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Posts Tagged ‘piping plover’

Piping Plovers (Joey and Hamlet) Return!

Friday, April 1st, 2022

by Sherry Tirgrath, Wildlife Biologist

As the piping plovers of New Jersey return to their coastal breeding grounds from their wintering range, a familiar pair has been spotted at the National Guard Training Center (NGTC) in Sea Girt. The pair, dubbed “Joey” and “Hamlet”, have nested at NGTC for 3 consecutive years and are back for their 4th nesting season in 2022. The first of the pair was noticed on site on March 22nd, seemingly resting after a long journey. The second plover was spotted the morning of March 25th and the two have been foraging and roosting together since. The same day that the second plover of the pair arrived, 7 more piping plovers were found roosting near the south boundary of NGTC’s beach. That group has moved on, but Joey and Hamlet have remained to reclaim their territory.

Joey and Hamlet were both banded as chicks in 2018 at Sea Bright, NJ. They have successfully raised chicks at NGTC since they began nesting there in 2019. Prior to their initial arrival, piping plovers had not nested at that site for over a decade. Upon their first arrival at NGTC’s beach in 2019, Joey and Hamlet were paired with different mates. Joey nested with an unbanded female and fledged 2 chicks, while Hamlet nested with a male plover named “Bo”. However, the chicks from their nest did not survive to fledging. Joey and Hamlet paired up in 2020 and fledged 3 chicks together that year and 3 again in 2021. Overall, the pair is highly productive at this site, which signifies that piping plovers will continue to nest here in the future.

Other beach-nesting birds also frequent the site. Least terns, a state-endangered species, and American oystercatchers, a species of special concern, have both nested on site in the past. However, in 2019, predation by red fox resulted in a least tern colony losing 14 nests and 5 chicks, with only one chick surviving to fledge. Since then, the terns have roosted on site but have not attempted to nest. American oystercatchers also roost on site each year but have not had any successful nest attempts in the last few years. Red fox caused nest failures in 2019 and 2020, with no attempt made to nest last year in 2021.

To encourage beach-nesting birds to return and nest at NGTC, a variety of management strategies have been carried out to provide a more optimal nesting habitat. Vegetation thinning was performed in an established protection area to create more space for shorebirds to choose from with plenty of vegetation left to provide shelter and camouflage from people and predators. Shell fragments were deposited in the habitat for use by the shorebirds for lining their nests. The fragments are used to disguise nests as the eggs blend in well with the sand and broken shell pieces. Least tern decoys were also placed around the protection area to encourage the terns to roost and hopefully nest on site again. Although plovers are territorial and won’t nest together, least terns prefer to roost and nest in colonies to maximize protection and defense. The decoys may draw them to investigate the site and stick around.

Fingers are crossed for another productive season for Joey and Hamlet at NGTC, and there’s hope for other beach-nesting birds to return to utilize the site for raising chicks, as well.

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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New Jersey Piping Plover Breeding Population Rises Sharply in 2021

Monday, November 8th, 2021

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Pair of Piping Plovers Tending Nest. Courtesy of Northside Jim

The 2021 New Jersey piping plover breeding season was a classic “good news, bad news” result. According to the annual report released by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program earlier this month, the breeding population increased to 137 pairs in 2021, third highest since federal listing in 1986. That is an unprecedented 33% rise over the previous year and just short of the record high of 144 pairs in 2003. On the downside, the number of chicks fledged statewide was just 0.85 chicks per pair, the lowest since 2013 and about half of the 1.50 federal recovery goal. The low productivity was largely the result of a severe Memorial Day weekend nor’easter and persistent predator activity throughout the season.

Holgate, a unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, hosted 46 pairs, the most in the state. This site, which is monitored and managed by CWF through a cooperative agreement with the Refuge, has seen an astounding increase in piping plover pairs in recent years, up about 2.5 times from the 18 pairs it had in 2018. CWF also monitors Little Beach, the adjacent Refuge-owned site, where another 13 pairs nested in 2021. Combined the two sites had 59 nesting pairs, a new record, by far, for the Refuge. Unfortunately, like the statewide results, productivity was very low this year at both Refuge sites, combined only 0.80 chicks fledged per pair, about half the rate just a year ago. The Memorial Day weekend nor’easter flooded those sites, wiping out most nests, and although most of the pairs nested again afterwards, many of those renests (or hatched chicks) were lost to predators, especially coyotes at Holgate.

CWF also oversaw piping plover breeding at the National Guard Training Center, which had just one pair in 2021, but that nest successfully hatched and fledged three chicks, helping boost the state average. Overall, CWF was responsible for monitoring 44% of the statewide population, giving it a significant role in helping guide conservation of this highly vulnerable state endangered (and federally threatened) species.

Although CWF does not conduct the daily on-the-ground monitoring and management of piping plovers at the Barnegat Inlet nesting site, it was a co-leader of the habitat restoration that was completed there two winters ago, and as such has had a big role in the nesting outcomes at the site. The number of pairs using the site has noticeably grown, up to five pairs in 2021 from just one pair when the project began. Productivity has also been consistently high at the restoration site and 2021 was no different with the pairs exceeding the federal recovery goal and statewide average with 1.6 chicks fledged per pair this year.

With the breeding results for 2021 now “in the books”, we are already looking forward to next year. The biggest question will be whether the state can sustain the progress towards recovery it made this year, especially given the big drop in productivity, which typically drives population. But for now, all we can do is wait until next spring to learn the answer to that question.

To read the state’s entire 2021 piping plover report:

Special Event Screening of Chicago Piping Plover Doc “Monty and Rose” SOLD OUT, Second Date Added

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

Due to overwhelming demand, our first screening of the film about Monty and Rose, Chicago’s famous piping plovers, has REACHED CAPACITY.

In light of this, a second virtual showing has been added on Thursday March 25 from 7:00-8:15 pm EST.

Once again, the short film will be followed by a Q&A with Todd Pover, CWF’s Senior Wildlife Biologist and Bob Dolgan, the film’s creator. And just like the first showing, one lucky participant will also be chosen at random to win a Piping Plover Prize Pack! Prizes include a newly designed CWF PIPL hat and other assorted beach nesting bird goodies to be shipped right to your home.

Admission is free, but you’ll need to register at the link below.


What Is Monty & Rose?

Written and directed by Bob Dolgan, “Monty and Rose” tells the story of a pair of endangered piping plovers that nested at Chicago’s Montrose Beach in the summer of 2019, becoming the first of the species to nest in the city since 1955. With a music festival scheduled to take place within feet of the plovers’ nest site, volunteers, advocates, and biologists get to work in order to protect the vulnerable pair. The documentary follows these efforts, including interviews with those there to help this special pair nesting on one of the busiest beaches in Chicago.

About the Hosts:

Bob Dolgan is a life long birder and filmmaker from Chicago. He’s the founder of Turnstone Strategies, author of the This Week in Birding newsletter, and a past Board Member of Chicago Ornithological Society.

Todd Pover has been involved in research, monitoring, and management of beach nesting birds for over 25 years in New Jersey and other portions of the flyway. He heads up the CWF beach nesting bird project and leads our Bahamas piping plover wintering grounds initiative.

Watch the Official “Monty and Rose” Trailer:


The Return Of Piping Plovers

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Piping Plover walks through a tidal pool. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Any day now the first piping plover will be returning to New Jersey to nest. It will likely return to the same beach it nested on in previous years, possibly even the same part of the beach. It will be coming from the same wintering location it used in the past. And it probably even used the same stopover sites during migration. This attachment to place or “site fidelity” is one of the marvels of the birding world, not unique to plovers.

In some ways, it’s not so different for us. We order pizza from the same restaurant, time after time. Many of us vacation in the same place, year after year. And yes, we have been known to repeatedly visit our favorite beach. My parents took my sister and I to the beach at Seaside Heights for summer vacation every year when we were growing up. We went on the beach at the same street access, laid our blanket out at pretty much the same spot, ate at the same place on the boardwalk, EVERY time. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I could travel or vacation elsewhere, and so I began visiting places far away, first Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, then the desert Southwest, and onto a lifetime of travel to “far flung” places.

And this is where the analogy with piping plovers ends. Plovers don’t travel on a whim. They can’t decide to fly to the west coast this year instead of their usual Atlantic Coast breeding locales. They are hard-wired for efficiency, their behavior is driven by survival and maximizing reproductive success. They return to the same beach because they know there is suitable nesting habitat and good foraging opportunities there, and “knowing that ahead of time” gives them a breeding advantage over other, younger plovers looking for and trying to establish new territories.

Piping plovers do have some capacity for change. They can shift locations if needed, especially if there is a significant alteration to their existing habitat, severe beach erosion, for example, or if they lose a mate in a given year and need to find a new one. There are, however, limits to this. They are “specialists” that require specific habitats and conditions. Furthermore, recent research on the wintering grounds suggest they will remain at the same location even if it is highly disturbed, and even if it negatively impacts their fitness. So, site fidelity usually trumps other factors.

Of course, all of this has conservation implications. Here in New Jersey, development at or near the beach has already limited both the amount and quality of beach habitat available for them to breed. Even if they wanted to “travel elsewhere” they don’t really have an option of other suitable places to go. And, the beaches remaining for them to use, with rare exceptions, are busy with people, which is not a good recipe for a species highly vulnerable to human disturbance. Still, given what we know about site fidelity, our best option is to “pull out all the stops”, put the strongest protection measures in place, at the sites that are left for them to nest.

This is what keeps me up at night, even after more than 25 years on the job. New Jersey is a tough place for piping plovers to succeed. It is not necessarily a losing battle, but it hasn’t always been a winning one either. As I gear up for another breeding season, I know that I and the dedicated community of other plover monitors will do everything we can to protect them and try to secure their future. But…we need your help too. Stay out of the fence or barriers erected to protect their nests, leave your dog at home, off of nesting beaches, and keep your distance when flightless chicks move outside the fence to feed at the waterline. Please enjoy them, but carefully and at a distance.

This reminds me of the lessons we’ve learned with the Covid pandemic this past year. We can’t beat it alone; we need to work together. We have to take actions that help each other, not just ourselves. This is the model for piping plover conservation too. We will keep protecting them, but ultimately, we need everyone’s help if piping plovers are going to succeed and eventually recover.

Join me on Team Plover!