Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘plover’

Joey & Hamlet’s History

Monday, April 25th, 2022

by Meaghan Lyon, Wildlife Biologist

The well-known Piping Plover pair, Joey and Hamlet, has been monitored by Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) at the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center (NGTC)  for three nesting seasons (check out our last blog on Joey and Hamlet’s arrival here!

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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.

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.