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Netting for Golden-winged Warblers in New Jersey

Friday, July 29th, 2016

by Kathleen Wadiak, CWF Intern

Interning for CWF allows me to take part in a variety of projects and learn from different professionals working throughout the state. One example of this is the morning I was able to learn about golden-winged warblers through a mist netting survey. Honestly, I did not know much about this little bird until we were driving to a power line right-of-way early one morning, and I was given a quick summary of why it’s causing a stir in our home state.

The golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is a striking little gray bird with black eye and throat markings, sporting a bright yellow head with matching wing patches. New Jersey serves as part of its breeding grounds throughout the summer, when it migrates north from its winter habitat in Central and South America. Unfortunately, its populations have been in decline, resulting in its classification as a state endangered species.

A male golden-winged warbler. Photo by Kelly Triece.

A male golden-winged warbler. Photo by Kelly Triece.

There are a few possible reasons for the decline in golden-winged warbler populations, including a decrease in their habitat, early-successional sites which consist of shrubby and herbaceous ground cover instead of mature forest. To the golden-winged warbler’s disadvantage, much of its New Jersey forest was cut at the same time, resulting in even-aged stands that are now too old to provide the nesting sites necessary for survival. Currently, golden-winged warblers occupy regenerating clear cuts, wetlands, or utility right-of-ways in northwestern New Jersey, where they can still find the resources that they need.

In addition to habitat loss, interactions with the closely related blue-winged warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) are impacting the golden-wings’ numbers. It is thought that as climate change causes shifts in the geographic range of both species, more overlap between the two occurs. This results in increased competition for food, nesting sites, and even mates, as the two birds are closely related.

Walking through the high grass under the powerlines, we stopped now and then to listen to birds singing and look for golden-wings. While my untrained ears had trouble differentiating between all of the different calls, a biologist with NJ Audubon confidently told us where to begin setting up each net. After the net was raised, different recordings meant to attract the warblers played while we stepped back and waited hopefully for the right birds to come.

Golden-winged warbler habitat. Photo by Kelly Triece.

Golden-winged warbler habitat. Photo by Kelly Triece.

It was exciting to see the first birds fly into the net and to have the opportunity to view them up close, even if they weren’t always the ones we were looking for. While we set up three nets throughout the morning, our first attempt was most successful as it resulted in the capture of one of the rare golden-winged warblers! Its banded leg told us that this wasn’t its first time in a net, and that it had been to this site in the past, a good sign for this particular stretch of habitat. Its dramatic markings and flashes of gold feathers made it a beautiful bird, and it struck me what a shame it would be if they disappeared completely from our state.

While things are tough for golden-winged warblers in New Jersey, hope is not lost as many organizations, including CWF, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NJ Audubon, and NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife are working to keep these birds in the Garden State. Mist netting and banding the Golden-wings allow biologists to track the number and location of these warblers throughout their breeding grounds and aid in the creation of management strategy. In addition, there is an effort to educate private landowners about golden-wings and to help them manage their property in a way that attracts the birds. Hopefully, as this work continues, more land will be suited to their habitat preferences, and golden-winged warblers will return to their summer homes in New Jersey.


Calling all Osprey Watchers!

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
Filling in the gaps

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Approaching a natural nest inside Barnegat Inlet. Photo by Northside Jim.

Approaching a natural nest inside Barnegat Inlet. Photo by Northside Jim.

Each year, while conducting osprey surveys by boat, our volunteer banders and biologists try to reach the majority of known osprey nests in the most densely populated colonies in New Jersey. The data that is collected (active nest, # of young) help to determine the overall health of the population. Since 2013, we have surveyed more than we have ever have, after releasing all of the known locations of osprey nests in New Jersey. All osprey nests can be viewed on our partners website,, which is run by the Center for Conservation Biology. It has helped us reach 80% of the known population. Publishing and mapping all the known nests was an attempt to engage citizen scientists (by them going out to observe ospreys) and save critical funding (for more endangered species of wildlife) while collecting data to monitor and manage our ospreys. So far it has proved to be an amazing tool for the future management of ospreys, who nest in very close proximity to humans. (more…)

Beachnester Buzz: Post-nesting Season Migration Begins

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Up until now the focus of our weekly reports has been on breeding activities – for good reason as that is the main purpose of our beachnesting bird management and recovery program here in New Jersey. However, the past two weeks have been a good reminder that piping plover migration is already well under way.

The idea of “fall” migration is a bit of a misnomer for piping plovers and other shorebirds since they begin moving south for the “winter” as soon as nesting is complete. For piping plovers that can be in early July. In fact, last week we had our first report of piping plovers already back on their wintering grounds in the Bahamas. And yesterday we received word of 164 piping plovers in Ocracoke, North Carolina, many of them individuals that had bred in states further north. We know that from the bands and flags placed on the birds as part of various research projects.

Piping Plover E4, spotted by CWF staff in the Bahamas and Canada, and last week it made a stop in New Jersey during migration. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Egger.

Piping Plover E4, spotted by CWF staff in the Bahamas and Canada, and last week it made a stop in New Jersey during migration. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Egger.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey we resighted our first Canadian piping plover on July 12. Then last week we had another very exciting visitor from Canada – a flagged bird with the alpha/numeric code of E4. CWF’s very own Todd Pover had spotted this bird on its wintering ground in January 2014 in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, the Bahamas. In the spring of 2014 Todd traveled up to this bird’s breeding location at White Point Resort in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he was able to spy the bird with its mate as they started to set up their nest. Having it now show up during migration in New Jersey completed the circle.

Although Todd didn’t see it himself in New Jersey this time, there is some pretty amazing “dots being connected” with this individual bird. One of the important issues brought up by the resightings of E4 is just how connected the sites are all along the flyway. It is important that we focus on breeding success here in New Jersey, but we also play an important role in protecting shorebirds during different phases of their lives as well. Long term survival and recovery of piping plovers depends on full life cycle conservation, not just during the breeding season. And with many shorebirds moving thousands of miles annually, that is an effort that needs to reach across partners and even countries.


New Jersey’s Hidden Coast – Strengthening Bayshore Beaches

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016


By Emily Hofmann, Assistant Communications Manager


Like all ecosystems, Delaware Bay is amazingly complex, and there’s no one way to fix it. Between climate change, sea level rise, and the growing risk of major storms, there’s a lot to consider.


We’ve learned that restoring healthy marsh habitat is a key component in rebuilding Delaware Bay beaches; however, we’re also trying to further strengthen bayshore beaches by building reefs – living underwater infrastructure. By creating some reef structures we can keep the sand where we’re putting it.


Learn more about strengthening New Jersey’s Hidden Coast – the Delaware Bayshore in our fifth episode to our series.


A new episode of our video series “New Jersey’s Hidden Coast” will air every two weeks throughout the summer! Catch a glimpse of the bay, the horseshoe crab at the center of the bay’s system, and the incredible relationship between horseshoe crabs and migratory birds, like the red knot. We will reveal the real value of horseshoe crabs, the challenges to the ecosystem, and the potential for a thriving regional economy along the Bayshore. We will show Hurricane Sandy as a catalyst for decisive action and the work being done to rebuild the area for both people and wildlife.


Over the next several weeks, we will explore the use of “living shorelines” instead of bulkheads and the central importance of marshes to the marine ecosystem. We will discover the on-the-ground, grassroots efforts of the community to build oyster reefs alongside veterans. And we will examine the future of the Bay and the work that needs to be done to preserve our conservation successes thus far.


Discover Delaware Bay:


Beachnester Buzz: Meet Bob, Avalon’s “Famed” Piping Plover

Monday, July 18th, 2016

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Meet Bob, Avalon's "famed" long-time breeding piping plover, easily identifiable by his color bands. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

Meet Bob, Avalon’s “famed” long-time breeding piping plover, easily identifiable by his color bands. Photo courtesy of Tom Reed.

Meet Bob. He is a piping plover who received this nickname while being banded by CWF Wildlife Biologist Emily Heiser in 2012 as part of a SUNY-ESF research project in New Jersey. This past weekend was a big day for Bob. Three of his chicks reached the fledgling state – this milestone of flight is the metric for a successful breeding season.

Things have not always gone so well for Bob. In 2012 his mate was killed by a predator and he couldn’t incubate their eggs alone, so the nest was abandoned and he didn’t find a new mate. In 2013 Bob and his new mate (Kelly) were down to their last remaining chick when a ghost crab snatched and dragged it down its burrow. We dug the chick out, but it died soon after in rehab. In 2014 Bob and Kelly’s chicks died quickly at the hands of an unknown predator. In 2015 a nest camera painfully showed Bob’s chicks being eaten by a fox just after they hatched and were still lying in the nest bowl.

Flash forward to this year and Bob was part of the last piping plover pair left nesting in Avalon, once a thriving breeding site with as many as eight pairs. His long-time mate Kelly left him for another male at Stone Harbor Point, but he found a new mate and finally they have met success. Given all that has happened to Bob, you can see why we are happy for him (and Emily) today!

Sadly, this five year “drama” is not an especially unusual story for piping plovers. Their existence, especially here in New Jersey, is seemingly “against all odds”. In addition to the predators, they face a multitude of threats, direct and indirect, such as human disturbance as a result of heavy recreational use of beaches, habitat loss and degradation, and flooding, to name a few. Each year CWF and a host of partners throughout coastal New Jersey mount an extensive effort to protect piping plovers and other endangered beach nesting birds such as least terns and black skimmers. Without this active protection and management these birds would probably disappear from most of our state’s beaches.


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