Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘plover’

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!

Piping Plover Winter Report From the Bahamas

Monday, March 8th, 2021

by Chris Johnson, with forward by Todd Pover

Portion of flock coming in for a landing. Photo by Chris Johnson

Starting in 2011, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, led by Senior Wildlife Biologist Todd Pover, has been working in the Bahamas, primarily Abaco, to help study the habitat and distribution of wintering piping plovers.

Band resighting surveys are one of the important aspects of this work. As a result of severe damage from Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and current safety issues due to the Covid pandemic, regular surveys were not conducted this winter, either by CWF or the group of local volunteers who have assisted over the years.

With this in mind, we were delighted to get a very late winter report from Chris Johnson, a local resident and accomplished young birder. You can read his account of the survey and enjoy his photos below.


On February 26th, 2021 a large group of Piping Plovers was sighted and documented on a sand flat near Cherokee Sound on the island of Abaco in the Bahamas by local residents Christopher Johnson and Michael Knowles. The flat was teeming with bird life as many migratory shorebirds were preparing to begin their journeys back to the breeding grounds. Short-Billed Dowitchers, Black-Bellied Plovers, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Sandpipers were a great find. However, the pinnacle of the birding trip was a grand total of 46 Piping Plovers!

Among the 46 plovers were three notable, returning plovers, recognizable from their leg bands: Squid (Right Leg-Green over Red, Left Leg-Blue over Black), Joe (Green Flag 70E) and White Flag 36. The behavior of these plovers surely indicated that they are on the brink of beginning their migrations northward. Many were beginning to gain their summer breeding plumage and were feuding over crustaceans and worms, while others were bickering for a mere resting place.

The substantial group of plovers stuck around on the sand flat that was slowly diminishing due to the rising tide and continued to rest and feed on the flat for another 25 minutes. It was apparent as the first flock congregated and took to the wing due east that they were bound for their roost in nearby Casuarina Point. After the majority group of 30, including Joe and White Flag #36 departed, a small group of 16 remained resting on the last segment of the flat. Within another ten minutes the second group of plovers had hightailed it for the Cherokee Creek System. The “Cherokee Group”, including Squid, would vanish into the dense mangrove ecosystem to get a good night’s rest.

A group of this size would suggest that many of these birds will begin their migrations back north within the coming weeks. Hopefully a successful breeding season lies ahead!

Piping plover marches along the beach. Photo by Chris Johnson.

Link to eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S82573290

Check out more photos by Chris on Instagram & Facebook.


Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration gets a “Touch-up”

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

A bulldozer trims back vegetation as a part of maintenance at the Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration site.

Even though all the major construction at our Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration site was complete over the past two winters, CWF returned in January 2021 to help oversee a “touch up”.  Beach nesting birds, such as piping plovers, prefer open, lightly vegetated beaches to nest, and in two years the vegetation had filled in quickly at the site. Using a bulldozer, the thicker vegetation was trimmed back or as the machine operator said, we gave it a “haircut”.

At the same time, the shallow edges of the foraging pond were enhanced. The pond, in particular a portion engineered to mimic “foraging flats”, was a key part of the success of piping plovers during the 2020 breeding season. We were able to expand that feature in hopes of providing even more high value foraging opportunities in years to come.

Initial construction was obviously the most important step to make this long-anticipated project a reality, but ongoing maintenance is an important part of any restoration, as habitat, especially in the dynamic coastal zone, rarely remains static. Still, follow-up maintenance is often overlooked or underfunded, but we know it will be absolutely critical as a long-term measure at Barnegat Light to sustain quality nesting habitat and high reproductive success.

The work this winter was done in tandem with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, our primary technical partner on the project. A special thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Philadelphia District for funding and facilitating the maintenance construction. We also greatly appreciate the ongoing partnership on this project of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – New Jersey Field Office and State of New Jersey’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Todd Pover is a biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Survey of Beach Litter Finds Many Threats to Nesting Birds

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

by Mary Emich

Plover chick next to a seabeach amaranth plant. Photo by Alice Brennan.

Despite hundreds of trash bins conveniently located on the beach, litter is still found in the sand every day. Many people enjoy their summer days at a key beach nesting bird site in Sea Girt. Beach goers leave behind trash that litters the crucial environment. These include plastic bottles, bags, cans, wrappers, straws, fishing line, etc. Plastic pollution effects the surrounding environment and wildlife that inhabits it.

At the Sea Girt beach, piping plovers (Charadrius melodus), an endangered beach nesting bird species, travels hundreds of miles to breed and nest during the summertime. This species is directly affected by the amount of litter that pollutes the beach. Every year shore birds, and many other species, ingest plastic or get entangled in fishing line which lessens their chance of survival.

Seabeach Amaranth. Photo by Meghan Kolk.

Another significant endangered species located at Sea Girt beach is seabeach amaranth (Amaranthus pumilus). This annual plant needs a healthy ecosystem free of debris to thrive every season. It is important to maintain a strong coastal habit for reproduction and population growth.

Twenty weeks of litter was collected at the Sea Girt beach with approximately 200 plastic straws, 50 plastic bags, 75 bottles, and 25 pieces of fishing line. Pollution on the beach can be prevented if patrons are mindful of properly disposing their trash at the end of their trip.

20 weeks worth of beach trash recovered from the Sea Girt beach.

Mary Emich is an assistant biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

Beach Restoration Project Shows Promise for Piping Plovers at Barnegat Light

Saturday, July 4th, 2020
Piping plover chick feeding at the restoration-created pond.  Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Last winter the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with Rutgers University, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, and New Jersey Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered and Non-Game Species Program, completed the final stages of a beach restoration project in Barnegat Light State Park.

The project, which broke ground the winter before last, aimed to create more ideal habitat for the endangered piping plover away from human disturbance at Barnegat Light’s more recreationally busy beaches. This was accomplished by removing vegetation, grading dunes to be more suitable for nesting, and creating alternative feeding sites (i.e. ephemeral pools).

Now, with the beach nesting bird season at its peak and the final stages of the project complete, we can start to assess the effectiveness of the work that has been done.

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