Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘new jersey wildlife’

CWF Assists the State with Wintering American Oystercatcher Survey

Saturday, January 8th, 2022

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

American oystercatcher winter flock.

Most people are surprised to hear that American oystercatchers are present in New Jersey in the winter. They usually associate the charismatic shorebird as a breeding species here. Our state’s wintering oystercatchers, a combination of breeders from further north and our own, are at the northern extent of the Atlantic coast wintering range.

Annual winter surveys have been conducted in New Jersey in recent years – at high tide they form large roost flocks in inlets, so they are more easily counted. Surveys are done on the ground over a 10-day period in December and this year a half-day aerial count via helicopter was also utilized to better inform the survey. This winter’s survey was organized and directed by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program with assistance from partners, including CWF, and volunteers. CWF Biologists Meghan Kolk and Meaghan Lyon conducted several ground surveys and Todd Pover was one of three surveyors who flew the aerial survey.

As many as 1,000 individual oystercatchers can be present in the late fall/early winter along the Jersey Shore, primarily in the southern region, although counts were on the lower side this year with only 500-600 being tallied. The lower count was almost entirely the result of a very small flock within Hereford Inlet, which typically has one of the highest winter concentrations. Oystercatchers will shift further south along the Atlantic Coast during the winter when persistent extreme cold weather arrives in New Jersey, as it limits food availability. However, the weather was relatively mild leading up to the survey, so it isn’t clear why the numbers were lower this year.

A zoomed in view of wintering American oystercatcher flock through a spotting scope.

A Year of Surprises – New Jersey’s 2021 Beach Nesting Bird Season

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

One of the hundreds of least tern chicks at the Pt. Pleasant colony in 2021. Courtesy of Lindsay McNamara.

With 2021 coming to an end, we thought it would be fun to look back at this year’s beach nesting bird season in New Jersey, focusing on some of the surprises.

At the top of the list is the huge jump in our piping plover breeding population, up to 137 pairs from just 103 in 2020, an unprecedented 33% increase in one year and the third highest on record for the state since federal listing. This was a much-needed bump, as productivity has been high over the past few years, but we weren’t seeing any sustained growth in the population as a result as would be typical. So, when the final pair number was tallied this year, we were both relieved and surprised at how big it was! The challenge now will be to maintain that higher level or increase it even more, as it has fluctuated up and down quite a bit in recent years.

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A Certified Wildlife Habitat Restoration in Progress

Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

By Meghan Kolk, Wildlife Biologist

CWF Biologists (left to right) Sherry Tirgrath, Christine Healy, and Ethan Gilardi plant new greenery in the Trailside Nature Center Garden.

This fall CWF worked with the staff at the Trailside Nature and Science Center at Watchung Reservation in Union County, New Jersey to restore their Certified Wildlife Habitat.  A Certified Wildlife Habitat must include sources of food, water, cover and places to raise young, and must be maintained using sustainable practices.  Their garden had suffered from years of neglect and had become overgrown and choked out by weeds.

The first task was to tackle the major cleanup with the goals of opening the garden up to more sunlight, making room for new plantings, and giving the garden a fresh and clean appearance. CWF staff, interns and volunteers joined the Trailside Center’s staff and spent a day pulling weeds, digging up unwanted and overgrown plants, trimming shrubs and trees, clearing vines from trees, and raking and blowing leaves.  Dead, dying, or damaged trees and shrubs were cut down.  We left the healthy and beneficial trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that will be the backbone of the refreshed garden.  At the end of the day, the result of cleanup was remarkable.  Sunlight can now reach the ground, and the garden became a clean slate to add new plantings that will benefit birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. 

Trailside garden before and after cleanup.

The next step was to install a new deer fence around the garden.  The Trailside Center lies within a wooded area and deer are drawn to the garden to munch on the shrubs and plants.  In order to keep deer from destroying the garden, while allowing birds and other wildlife to utilize it, we installed a new eight-foot-high deer fence around the garden to replace one that had fallen down years ago.  At the same time, we planted some new trees and shrubs in the garden that will be able to grow without the pressure of deer browse.  We planted only native species that will attract birds, hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to the garden. 

In the spring, we will return to plant native herbaceous perennial plants that will also benefit birds, hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.  We will be sure to plant some host species for native butterflies, such as milkweed for monarchs.  We plan to make a corner of the garden that caters specifically to hummingbirds.  The garden is already home to a beautiful man-made creek flowing into a pond that draws birds and frogs.  Several types of bird feeders, squirrel feeders and nest boxes are scattered throughout the garden as well.  The restored garden will be unveiled this spring for visitors to observe through the viewing windows inside the Trailside Center.

Trailside staff install deer fencing around the garden with help from CWF staff, interns, and volunteers.

Coastal Barn Owl Project Update

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

By Meghan Kolk, CWF Wildlife Biologist

The Coastal Barn Owl Project team is gearing up for another round of nest box installations in coastal southern New Jersey.  After a successful fundraising appeal, we can now thank our donors by adding more potential nesting opportunities for barn owls, a species in population decline. 

Our fourth and most recent box was just installed on October 22 in the saltmarshes of Cape May County.  With each install, the team is becoming more efficient, and we hope to get several more boxes up in key locations before early spring when the owls begin their search for suitable nesting sites. 

The newest barn owl nest box with volunteers Kevin Knutsen, Steve Eisenhauer and Mike Lanzone on left.  Team leaders Tricia Miller and Meghan Kolk on right.  Photo by Lisa Ferguson.

Uncovering Urban Reptile and Amphibian Diversity

Monday, November 8th, 2021

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Coverboards are typically placed along ecotones, where species diversity is expected to be greatest. The corrugated tin board, pictured above, was positioned along a forest edge where larger deciduous trees meet a more open, sandy landscape.

How do you survey for animals that spend most of their time hidden under leaf litter or wedged between fallen tree limbs and rocks?

In the case of reptiles and amphibians, the answer is to use coverboards!

Coverboards are materials that are intentionally placed within a potential habitat, often along ecotones (where different habitat types- e.g., wetland and forest, field and forest, etc. come together) that trap moisture and retain heat, creating favorable conditions for our “cold-blooded” (ectothermic) friends. Researchers often arrange coverboards in long transects or arrays and collect data on the diversity of the community underneath the boards as compared to the surrounding environment. This technique was used by NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife to survey for herptiles in 17 wildlife management areas in the early 2000s (Golden, 2004). A total of 30 species were recorded during the first year of the study, including long-tailed salamanders, pine barrens tree frogs, and northern pine snakes, all of which are listed as threatened in New Jersey.   

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