their homes in the tundra in late March, early April. With only a few months left, get out there and search for snowy owls at your local beach, but please be sure to respect the wildlife, and stay off the dunes!

 

Eric Chandler is a Wildlife & Nature Photographer based in New Jersey.

Eric reports that roughly three-four weeks ago the pair of Snowy Owls mentioned in this post left Island Beach State Park. Recent reports of large amounts of snowy owls in Northern New York have led Eric to believe that the owls are heading back home!

 

Why are You Thankful for New Jersey’s Wildlife?

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Coordinator

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This holiday season, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey asked our friends, supporters and volunteers, What is special about NJ’s wildlife to you? Why are you thankful for New Jersey’s wildlife? Friends of wildlife shared their thoughts by tweeting us, leaving us a comment on our Facebook page or sending us an email at info@conservewildlifenj.org. We encouraged everyone to use:  #thanksnjwildlife 
Here is a collection of some of the responses we received:

Bill Nigh on Twitter shared that “wildlife gives me perspective.”

Judy Floam wrote over e-mail, “I only spend one week a year in New Jersey (at the beach) but I love to watch the gulls and sandpipers, and go on seine netting expeditions at Island Beach State Park.”

“Why are we thankful for New Jersey’s wildlife? Each and every creature is special to us although the coyote and the bats have a special place in our hearts. We’re grateful to the bats for keeping insect pests at bay and enjoy watching them leave their roost at dusk. Amazing. The coyotes are very musical and we appreciate their part in balancing nature. We’re grateful that the staff and volunteers at Conserve Wildlife work diligently to protect natural habitats. Thank you!”
— Joe & Linda Jedju shared through e-mail.

“Is this really New Jersey? It’s a question I have asked myself numerous times while living in NJ but never so much as over the last three years. It was three years ago that we purchased a small house on a lake in Sussex County. The waters of the lake are pristine and they teem with beavers, herons, numerous waterfowl, and too many different fish to mention. We watch amazing sunsets over the Appalachian Trail. We sit awe struck as foxes and bears routinely traverse our yard. Hummingbirds and beautiful finches occupy our yard and the wildflowers that grow there. We have watched as Bald Eagles circle high above and slowly spiral down to snatch a fish from the surface of the lake. We have sat in the cool evenings and watched the Milky Way appear as a swath of white across a darkening night sky. We watch as some of our endangered friends the bats dance crazy patterns in the night air, feasting on insects. Is this really NJ? Is it the stereotype of landfills, factories, pollution, and exits on the Parkway? Most definitely not! The rich diversity of animal and plant life leave us awe struck on a daily basis. I could also go on and on about our beautiful shoreline, Island Beach State Park, the Pine Barrens, and numerous other ecosystems that make our state so incredible. NJ’s amazing Wildlife is not limited to amusement parks and bars!
David Claeys shared his story over e-mail.

Love what you’re reading? Feeling inspired? Consider getting involved with Conserve Wildlife Foundation:

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

Exciting Programs In State Parks This Summer!

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
Birding by Kayak on Barnegat Bay, surf fishing off Island Beach, night hikes, and more…

CWF is excited to partner with NJ State Parks and offer incredible programs about New Jersey’s natural world.  Programs are taking place at both Island Beach State Park and Allaire State Park.

Become a WILDCHILD, take a sunset kayak tour, try your hand at surf-fishing, go bird watching, or discover the night. Whatever you decide, you will be guided by professional educators and naturalists who have plenty of natural and wildlife stories to share with you.

At nearly 10 miles long, Island Beach is New Jersey’s most expansive stretch of undeveloped barrier island.  Our programs help you to connect with the beauty of this ecosystem and its ample natural resources.  Have your kids participate in a WILDCHILD program including surfing, surf-fishing, and island exploration. Try and catch the big one during a surf-fishing class or discover the beauty of Barnegat Bay through kayaking.

Allaire State Park covers almost 3,000 acres within the coastal plain of New Jersey.  An extension of the Pine Barrens, Allaire has sandy soils and forests of oak, cedar, and pine.  The Manasquan River flows through the park, creating floodplain that serves as habitat for many species of wildlife, including the barred owl, wood turtle, and bald eagle.  Discover moths, take a quiet bird walk, or splash around in the pond and stream during one of our summer programs.

For more information, visit CWF’s Parks Programs section on our website.

Report from the Barnegat Bay Birder in Residence

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Great birding at Island Beach State Park

by Skyler Streich, Barnegat Bay Birder-in-Residence

American Oystercatcher. © Chris Davidson

As the Barnegat Bay Birder-in-Residence for CWF of NJ I led a total of 4 Bird Walks and 4 Birding by Kayak Tours in Island Beach State Park.  It was very successful with a total of 60 people attending the Birding by Kayak trips and a total of 34 participants for my bi-weekly bird walks.  There were many repeat customers, mostly from participants that enjoyed the Birding by Kayak trips so much so they wanted to attend my bird walks too.  The participants ranged from beginners to excellent and avid birdwatchers.  So it was a nice mix of skill levels of bird identification abilities on the trips.  The Birding by Kayak tours were sponsored by the Friends of Island Beach State Park, so they advertised those tours via the IBSP Visitor Guide.  As for my bird walks I advertised them by printing out flyers and distributing them to local businesses like Big Ed’s produce, Lavallette Post Office, Wild Birds Unlimited and Cattus Island County Park.  Also Pete Bacinski of Sandy Hook posted my walks in the Rare Bird Alerts which is posted on the JerseyBirds forum. And of course, they were posted on CWF’s Calendar of Events.

The tours were extremely successful in seeing all of the common birds of the Barnegat Bay area as well as numerous uncommon to rare sightings.  Each kayak tour gave participants the chance to see and compare all the herons and egrets that inhabit the saltmarshes of Barnegat Bay.  Each tour there were juvenile Little Blue Herons, which are all white, and the later tours had Black-crowned Night Herons.  More than once we got to see beautiful and not too common shorebirds like Whimbrels and Marbled Godwits along with the much more common sandpipers and plovers.  Other great shorebirds seen on the BBK trips were Pectoral Sandpipers and a Solitary Sandpiper.  We even had a Caspian Tern amongst the Royal Terns.  It seems that Ospreys were even more abundant this year than last year, with plenty of hatch year juveniles around in late July and August.  Also, American Oystercatchers seemed unusually abundant this year.

Piping plover. © Steve Byland

The bird walks also produced some exciting and uncommon birds.  Least Terns seemed to be in pretty high numbers in August.  Also we had multiple Black Tern sightings in and around the inlet area.  One of the best finds was a group of 8 Common Eiders that decided not to migrate to their arctic breeding grounds and just stay in Island Beach for the summer. We also had 1 single Piping Plover feeding amongst the Sanderlings and Semipalmated Plovers on the shoreline.  That was only the second Piping Plover I have ever seen at IBSP in my life.  So all in all, it was a very successful season with very successful tours and each participant walked away with a greater appreciation of the magnificent birdlife that relies on the Barnegat Bay area for their survival.