Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘raptors’

SNOWstorm at Island Beach State Park

Thursday, February 26th, 2015
Snowy Owls in Seaside Park, New Jersey

By: Guest Blogger Eric Chandler, Wildlife & Nature Photographer

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Why do snowy owls from the Arctic migrate to New Jersey? I was determined to photograph these beautiful creatures, as well as research why snowy owls return to Island Beach State Park (IBSP) every year.

 

The migratory snowy owl population has been spotted all along the coast of New Jersey. Popular hangouts include Sandy Hook, Island Beach State Park, Long Beach Island and even further south as all the Atlantic City. Snowy owls have also been spotted as south as North Carolina.

 

Unlike other raptors, snowy owls spend the majority of their time sitting, as they hunt for prey from the ground. Their unique ability to rotate their head up to 270 degrees allows them to sit in one spot and scan large land areas for prey. The sand dunes at Island Beach State Park provide owls with an opportunity to scan for prey from a seated position, while elevated. Extreme winds are also present on ISBP; the offshore and onshore winds produce some pretty wicked combinations, which give snowy owls that at home feel.

 

The only real threat to snowy owls at IBSP is human disturbance. Like all raptors, it is illegal to hunt or trap snowy owls. Even though they aren’t hunted with rifles, they are hunted by photographers, who may step on dunes. I can’t express how many times I’ve watched snowy owls take off due to people getting too close. I’m thankful that they still return instead of finding a new migration home. Occasionally, helicopters fly overhead and the owls just watch them in confusion.

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Don’t be fooled by the size of snowy owls; these birds have wingspans up to five feet and reach up to two feet tall. With such great size, snowy owls are able to hunt ducks, geese, and even large waterfowl if need be. Small rodents such as lemmings and hares are their favorite, they consume over 1,600 lemmings a year! IBSP features a wide variety of prey on their local menu such as squirrels, mice and small birds. Unfortunately, in the three seasons I’ve spent studying and photographing snowy owls, I have yet to witness a snowy owl eat. Snowy owls are diurnal, which means they are active during both the day and night. It never clicked in my head, but if you think about it, during many months in the arctic there are 24 hours of sunlight, which explains why they are diurnal. During migrations, they mostly hunt late in the day.

 

Over the past three seasons of photographing the female snowy owl, I never spotted a male, until this year! To my knowledge, this is the first year the male has been spotted at IBSP. The female is very beautiful, with dark markings throughout her pure white feathers, and bright, cat-like yellow eyes. I could photograph her for days. As I was packing up after photographing the female one afternoon, I saw a massive heard of photographers with their bazooka lenses. They must have spotted something pretty important, so I had to see. Could there be two female snowy owls? Once I arrived, I could not believe my eyes, a pure white snowy owl. Now, I love using the term majestic when it comes to wildlife, it’s a very powerful adjective. This male snowy owl surpasses that adjective for sure. It’s so hard to put into words how beautiful this creature is when seeing it right before your eyes, in order to appreciate its beauty. From his ability to spin his head up to 270 degrees, to seeing him squint his yellow eyes at you. His beauty almost demands to have his photograph taken. The stunning glow of the solid white plumage reflecting off the sunlight was a sight to see. I believe he enjoyed the paparazzi coverage; he wasn’t disturbed at all and sat with us for hours. For weeks after that day, every photographer that I bumped into and had not seen him since.

 

On an early Sunday morning, after shooting the female owl for three-four hours with about twenty photographers, I decided to venture a little bit and search for the male. If you’re not familiar with Island Beach State Park, it is a narrow, 10-mile barrier island with only one road. It’s very easy to get in the car and drive from parking lot to parking lot, but your chances of missing the wildlife are extremely high (many people also acquire a driving on the beach permit.) For me, I love being out in sub 20 degree temperatures, admiring the peaceful empty beach and watching groups of ocean birds play tag with each other. After four miles of walking, hoping to spot the male owl, all of a sudden this huge white bird starts flying towards me. He literally landed on top of a dune right in front of me! I spent the remainder of my day with him and captured some the best photographs of my career.

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Underneath multiple layers with the cold wind blowing in my face on a gorgeous beach without a cloud in the sky, the sun to my back, a prime photography setting, and not a person within miles of my view, this was my sanctuary. If you want to capture the award winning photograph, you must learn patience and be respectful of the wildlife. Don’t chase after wildlife, they will come to you when the time is right. If you didn’t get your opportunity today, you will in the future.

 

So, now we know why this pair of snowy owls enjoys migrating to Island Beach State Park each year. They have plenty of mammals and birds to prey upon, elevated sand dunes to hunt from with almost no threat from larger predators. A few years ago, there was a eruption of snowy owls that traveled the coastline. Researches said this rare abundance of snowy owls usually occurs every 30-40 years! This was due to a large population of lemmings in the Arctic, prior to migration seasons. I find it very interesting that in Paleolithic caves in France, drawings of snowy owls were created over 40,000 years ago. That makes them the one of the oldest recognizable bird species show in in pre-historical art in the world.

 

From drawings in a cave, to photographs that I capture, it’s pretty awesome to share the appreciation of snowy owls from thousands of years ago. They are beautiful creatures and I look forward to their return each winter. Snowy owls migrate back to their homes in the tundra in late March, early April. With only a few months left, get out there and search for snowy owls at your local beach, but please be sure to respect the wildlife, and stay off the dunes!

 

Eric Chandler is a Wildlife & Nature Photographer based in New Jersey.

Eric reports that roughly three-four weeks ago the pair of Snowy Owls mentioned in this post left Island Beach State Park. Recent reports of large amounts of snowy owls in Northern New York have led Eric to believe that the owls are heading back home!

 

Photos from the Field: Peregrine Falcon Nestbox Installation in Trenton

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
Meeting our goals…we can only hope!

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

In 1993-94 six young peregrine falcons were released at 20 West State Street (Mary G. Roebling Building) in Trenton to help bolster the population of urban nesting falcons in the area. Currently the closest nest is 20 miles away at the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (where they also have a camera at the nest). Twenty years later and we may finally get some nesting falcons in Trenton! It all started when Jean Bickal, a worker in the building, noticed a falcon that often perched on the building ledges. From there Kathy Clark, a Zoologist with New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife made a site visit and took measurements to see if we could fit a nestbox (dog igloo) out a window on the 10th floor, which also had a roof on it. It appeared one would fit so we setup a date to install the new nestbox.

 

Cities and urban areas actually provide suitable habitat for falcons. Urban areas usually have lots of ledges under bridges or on buildings for them to nest, and abundant prey, in the form of pigeons and other songbirds. In New Jersey we have three other pairs that nest on buildings in Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Atlantic City, plus pairs that nest on the Tacony-Palmyra, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Burlington-Bristol Bridges.

 

On February 5th we helped install a new nestbox on top of a roof at 20 W. State St. We’re hoping that the falcon seen that day will find a mate and use the nestbox to raise young. Fingers crossed that we get some good news soon!

 

Learn more:

First, we had to fit this "Dog Igloo" out the window. © Jean Bickal

After getting all our gear up to the 10th floor, we first had to fit this “Dog Igloo” out the window…  © Jean Bickal

When we got here a female peregrine falcon was perched on the ledge of the 10th floor roof! © Jean Bickal

We spotted this beautiful young female peregrine falcon on the ledge! © Jean Bickal

 © Jean Bickal

After fitting the nestbox through the window we carried it over to where it would be installed, all as the falcon watched us! © Jean Bickal

Kathy Clark, ENSP Zoologist determines the best location for the nestbox while the adult female peregrine falcon watches us.  © Jean Bickal

Kathy Clark, ENSP Zoologist determines the best location for the nestbox. We moved slowly to not spook the falcon. © Jean Bickal

What a beauty! © Jean Bickal

What a beauty! © Jean Bickal

Ben and Kathy discuss mounting and placement options. © Jean Bickal

Ben and Kathy discuss mounting and placement options. © Jean Bickal

Ben attaches the base of the igloo to some wood to weigh it down. © Jean Bickal

Ben attaches the base of the igloo to some wood to weigh it down. © Jean Bickal

Then gravel is added.  © Jean Bickal

Then gravel is added. © Jean Bickal

The top is installed and Ben mounts it to the base. © Jean Bickal

The top is installed and Ben mounts it to the base. © Jean Bickal

Can never have too much gravel! © Jean Bickal

Can never have too much gravel! © Jean Bickal

While installing the box she perched on a nearby roof top. © Jean Bickal

While installing the box she perched on a nearby roof top. © Jean Bickal

The finished product! © Jean Bickal

The finished product! © Jean Bickal

Ben Wurst is the Habitat Program Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

New Jersey Eagle Project Volunteers: Priceless

Friday, January 30th, 2015

January 2015 is the Month of the Eagle! CWF is kicking off the new year by celebrating all things eagle. Follow us on social media and be sure to check your email (sign up for our list) for weekly stories on these amazing raptors from our own eagle biologist Larissa Smith. Larissa, a wildlife biologist who has been working for Conserve Wildlife Foundation since 2000, coordinates the New Jersey Bald Eagle Monitoring Project.

By: Larissa Smith, Wildlife Biologist and Volunteer Manager


During the Month of the Eagle, we have thanked the dedicated Bald Eagle Project volunteers, the backbone of the New Jersey Eagle Project.

 

Our volunteers get an incredible, intimate look into the lives of eagle pairs. Read their stories:

 

My best eagle memory comes from May 15, 1996 — my second visit to the first eagle nest I ever monitored. Eric Stiles had called a week earlier to tell me a nest had been found in Smithville and asked if I’d like to become involved in the project. I said “Of course!” and we arranged to get together the next day.

Back then there were only about a dozen nest sites known in the state and he wanted me to keep secret the locale and everything I observed. We drove his truck into the woods out of sight, then walked in through a white cedar forest, whispering as we got close. “It’s two young birds,” he told me, “in a small nest, probably a red-tailed nest they pirated.” Both had flecks of black and brown in the feathering on their heads, especially the male, whose head and tail showed lots of brown. “They may be too young to breed this year,” he explained. “It may be just a housekeeping year.”

“Brownie” flew off soon after we arrived; his mate sat in her pine tree for the full half-hour we watched, looking over-sized for her nest. “We need to keep disturbance to a minimum,” Eric told me as we left. “You shouldn’t come back here more than once a week.”One week later, when I returned to the hiding place in the cedars, I could see the female in the nest with my bins. I unfurled my tripod as quietly as I could, focused my scope — and my heart leaped: a fuzzy blue-gray chick with big black eyes was looking back at me! Soon after, his mother stood up and called into the sky. “Brownie” was coming back.

He landed in the nest, and after more screaming, let his mate take the fish he’d carried in. She carefully pulled it apart, feeding tiny bits to the chick and the larger pieces to herself. I had never seen eagles in action at a nest and was thoroughly enchanted – but there was another surprise to come. As the female turned in the nest ripping at the fish, something flashed. I focused the scope again and saw first a silver band gleaming on one leg and next a green band on the other. She was a New Jersey bird — hatched herself probably in 1991 or 1992, from one of the handful of nests in the state in those years. That was a sweet thrill!

That was the start of a long relationship between “Brownie,” “Greenie,” and me – and the eagles that have come along in the two decades since (the nest has moved two times over those years). I am very grateful to Eric Stiles for involving me originally and to Larissa Smith, Kathy Clark, Larry Niles and all the many hard-working, dedicated folks who have allowed me to participate in this wonderful project. Thanks largely to them, our state now has an order of magnitude more nests than we had in 1996: 150+! Wow!
– Jack Connor

 

Karin Buynie monitors the Crosswicks Creek nest @ Kevin Buynie

Karin Buynie monitors the Crosswicks Creek nest @ Kevin Buynie

We have a lot of good memories through the years of eagle volunteering. None that stand out more than just being able to talk to the many people that stumble upon you trying to figure out what all the gear is for and then seeing the surprise on their face when you tell them you are watching a bald eagle pair raise their young. Being able to pass on all the knowledge you learned from our many conversations with the biologist is very fulfilling. It is nice to see people walk away knowing how far our nation’s symbol has rebounded in our state. We have been able to help 16 eaglets fledge in our seven years of volunteering.
– Kevin & Karin Buynie

 

My best memory was to see the eagle stand up in the nest and the egg pop out.

–Ed Sheppard

 

Last year was my first year monitoring an eagle’s nest. I guess the best experience was watching the pair behavior, moving sticks around on the nest and then seeing them mating, which was interrupted when an immature eagle came flying by. It was pretty cool.
– Karyn Cichocki

 

Lake Barnegat@Paul Lenzo

Lake Barnegat@Paul Lenzo

My best local sighting was in March of 2009 on Lake Barnegat in Forked River. From the road, as I was driving home, I saw an eagle attacking a cormorant and pulled over. After numerous attempts in the air and on the water, the eagle finally killed the cormorant. After watching for about 15 minute., I drove home to get my cameras (about a ten minute round trip), hoping the eagle would still be there when I returned. To my surprise when I returned a pair of birds was feeding on and fighting over the carcass.                            
– Paul Lenzo

 

My most awesome experience was participating in the banding of a young male bald eagle chick from the Supawna Meadows nest. How awesome to actually hold the chick while blood was drawn and measurements taken. I will never forget that great experience.
– Cheryl Leonard

Donna Poolake monitoring a nest

Donna Poolake monitoring nest

“Busy day at Turkey Point: Upon arrival, one adult was in the nest housekeeping and three juveniles were in a snag about 100 feet to the right of the nest. We think these are most likely last year’s fledglings since the adult was not concerned they were so close. There was an adult that flew over the nest towards open water and out of sight. There were another four juveniles in the trees to the right of the meadow across the creek. Across the street from the crabbing business were six more juveniles perched in the trees.

Another adult flew to the nest and perched just above it. Then it jumped to a different branch in the nest tree. That’s when the adult that was housekeeping in the nest jumped up and bit the tail of the adult that just approached and was perched above the nest. Fluffy feathers floated down from that adult while he flew away towards where the three juveniles were perched and landed in a snag. The housekeeping adult that had just gone after tail feathers flew to the same snag as the adult she just “bit” and perched about 10 feet above him.

All of this caused the three juveniles that were perched there to fly off. So, she was telling him to get home and help while the three youngsters said ‘We’re out of here!'”   

This is from several years ago at Turkey Point. We were observing a nest with three chicks in it that were about six weeks old. An adult was perched on a snag not far from the nest. We suddenly got a good view of a chick and noticed that he was much larger than the others. Then we realized this was not a chick but most likely a fledgling from last year. Mom was not too upset but once the fledgling started to eat the fish that was in the nest she flew over, landed in the nest, and chased the juvenile away. It seems she didn’t mind him visiting but he better go get his own meals. The chicks didn’t seem to mind the visitor but became much more active after he left!
– Donna & Heiki Poolake

 

I was astonished to see a pair of eagles take over an osprey nest in the rear of my home several years ago. This is what started me in the eagle program. The eagles did not stay long as the red-tailed hawks and osprey were too annoying. I then started to observe nest in Brick, New Jersey and let Kim Korth know whatever I saw. One day Kim called me and asked if I would like to go and be part of a eagle banding project. I was overjoyed to go. The banding took place in Brick, New Jersey on a private piece of property. I held an eagle for about 15 minutes and it was one of the best things I have ever experenced in my entire life. To actually hold an eagle. WOW!                            
– Richard Gauer

 

Is it the thrill of the first sighting of that fuzzy little head? Is it the beauty of that majestic bird soaring above with a blue background? Maybe it’s the anticipation of a first sighting of another species? Or the beauty of the area where you are doing your observation, the breath-taking sight of thousands of Snow Geese that perhaps land near-by? For us, it is all of these things and the knowledge we have gained observing these magnificent birds (and all the information Larissa has imparted to us, bless her). We feel it has been an honor to have taken part in the program and we hope to be able to continue for years to come.
– Clare Luisi & Anne Stiles

 

Two adult eagles were perched over the waterway near their nest. But this time instead of both being on a relatively high perch, one was perched on a branch just a few feet from the water. The water level was low and the area beneath the eagle was mucky. The eagle on the low branch was studying the mucky water below. Then it floated off the branch by just opening its wings and dropping down like a parachute into the muck. It flew up from the muck with a turtle in its beak! Then as it lifted hire into the air, it banked around past us and we watched it transfer the turtle from its beak to its talon in mid flight. We are so used to seeing eagles drop their talons into the water to pick up fish, that this eagle’s retrieval of a turtle with its beak was really surprising and wonderful to watch.
— Bonnie Hart & Ted Henning

 

Learn more about Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s Bald Eagle Project.

 

 

 

New Jersey Wildlife Telemetry Study Tracks Bald Eagles on Journeys Across Hemisphere

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

January 2015 is the Month of the Eagle! CWF is kicking off the new year by celebrating all things eagle. Follow us on social media and be sure to check your email (sign up for our list) for weekly stories on these amazing raptors from our own eagle biologist Larissa Smith. Larissa, a wildlife biologist who has been working for Conserve Wildlife Foundation since 2000, coordinates the New Jersey Bald Eagle Monitoring Project.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey releases results of 2014 State Bald Eagle Report

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Coordinator

Photo Credit: Chris Davidson

Photo Credit: Chris Davidson

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) today released the 2014 Bald Eagle Report, highlighting the number of nesting pairs, active nests and nest productivity for the raptors throughout New Jersey with data collected by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists, CWFNJ biologists and dedicated volunteers.

 

Two young bald eagles were fitted with GPS tracking devices (wearable backpacks) in Summer 2014 to conduct a telemetry study to better understand raptor behavior. View the complete Bald Eagle Project Report online. ENSP biologists chose one eagle from Atlantic County (a male nicknamed “Nacote”) and one from Cumberland County (a female nicknamed “Millville”) to be tagged in this telemetry study.

 

Nacote was in Canada until mid-October when he started heading south. He visited Six Flags Great Adventure in December and for the past two weeks, he has been residing in northeast Atlantic County, especially Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Millville ventured out to Delaware Bay marshes in late July and back in early August. In mid-September, she crossed the Delaware River into Delaware and then spent most of September along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland before crossing over to Virginia.

 

“Tracking these young eagles is giving us insight into where the birds go once they fledge and the type of habitat they are using,” explained Conserve Wildlife Foundation Wildlife Biologist and Volunteer Manager Larissa Smith. “Unfortunately, we recently learned that the female was found dead in Delaware. The first year of life is tough for young eagles as they learn to survive on their own.”

 

2014 Eagle Report

The federal government removed the bald eagle from its list of Endangered Species in August of 2007, but the bald eagle’s official New Jersey status remains state-endangered for the breeding season and state-threatened for the non-breeding season. The Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) bald eagle recovery efforts, implemented in the early 1980’s, have resulted in a steady recovery of New Jersey’s bald eagle population. ENSP biologists, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey staff, and volunteer observers continue to locate and monitor bald eagle nests and territories each year to analyze the state of the population.

 

2014 Report Highlights

  • The population of wintering bald eagles has grown along with the nesting population, especially in the last ten years. This growth reflects increasing populations in NJ and the northeast, as each state’s recovery efforts continue to pay off for eagles.
  • This season, 25 new eagle pairs were found.
  • The statewide population increased to 156 pairs (including nesting and territorial) in 2014, up from 148 in 2013.
  • A total of 156 nest sites were monitored during the nesting season, of which 146 were documented to be active (with eggs), up from 119 last year.
  • One hundred fifteen nests (79%) of the 145 known-outcome nests produced 201 young, for a productivity rate of 1.39 young per active and known-outcome nest.
  • The Delaware Bay region remained the state’s eagle stronghold, with 43% of all nests located in Cumberland and Salem counties.
  • 2014 marked the first year of successful eagle nesting in the Palisades Interstate Park in perhaps 100 years.

 

The telemetry study, in tandem with the most recent annual eagle report, has been illuminating.

 

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to follow these juvenile bald eagles on their forays far from New Jersey,” said David Wheeler, Conserve Wildlife Foundation Executive Director. “With the eagles choosing to fly in completely different directions, it’s a reminder on how much we still have to learn about these fascinating creatures. Yet what is not in doubt is the bald eagle’s continuing recovery from the brink of extinction – thanks largely to the dedicated scientists leading the way.”

 

For maps of the movements of Nacote, updated regularly, visit our Eagle Project page.

Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Coordinator for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

 

 

Nesting Bald Eagles

Monday, January 16th, 2012
PLEASE DO not DISTURB

Photo taken with a high powered camera lens from a safe distance © Jeffrey White

by Larissa Smith; biologist/volunteer manager

Bald eagles are beautiful birds so it only makes sense that people want to get a closer look at them.  But often people don’t realize that by innocently stopping to look at an eagle nest they are putting the eggs or young in jeopardy.  As the New Jersey eagle population increases eagles are starting to nest in closer proximity to humans and human activity.  Any activity that causes the eagles to change their normal behavior is “disturbance.”  People walking too close to the nest to get a closer look or take photos will cause the birds to get off the eggs or leave the young unattended.  This leaves the eggs or young exposed to the elements and predators.  The safe distance for viewing is at least 1,000’ from the nest site.  If the birds are looking at you then you are too close.

The best way to see what goes on at an eagle’s nest without the chance of disturbing the birds is to watch them online.  The Duke Farms eagle nest site has had a camera streaming the picture since 2008.  This provides an up close and personal view that you cannot see from the ground.  The Duke Farms eagle cam should be streaming live in the next few weeks.  To view the eagle cam go to www.conservewildlifenj.org

If you have any questions about eagles or their nests or would like to report a nesting pair, please contact Larissa Smith.

 

 

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