Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Sea Girt’

A Rough Year for Piping Plovers at National Guard Training Center

Thursday, July 28th, 2022

By Sherry Tirgrath

Ground-nesting birds in New Jersey face many difficulties and threats that most other birds typically do not struggle with. Joey and Hamlet, the piping plover pair at National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, were not exempt from those hardships this nesting season. We know our readers have been waiting for an update on the pair, and as a warning, their story did not end well this year. Joey lost his mate, Hamlet, to a predator attack just days before their chicks would hatch. Her body was found not far from their nesting site- evidence pointing to a bird of prey taking her out. Piping plovers and other beach-nesting birds can be easy targets for owls and falcons. They incubate their nests out in the open without the cover of dense vegetation. Man-made structures along the NJ coast often serve as roosts for raptors to monitor an area and pick out vulnerable prey. Hamlet was, unfortunately, a victim of nature taking its course, and Joey was left to rear the chicks on his own.

Joey and two of his chicks
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Piping Plover Chicks Hatch at National Guard Training Center

Monday, June 13th, 2022

by Sherry Tirgrath

Piping Plover Joey and his chick. Photo by Sherry Tirgrath

It’s officially chick season for the beach-nesting birds of New Jersey, and some of the first, fuzzy babies of the year were hatched at National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt. Piping plovers, Joey and Hamlet, laid their third nest together after first nesting at NGTC in 2019. The pair both had different partners that year, but got together in 2020 and fledged three chicks together for two years in a row. This year, the pair had the first confirmed nest in the state and diligently incubated their eggs during the entire month of May. The nest was anticipated to hatch over Memorial Day Weekend.

Just a couple days before the chicks made their appearance, tragedy struck. Hamlet was not seen for a couple days, and fear started growing that something had happened to her or she abandoned the nest, which would be very unlikely for such a devoted and successful veteran mother. When the chicks finally hatched from their eggs on May 29th and only Joey was seen tending to them, some investigating was done into Hamlet’s disappearance. Her body was found at the edge of NGTC property, likely predated by an owl or other bird of prey, as evidenced by the condition of her body. As tragic and sad as her death was, it’s a wonder that her body was found at all. In many cases, there’s no closure for piping plover disappearances. Joey was left to raise his chicks as a single father, receiving praise and encouragement from everyone following his story. 

The chicks have reached the 10-day mark as of June 8th, and appear healthy and strong. Only two have made it this far, but Joey is doing an excellent job on his own protecting them from threats and keeping them in line. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that both chicks make it to fledging, and Joey can keep up his excellent fatherhood record. It’s unknown if Joey will seek a new mate next year or retire from parenthood, but for now, we are saddened by the end of the era of Joey and Hamlet. 

Monitoring of beach-nesting birds takes time and commitment from our team of biologists and seasonal technicians. The largest piping plover breeding population in New Jersey resides at our Holgate site, where pairs, nests and hatched chicks are observed and tracked nearly every day during the nesting season. Nests north of that site are sparser and face many threats from human disturbance and high predator presence. While the coastal piping plover population is still struggling, CWF continues to fight to protect our state’s rare species and educate the public about the importance of respecting wildlife.

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.