Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Monmouth County’

Rare White Pelicans Seen in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Thursday, December 31st, 2015
Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Counters Delighted by White Pelicans

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

"American White Pelican" by Manjith Kainickara - originally posted to Flickr as American White Pelican. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_White_Pelican.jpg#/media/File:American_White_Pelican.jpg

“American White Pelican” by Manjith Kainickara – originally posted to Flickr as American White Pelican.

My alarm was set for 4:00 AM on December 20, a Sunday morning. I woke up excited and eager to start the day. My phone started going off with text messages from friends about our meeting location. As any birder will tell you, this scenario is far from uncommon we love our birds! and will likely wake up at any time on any day for a chance to add another species to our life list.

 

I woke up early to look for owls to tally in the Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Count (Highlands and Atlantic Highlands territories are included in the Sandy Hook count). Our team drove through Hartshorne Woods Park in Highlands, New Jersey, in search of the nocturnal raptors. I thought the highlight of my day would be hearing two great horned owls calling to each other as first light came over the woods. While this was exciting (and definitely worth getting up at 4:00 AM for), I was in for another treat.

 

By 7:00 AM, our team grew into a group of six “bird nerds.” We were surveying the Navesink River, counting waterfowl, herons, songbirds and gulls, when Monmouth County Audubon Society‘s Rob Fanning yelled “three white pelicans”and sure enough, the pelicans were flying around the Oceanic Bridge in Rumson! I missed them the first time, but luckily the birds came back around and we were all able to watch them fly and swim through the scope. We shouted, laughed, smiled and high fived each other. One of my favorite aspects about birding is how quickly wildlife brings people together. Suddenly, we were the dream team.

 

Three White Pelicans. Photo by Lisa Fanning

Three White Pelicans. Photo by Lisa Fanning

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American white pelicans are one of the largest North American birds considerably larger than a bald eagle, but smaller than a California condor. They feed from the water’s surface, dipping their beaks into the water to catch fish, such as minnows, carp and suckers. White pelicans often upend, like a large dabbling duck, in this process. They do not plunge-dive the way Brown Pelicans do.

 

They are superb soarers (they are among the heaviest flying birds in the world) and often travel long distances in large flocks by soaring. Adult American White Pelicans are snowy white with black flight feathers visible only when the wings are spread.

 

Northern breeding populations migrate to southern California, the Gulf States, Mexico, and Central America. White pelican populations breeding in Texas and Mexico are resident populations.

 

White Pelicans in Flight. Photo by Lisa Fanning.

White Pelicans in Flight. Photo by Lisa Fanning

The pelicans, first spotted by Rob, were the first Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Count (CBC) record in the 39-year count history! We saw the “three amigos” again later in the day at Many Mind Creek in Atlantic Highlands flying towards Staten Island.

 

Incidentally, three white pelicans were reported on December 27 in Connecticut. Our team wonders if those are our buddies. Monmouth County Audubon Society’s Lisa Fanning also stated that there have been up to five in Maryland, but she believes a small population may winter there. There are a number of winter records in eBird, mostly of a handful of birds (one report of up to 21 on January 1, 2012) at Blackwater NWR in Maryland.

 

During the 39th Sandy Hook CBC, 101 species were tallied. Each year, from December 14 through January 5, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas collect data used by scientists to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. CBC informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people too. Find a count near you on Audubon’s website.

 

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.

 

Osprey nest needs urgent repairs

Thursday, March 6th, 2014
A productive nest on the Navesink River needs a helping hand!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

UPDATE: We have learned that the pole has been straightened!! Thank you all for the support!!!

Many North American ospreys have already departed from their wintering grounds in Central America, N. South America, and the Caribbean and are on migration to their summer breeding grounds. In New Jersey, most ospreys nest along the Atlantic Coast, from Sandy Hook to Cape May and arrive in mid-late March. One nest (083-A-007) is on a decommissioned channel marker (#21) on the Navesink River, off Fair Haven. The nest was first found in 2006 and in 2013 the nesting pair successfully produced three young. Considering the current condition of the nest pole, they were really lucky to produce any young at all!

083-A-007 on the Navesink needs some TLC!

083-A-007 on the Navesink needs some TLC!

This platform was one of many that sustained damage by Superstorm Sandy. We pledged to repair any and all platforms that were reported as damaged by the Storm and did; however, we don’t have the equipment or boats to repair a leaning platform in open water, like 083-A-007. Since it was damaged we have been contacted by many concerned citizens who watch the pair that nests here. We’re sharing this story to help garner support to repair the nest pole.

Ospreys mate for life and return to the same nest site, year after year.  They will build their nest at an angle to compensate for the lean, but young are still in jeopardy of falling out of it. Our goal is to get it fixed before the pole falls over. Lastly, this is an important nest site in the region. There is very little preserved open space in this region of Monmouth County and very few osprey nests.

We need your help!

Ospreys return to their nesting grounds in mid-late March in New Jersey. © Howie Williams

Ospreys return to their nesting grounds in mid-late March in New Jersey. © Howie Williams

Last year we tried reaching out to local marine construction and bulkheading companies but had no luck getting anyone to even return our calls. Then we contacted the Bureau of Coastal Engineering’s Aids to Navigation and they did not have equipment in the area to make the needed repairs last fall (we’ve since called them again to get their assistance and are waiting to hear back).

Do you know any local bulkheading or marine construction companies who work in the Fair Haven/Rumson area? If you do, please see if they can provide some assistance so this pair of ospreys have a safe place to nest!

Contact us if you know anyone who can help:

Photo from the Field

Monday, September 24th, 2012
Enhancing nesting habitat for ospreys

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Last week we successfully installed an osprey nesting platform on the Manasquan Reservoir. The reservoir supplies water to residents of Monmouth County and can supply up to 30 million gallons of water a day. It’s also home to a variety of wildlife, such as bald eagles, osprey, waterfowl, freshwater mussels, and many other species. Since it’s creation in the early 1990s the many snags offered potential nest sites for ospreys; however, today many of the snags are falling down. The last nest site for ospreys broke in the winter of 2010-11. It was near the environmental center at the reservoir and offered visitors a close view of their nest and reproductive cycle. Since the nest tree broke no pairs have nested on the reservoir. (more…)

Freshwater Invertebrate Surveys

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
SEARCHING FOR FRESHWATER MUSSELS & CRAYFISH AT MANASQUAN RESERVOIR

By Michael J. Davenport, Marine Species & GIS Programs Manager

Searching for freshwater mussels and crayfish using a viewing scope. © Mike Davenport

New Jersey is home to at least 16 species of freshwater bivalves (freshwater mussels and clams), half of which are listed as endangered or threatened within the state.  The presence of freshwater mussels within a water body is an indication of water quality so determining where they occur is important for protecting water resources within the state.  In fact, the NJ DEP’s “Category One” (C1) designation for some state waterways is often based on the presence of some freshwater mussel species.  C1 waters are protected from any measurable change in water quality because of their exceptional ecological significance, exceptional recreational significance, exceptional water supply significance, or exceptional fisheries resources.

Last week, I accompanied the Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s freshwater mussel biologist, Jeanette Bowers-Altman, and another survey team member to conduct a preliminary survey of the Manasquan Reservoir in Monmouth County for both freshwater mussels and crayfish.  I had visited the reservoir several times before and had confirmed the presence of at least three bivalves: the Asian clam, eastern floater, and paper pondshell.  Of those three species, only the eastern floater is native to New Jersey.

We surveyed several areas around the perimeter of the reservoir.  We took readings of the water’s temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen as well as documenting the substrate type and GPS coodinates.  Unfortunately for our survey efforts, the water level was higher than ideal for locating mussels and the only species which we found was the paper pondshell.  However, the clarity of the water and the nature of the substrate indicate that future efforts, when the water level is lower, may be more productive.

A Chinese mystery snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis) found at Manasquan Reservoir. © Mike Davenport

One interesting find was a rather large (~2.5 inches) freshwater snail which I have never encountered previously.  Thanks the ID skills of Jay Cordeiro at the University of Massachusetts – Boston, the snail has been identified as the Chinese mystery snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis), a non-native species introduced to the U.S. via San Francisco in the late 1800’s.  It has since spread into at least 37 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces and was first documented in New Jersey in 1926.  According to Jay, the species has been “implicated in vegetation decline, competition with native species, and are hosts for certain parasites.  Current populations are spread through the aquarium trade or on ornamental aquatic plants.”

For more information regarding New Jersey’s rare mussel species, please visit CWF’s on-line field guide at:  http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/species/fieldguide/