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Posts Tagged ‘Savannah Sound’

PIPING PLOVER RESEARCHERS – THE NEXT GENERATION

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

CWFNJ AND MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY PARTNER IN THE BAHAMAS

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Monmouth University student digging the sediment cores on tidal flat in the Bahamas.

Monmouth University student using a pvc push core to collect sediments on a tidal flat in The Bahamas.

We totally shifted gears for the second half of our week here on Eleuthera, The Bahamas. Piping Plover surveys took a back seat as we focused on working with 20 students from Monmouth University (MU), who were taking part of in a two-week Tropical Island Ecology course during their winter break.

We settled into the Cape Eleuthera Institute, who hosted the students at their world class facilities for an intense (but fun) regimen of hands-on science research, typically marine based, but a Piping Plover unit was added for the MU students. It was particularly exciting to work with the MU students here in the Bahamas because back in New Jersey we have partnered with MU for over ten years on a beach nesting bird internship program during the summer months.

First up was an evening primer for the students on Piping Plovers, including a brief summary of our efforts in NJ on the breeding grounds and recent work by CWFNJ and others on the wintering grounds in the Bahamas. The next morning we were up early to kick off our trial research project; benthic macro-invertebrate sampling at Piping Plover wintering sites in the Bahamas to try to develop an inventory of their potential prey items, and eventually determine what constitutes a highly suitable foraging site. This was spurred, in part, by field observations of tidal flats that appear to be highly suitable, but have no piping plovers present, whereas similar adjacent flats are covered with shorebirds. Perhaps not all flats are created equal and prey availability is the key.

Students collecting and processing the sediment samples as part of research to assess foraging quality.

Students collecting and processing the sediment samples as part of the research to assess foraging quality.

For our field work with the students we chose two sites in Eleuthera where Piping Plovers have been observed; Savannah Sound, a classic low-tide flat in a sheltered area, and Winding Bay, an oceanfront, high-energy beach. The students extracted core sediment samples (20 cm deep) at each site along prescribed transects (10 samples per transect) for two consecutive days. Then it was back to the lab to sift the sand, sort the samples, and identify any invertebrates found. As part of the analysis, the students compared the species abundance and diversity between the two different sites, as well as between different transects within a site.

The results are yet to come and this was just a preliminary test of the methods and logistics involved. We were learning along with the students and while we were happy with the overall outcome, many questions were raised that will have to be addressed if we decide to develop a larger more robust study moving forward. In the meantime, the students got to learn a bit about Piping Plovers in the context of a research project, and inaugurate what we hope is another long-term partnership in the Bahamas.

Back in the lab to identify benthic macro-invertebrates from a Piping Plover foraging site in The Bahamas.

Back in the lab to identify benthic macro-invertebrates from a Piping Plover foraging site in The Bahamas.

A special thanks to the staff at Cape Eleuthera Institute for their hospitality and for letting us be part of their innovative learning experience. Thanks to John Tiedemann and Pedram Daneshgar at Monmouth University for setting the wheels in motion and now helping us implement this partnership. And finally,  “shout-out” to Taylor Rodenberg for stepping up to assist us with the field work – Taylor was one of our MU interns in New Jersey last summer and happened to be one of the students visiting the Bahamas this winter, so she is part of a small group of lucky people to see (and work with) Piping Plovers on both their breeding and wintering grounds!

In Search Of Piping Plovers On Eleuthera

Monday, January 12th, 2015

CWF RESEARCHERS EXPAND SURVEYS TO ANOTHER ISLAND IN THE BAHAMAS

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Todd Pover, CWFNJ Biologist,surveying for Piping Plovers during the last bits of daylight.

Todd Pover, CWF Biologist, surveying for Piping Plovers using the final minutes of daylight.

Our experience so far this week in Eleuthera is a reminder why we do so much pre-trip “recon” for our Bahamas Piping Plover Project. Prior to the trip, we poured over Google Earth maps to try to identify the most suitable habitat for plovers. We read (and reread) the report from the 2011 International Piping Plover Census, the last time any significant surveys were conducted here. Finally, we “huddled” with our partners from Monmouth University so they could help us with logistics, as they have a history of marine-based research here.

Without this preparation we would have been ill prepared, of course, but we still faced many challenges right out of the gate. First and foremost, Eleuthera is more than 100 miles long, with two coasts, so covering even a small portion of the island is difficult in a short period of time. Once we decided which sites were the top priority, we quickly found out that reaching those locations is difficult. There are few official signs to the shoreline on the Atlantic side along the one main “highway”, and many of the “roads” are difficult to traverse, even with a 4WD. A number of turnoffs ended as dead ends or too overgrown to continue.

Piping Plover "Gry E4" was banded as a chick at White Point Beach, in Southern Novia.  Scotia in June 2014. Resighted on Spanish Wells and the first time reported after the breeding season.

Piping Plover “Gry E4” was banded as a chick at White Point Beach, southern Nova Scotia in June 2014. Resighted on Spanish Wells and the first time reported after the breeding season.

It also quickly became apparent that Eleuthera’s rocky coast, especially along the western side is not nearly as suitable for piping plovers as we had experienced on earlier trips to Abaco and Grand Bahama. And some of the beaches on the Atlantic side were too narrow to likely support piping plovers. Not surprisingly, the initial day of surveys ended with a lot of lessons learned, but NO piping plovers.

Day Two we took an entirely different tack. We left our vehicle on the mainland and headed out on small ferries to two islands off the northern coast of Eleuthera; Spanish Wells, a residential community with a commercial lobster port and Harbor Island, a resort town known for its famous Pink Sands Beach. Our luck turned around, as we observed 20 piping plovers (with relative ease) including four that were marked with engraved flags that denoted they were Canadian breeders. This was one of the highlights of all our Bahamas trips to date.

We were also able to track the movement of 18 plovers from a high tide roost on the ocean side beach to a low tide flat on the other side of the island as the sun set. From what we learned on Abaco on previous trips to the Bahamas, this type of information is some of the most critical we can collect to help inform future surveys. We definitely earned our celebratory Kaliks that evening!

On the road to nowhere - locating piping plover sites on Eleuthera was a logistic challenge at times.

On the road to nowhere – locating piping plover sites on Eleuthera was a logistic challenge at times.

Our goals for the surveys this week are modest. We are trying to confirm some of the site information our colleagues Pat and Doris Leary gathered during the 2011 International Census, as well as add some additional sites to the survey inventory. We also are trying to visit high value sites, such as Savannah Sound, to determine which tide or portion of the tide is most productive for the surveys. With this information in hand, we hope to do our small part to help make the 2016 International Census next winter the most productive and accurate to date.

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