Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Thursday, August 27th, 2015
Wrapping up the 2015 Piping Plover Chick Mortality Study

by Emily Heiser, Biological Assistant

Look closely - a piping plover egg showing signs of hatching.

Look closely – a piping plover egg showing signs of hatching.

The tail end of the breeding season always brings a mix of unsettled emotions. There is a German word that perfectly describes this feeling, zugunhrue. It’s a compound word: ‘Zug’, describes movement or migration and ‘Unhrue’, describes anxiety or restlessness. You can almost see this feeling dripping off of the birds as they move around, fighting over the best foraging spots to bulk up and snuggling up to one another in the perfect roosting spot. They rely on weather cues and dwindling daylight to determine the best time to depart. To some extent, we find ourselves doing the same. It is a significant changing of the seasons as summer fades into fall for the beach nesting bird staff. We pack up the equipment, take down fencing, polish data and shift mindsets from breeding to migration.

Michelle Stantial of SUNY-ESF and Emily Heiser of CWF after their last successful chick capture of the 2015 field season (Photo courtesy of Northside Jim)

Michelle Stantial of SUNY-ESF and Emily Heiser of CWF after their last successful chick capture of the 2015 field season (Photo courtesy of Northside Jim)

Michelle Stantial, of the State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry departed on her own migration last week, wrapping up the 2015 piping plover chick mortality study. Michelle and I had a whirlwind summer of traversing the coast, trapping birds, collecting data and finding time to sleep somewhere in between. Ironically, New Jersey bolstered one of its better productivity seasons in years during the chick mortality study! Overall, the study was a resounding success. We worked with wonderful partners to achieve optimal results and hope to move ahead with future seasons. In total, we collected information from 29 breeding pairs of piping plovers and 62 of their chicks, deployed nine nest cameras and hiked many miles of beach looking for predator signs.

CWF beach nesting bird crew at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge release piping plover chicks after being weighed and measured.

CWF beach nesting bird crew at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge release piping plover chicks after being weighed and measured.

This season had all sorts of surprises waiting for us. While we took our losses hard, we celebrated our victories even harder. The information from the nest cameras was vital in our efforts to identify predators and in sourcing the issues that piping plovers face here in New Jersey. We watched fox, crow, gull and mink eat nests and it broke our hearts along the way. On the other hand, we watched how determined these birds were in sitting on their nests through downpours, lightning storms, high winds and tides. We had not one, but TWO double clutches this season. A double clutch is a rare event in a piping plover’s life cycle and has been documented sparingly over the years along the entire Atlantic Coast. The two pairs that double clutched laid their first nests, successfully reared their chicks to fledge and then laid another nest, ultimately fledging those chicks as well! It was a true delight to watch all four of these broods succeed this season.

 

As the weeks pass, the number of migrating piping plovers slowly dwindles and our seasonal staff departs for new adventures. It is always a bit sad to watch them leave, but it is reassuring to know we have made life long friendships and that the birds will undoubtedly be back next season! We only have to get through the doldrums of winter. Enjoy the fall and good luck on migration, our fine-feathered friends!

 

Learn more:

 

Emily Heiser is a Biological Assistant for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

A Memorable Visit: The Bottlenose Dolphin in the South River

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
South River Dolphin will be Remembered by Many

by David Wheeler, Executive Director

South River Dolphin Photo by David Wheeler

This time of year, many beachgoers thrill to the sight of pods of bottlenose dolphins swimming past, each animal porpoising over the moving sea’s surface before it disappears back under the surf for another few moments. Recent weeks have brought some lucky New Jerseyans the chance to watch seemingly never-ending pods of dolphins swim past, one after another like some Atlantic Serengeti.

 

About the last place you might expect to see a bottlenose dolphin is a stone’s throw from the commuters speeding past on eight traffic lanes of Route 18 on the Old Bridge – East Brunswick border in the central heart of the state, a good 20-minute drive from the nearest bay coast. Here, amidst the parking lots and criss-crossing thoroughfares and working-class stores, crowds of families and couples and kids young and old lined up two deep, day after day, last week along a narrow bridge over the South River. All to watch a wild bottlenose dolphin from a closer vantage point than most of us will ever get outside of an aquarium or amusement park.

 

Every 50 seconds or so, an anxious murmur gave way to gasps, fingers pointing, cell phone cameras clicking, and cries of “There it is!” The dolphin breached the surface for just long enough to get its necessary air – a second, two at most – before vanishing again. For several days the dolphin returned, as the media reported on it and the crowds grew larger.

 

Photo of the crowd by David Wheeler

 

While the dolphin swam underwater, talk amongst the visitors ranged from awe – “I saw it Mom!” and “He’s bigger than I thought!” – to curiosity – “Are they supposed to be here?” and “Where will it come up next?” – to emotion – “I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to see this!” and “It’s beautiful!”

 

But the discussions also presciently invoked fear and concern – “Is it sick?” “Stranded?” and “Shouldn’t it be with the other dolphins?”

 

As it turned out, the dolphin was indeed sick. It was dying. Trained volunteers tried to shepherd it out to more accommodating waters, but the dolphin couldn’t make it back out to the open water from its final resting place.

 

The dolphin was considered to be emaciated, and will be studied with a necropsy. We have no insight yet on whether the dolphin suffered from morbillivirus, a disease which has claimed the lives of hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in recent years along the East Coast.

 

My son and I watched the dolphin on a Friday evening, not long before dusk. Later that weekend I learned that the dolphin had died the very next day.

 

Yet in spending its last few days as it did, the dolphin became an unexpected guest for a local inland community that never anticipated such a marine visitor – but cherished the chance to greet it. All told, the dolphin spent much of a week in its retirement home upstream in the South River, in the shadow of Route 527 to the steady hum of Route 18 traffic, visited and admired by many hundreds of people.

 

Just like past New Jersey visitors, similar to the Trenton beluga whale and the Merrill Creek Reservoir snowy owl, the South River dolphin found an out-of-the-way place that it could call home, albeit temporarily.

 

The South River dolphin has finally moved on – but it will be remembered.

 

David Wheeler is the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Lights, Camera, Action: Conserve Wildlife Foundation Releases New Video

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
New Video Showcases CWF’s Work to Protect the Garden State’s Wildlife

By: Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

Conserve Wildlife Foundation is thrilled to release a new video as an “introduction” to our work, keeping New Jersey’s wildlife in our future! We are a private, non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of New Jersey’s endangered and threatened wildlife and the habitats they depend on.

 

As the video demonstrates, we utilize science, research, wildlife management, habitat restoration, education and volunteer stewardship to help conserve and protect a variety of at-risk species of wildlife in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation.

 

The video was produced by Tyler Grimm, a video intern with Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

 

Want to get involved? Learn more about Conserve Wildlife Foundation on our website.

 

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

 

Successful Nesting Season for “Jersey Girl”

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
New Jersey Banded Bird and Mate Raise Three Chicks in Pennsylvania

By: Larissa Smith, Wildlife Biologist

We have been following the story of “Jersey Girl,” a New Jersey banded bird, who nests in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. This was her fourth season at this nesting location. In 2014, the pair lost two chicks due to a severe winter storm, so it was good news when nest observer Linda Oughton reported that the pair raised and fledged three chicks during the 2015 season. Two weeks after the chicks fledged, the nest collapsed due to wind and rain. So, we will have to wait and see if they rebuild in the same nest tree or move to a new location next season.

Linda sent some photos from the 2015 nesting season.
@L. Oughton

Notice the small intruder in front of the nest Photo: L. Oughton

Linda reports that she has seen fish, squirrels, Canada geese, rabbits, turtle, chickens, and a ground hog brought to the nest.@L. Oughton

Linda reports that she has seen fish, squirrels, Canada geese, rabbits, turtle, chickens, and a ground hog brought to the nest. Photo: L. Oughton

@L. Oughton

Photo: L. Oughton

Learn more:

 

Larissa Smith is the Wildlife Biologist/Volunteer Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

The Pitter-Patter of Tiny Plover Feet!

Thursday, July 9th, 2015
An update on the 2015 Piping Plover Chick Mortality study

By: Emily Heiser, Biological Assistant

 

Summer is once again flying by and we find ourselves more than halfway through the beach nesting bird season. New Jersey’s piping plovers are almost done incubating their nests and most already have chicks running around!

 

Two and a half week old piping plover chick, in hand for mid development "check-up" on weight and wing growth.

Two and a half week old piping plover chick, in hand for mid development “check-up” on weight and wing growth.

I would argue that there is nothing cuter than a piping plover chick. Covered in downy feathers, they simply look like little cotton balls with toothpicks for legs. Piping plover chicks are precocial, which means they hatch in an advanced state and are able to feed themselves almost immediately. The adults stay with their young to protect them from predators until they are able to fly, which takes about 25-35 days.

 

New Jersey plovers have a very difficult time getting their chicks to that 25-day mark. Unfortunately, chicks perish for various reasons. Determining the causes of chick loss in is the main driver behind the New Jersey piping plover chick mortality study being conducted by the State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry this year.

 

Just hatched piping plover chicks sporting their color bands, which will help researchers track them.

Just hatched piping plover chicks sporting their color bands, which will help researchers track them.

 

 

 

 

Michelle Stantial and I have been visiting sites up and down the coast to check on the status of the study broods. To date, we have been able to band 46 chicks from 14 different broods.

 

The small color bands that we place on the upper legs of the chicks help us to identify each chick as an individual and also helps us know which individual was lost. Every five to seven days we recapture the chicks to weigh and measure them. We hope to correlate chick growth to habitat quality and likelihood of survival. Some exciting preliminary observations have already been made between the sites!

 

Plover chicks all hatch at around the same weight. During incubation, the embryo gets all of its food from an egg sac. The chicks weigh around six to seven grams when they hatch. Over the next five days, growth rates begin to spike.

CWF Biological Assistant Emily Heiser places newly hatched piping plover chicks back into nest bowl after banding.

CWF Biological Assistant Emily Heiser places newly hatched piping plover chicks back into nest bowl after banding.

 

By simply looking at some of the chick weights, you can determine where foraging quality is likely going to be greatest. Lower weights could also be attributed to human disturbance levels. Chicks disturbed on a regular basis, may not be able to spend as much time foraging as chicks that are not disturbed as often.

 

One of the true highlights of this season has been overseeing so many chicks across all of our study sites! Twenty-seven of our study chicks have made it to fledge so far. There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching them spread their wings for the first time. It never ceases to bring a smile to my face as their tiny feet pitter-patter across the sand (and my heart), their perfect wings open up, and suddenly…lift off!

 

There is still some time left in the season for some more tiny miracles to happen on our beaches, so keep your fingers crossed and send them lots of luck as they finish up their breeding season here in New Jersey!

 

Learn more:

 

Emily Heiser is the Biological Assistant for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

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