Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘piping plover’

Beachnester Buzz: Post-nesting Season Migration Begins

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Up until now the focus of our weekly reports has been on breeding activities – for good reason as that is the main purpose of our beachnesting bird management and recovery program here in New Jersey. However, the past two weeks have been a good reminder that piping plover migration is already well under way.

The idea of “fall” migration is a bit of a misnomer for piping plovers and other shorebirds since they begin moving south for the “winter” as soon as nesting is complete. For piping plovers that can be in early July. In fact, last week we had our first report of piping plovers already back on their wintering grounds in the Bahamas. And yesterday we received word of 164 piping plovers in Ocracoke, North Carolina, many of them individuals that had bred in states further north. We know that from the bands and flags placed on the birds as part of various research projects.

Piping Plover E4, spotted by CWF staff in the Bahamas and Canada, and last week it made a stop in New Jersey during migration. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Egger.

Piping Plover E4, spotted by CWF staff in the Bahamas and Canada, and last week it made a stop in New Jersey during migration. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Egger.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey we resighted our first Canadian piping plover on July 12. Then last week we had another very exciting visitor from Canada – a flagged bird with the alpha/numeric code of E4. CWF’s very own Todd Pover had spotted this bird on its wintering ground in January 2014 in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, the Bahamas. In the spring of 2014 Todd traveled up to this bird’s breeding location at White Point Resort in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he was able to spy the bird with its mate as they started to set up their nest. Having it now show up during migration in New Jersey completed the circle.

Although Todd didn’t see it himself in New Jersey this time, there is some pretty amazing “dots being connected” with this individual bird. One of the important issues brought up by the resightings of E4 is just how connected the sites are all along the flyway. It is important that we focus on breeding success here in New Jersey, but we also play an important role in protecting shorebirds during different phases of their lives as well. Long term survival and recovery of piping plovers depends on full life cycle conservation, not just during the breeding season. And with many shorebirds moving thousands of miles annually, that is an effort that needs to reach across partners and even countries.


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Beachnester Buzz: Meet Bob, Avalon’s “Famed” Piping Plover

Monday, July 18th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Meet Bob, Avalon's "famed" long-time breeding piping plover, easily identifiable by his color bands. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

Meet Bob, Avalon’s “famed” long-time breeding piping plover, easily identifiable by his color bands. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

Meet Bob. He is a piping plover who received this nickname while being banded by CWF Wildlife Biologist Emily Heiser in 2012 as part of a SUNY-ESF research project in New Jersey. This past weekend was a big day for Bob. Three of his chicks reached the fledgling state – this milestone of flight is the metric for a successful breeding season.

Things have not always gone so well for Bob. In 2012 his mate was killed by a predator and he couldn’t incubate their eggs alone, so the nest was abandoned and he didn’t find a new mate. In 2013 Bob and his new mate (Kelly) were down to their last remaining chick when a ghost crab snatched and dragged it down its burrow. We dug the chick out, but it died soon after in rehab. In 2014 Bob and Kelly’s chicks died quickly at the hands of an unknown predator. In 2015 a nest camera painfully showed Bob’s chicks being eaten by a fox just after they hatched and were still lying in the nest bowl.

Flash forward to this year and Bob was part of the last piping plover pair left nesting in Avalon, once a thriving breeding site with as many as eight pairs. His long-time mate Kelly left him for another male at Stone Harbor Point, but he found a new mate and finally they have met success. Given all that has happened to Bob, you can see why we are happy for him (and Emily) today!

Sadly, this five year “drama” is not an especially unusual story for piping plovers. Their existence, especially here in New Jersey, is seemingly “against all odds”. In addition to the predators, they face a multitude of threats, direct and indirect, such as human disturbance as a result of heavy recreational use of beaches, habitat loss and degradation, and flooding, to name a few. Each year CWF and a host of partners throughout coastal New Jersey mount an extensive effort to protect piping plovers and other endangered beach nesting birds such as least terns and black skimmers. Without this active protection and management these birds would probably disappear from most of our state’s beaches.


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Beachnester Buzz: Piping Plovers Return to Island Beach State Park

Monday, July 11th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

One of four recently hatched "itty-bitty" piping plover chicks at Island Beach State Park. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

One of four recently hatched “itty-bitty” piping plover chicks at Island Beach State Park. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

So far our weekly beach nesting bird updates have focused on statewide trends, but this week we are going to feature one special pair of piping plovers.

The story actually starts in the summer 1989…Ronald Reagan had just left the White House and the Berlin Wall would fall a few months later. It was also the last time a piping plover nested on the miles of oceanfront beaches at Island Beach State Park. That all changed in May of this year, when a pair of plovers was observed exhibiting breeding behavior at the southern portion of the park close to the inlet jetty. Eventually they laid four eggs, a cage was erected around the nest to protect it from predators, and right on schedule over the July 4th weekend, four itty-bitty chicks emerged. A week later, three chicks have survived the daily battles with predators (i.e. fox, crows, gulls) and a heat wave. The story isn’t over yet, we won’t know for another 3 weeks or so if they survive to the stage where they can fly, which is our metric for success.

Regardless of the outcome, this pair being at Island Beach State Park symbolizes an interesting point in New Jersey’s conservation efforts to recover this federally threatened and state endangered species. 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of federal listing for the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers, and with it extensive management to aid recovery. Those management efforts have led to varying results in New Jersey; our population has swung from a low of 92 pairs to a high of 144 pairs, but mostly settling in around 120 pairs. We are currently in a slight upswing, but the bottom line is New Jersey is a tough place for piping plovers to successfully breed – it represents a convergence of all the significant threats the birds face.

Why did piping plovers suddenly show up at Island Beach State Park again this year? Well, we may never know for sure, but we do think Hurricane Sandy probably had a part in it. While it was wrecking destruction up and down the Jersey Coast, Hurricane Sandy was also creating the kind of sparse, open habitat where piping plovers prefer to nest. Some of that was created at Island Beach, and soon after Sandy, we noted some “prospecting” plovers at the park. Nothing came of that, but meanwhile piping plover action was heating up just a little bit south on LBI at the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR and just across the inlet at Barnegat Light. The storm created especially good conditions for piping plovers in those locations, including a giant “overwash” at Holgate, which in turn attracted more and more plovers, which produced a “bumper crop” of young fledglings. Barnegat Light only had one remaining plover, but it produced well above average numbers of fledglings for several years in a row.

One of the newest "residents" of Island Beach State Park, an adult breeding piping plover. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

One of the newest “residents” of Island Beach State Park, an adult breeding piping plover. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

Quick biology lesson…piping plovers exhibit very strong site fidelity, so the adults tend to come back to the same site year after year, often the same patch of beach. That includes their young, but they have to forge their own territory as existing pairs fiercely defend their established territory. This year we have seen a bump from one to four pairs in the Barnegat Inlet area and one of the new breeding birds was born last year at Holgate (we know that from bands now being placed on the birds by researchers). With Holgate reaching capacity, the returning young are looking nearby for other places to nest. The Island Beach plovers are not banded, but the banding in this area is new in our state, so they might also be young from previous successful nests at Barnegat Light.

At the moment New Jersey has high concentrations of piping plovers at Sandy Hook and the Forsythe NWR, over three-quarters of the state population occurs at these federal properties. They are performing well at these sites for now, but habitat conditions change quickly along the coast and real recovery has to happen over a wider geographic area. For any significant population rebound to occur, new sites need to be colonized, so the piping plovers at Island Beach State Park this year may be a small sign of that starting to happen.


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Beachnester Buzz: Piping Plover Fledglings

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Amazing transformation of a piping plover from tiny chick to fledgling in just 25 days. Both photos by Northside Jim.

 

The highlight of this past week was our first piping plover fledglings of the season. This means the first group of chicks has reached the stage where they can fly, which is our metric for success. Hatching the chicks is always great, but our goal is population recovery and the primary way we can increase our low population in New Jersey is to produce more fledglings to come back in future years to breed here.

 

The doubly exciting news is ALL four of the chicks that hatched at Barnegat Light reached the flying stage. This is notable because typically, on average, we only fledge about one chick per pair in New Jersey. This is not enough to grow or sustain our long-term population. Population modeling tells us we need to fledge about 1.5 chicks per pair range-wide to grow the population and about 1.25 chicks per pair to sustain it.

 

Of course, not all our piping plover pairs will fledge four chicks, in fact, some may not fledge any. So the Barnegat Light news was a good way to kick off our fledgling season and hopefully it is a sign of above average productivity this year.

 

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Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Beachnester Buzz: Least Terns Chicks Starting to Hatch

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016
NEW, WEEKLY UPDATES FROM NEW JERSEY’S BEACH NESTING BIRD PROJECT TEAM

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Least tern photo by Northside Jim.

Least tern photo by Northside Jim.

The beach nesting bird field staff is firing on all cylinders now, frantically trying to keep up with nesting activity. In some regions of the New Jersey coast, piping plovers and American oystercatchers are still laying eggs, while at other sites there are chicks on the beach, even one site (Barnegat Light) where the chicks are already approaching their “fledgling” stage when they will be able to fly.

CWF Field Technician Jesse Amesbury busy conducting annual piping plover census at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

CWF Field Technician Jesse Amesbury busy conducting annual piping plover census at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR.

Most of the least tern and black skimmer colonies are now established, with least terns starting to hatch chicks and black skimmers just laying eggs. Counting the colonies is one of the most challenging parts of the job, imagine trying to count 1,000-1,500 birds at a time in some instances!

After helping with the winter segment of the International Piping Plover Census in the Bahamas, CWF switched gears this week to help conduct the breeding portion in New Jersey.

After helping with the winter segment of the International Piping Plover Census in the Bahamas, CWF switched gears this week to help conduct the breeding portion in New Jersey.

All the normal beachnester tasks are keeping us busy, but the main focus this past week was the annual piping plover “window” census, where field biologists all along the Atlantic coast count the number of birds present between June 1-9, so we can get a range-wide breeding population estimate. As for New Jersey, it looks like our population will go up, at least slightly, for the second year in a row. Although this is still a very preliminary estimate, it looks like we have weathered the statewide low in breeding pairs we recorded in 2014, thanks to good productivity the past two years.

Of special note is a spike in Monmouth County (outside Sandy Hook), where we have gone from 2 pairs the past several years to 12 pairs this year. Although a smaller bump, we also went from 1 pair to 4 pairs within Barnegat Inlet, an area we have long hoped for more pairs. It takes a tremendous effort to realize even small gains in our piping plover recovery effort, so we are especially excited about this news!

Our work is never done...CWF Wildlife Biologist Emily Heiser posting a new nesting area for endangered least terns.

Our work is never done…CWF Wildlife Biologist Emily Heiser posting a new nesting area for endangered least terns.

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Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.