Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Piping Plovers and Researchers Return to The Bahamas

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

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

We talk quite a bit about “site fidelity” in connection with our beach nesting bird project. And for good reason, whether it be on the breeding or wintering grounds, these birds, like most wildlife, are strongly connected to specific places and types of habitats. Not just in the general sense; many piping plovers return to the same precise site year after year.

Aerial view of one of several hundred Bahamas islands and cays, with tidal flats, highly suitable piping plover habitat, visible stretching around the island.

Aerial view of one of several hundred Bahamas islands and cays, with tidal flats, highly suitable piping plover habitat, visible stretching around the island.


We were reminded of this the last several days as we made our way around Abaco, The Bahamas, in search of wintering piping plovers. Having made a number of trips to Abaco since 2011, we have started to narrow down where it is likely we will be able to find them: the Green Turtle Cay Gillam Bay flat at low tide or the adjacent upper beach hummocks at high tide, Casuarina Point to forage at low tide, a number of the main island’s southern oceanfront beaches for roosting, to name a few. We are still finding new sites, not previously surveyed or documented, but we now have a much better idea of what to look for and on what tide or wind condition.


The catch is, this only works if the habitat remains intact and suitable. Back in New Jersey, we know this well, as many of the formerly suitable sites for beach nesting birds are lost forever to development or are highly disturbed by recreational activities so the likelihood of reproductive success is low even if they do choose to nest at those locations. Sadly, our breeding pairs of piping plover are relegated to a limited number of suitable sites, which is not a good recipe for recovery of this endangered shorebird.


With its hundreds of islands and cays, many undeveloped or lightly settled, we may be inclined to think this is less of an issue on the wintering grounds in the Bahamas. And relatively speaking, this might be true to some extent, but it would be unwise to believe this will always be the case. Economic forces are a driving factor there, as in anywhere in the world, so the lure of development and commercial use of resources is strong in the Bahamas as well.

Black Flag "K2", a Canadian breeder and one of six color marked piping plovers observed on wintering grounds on Abaco, The Bahamas, this past week by CWFNJ's Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger.

Black Flag “K2”, a Canadian breeder and one of six color marked piping plovers observed on wintering grounds on Abaco, The Bahamas, this past week by CWFNJ’s Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger.


Fortunately, there is also a strong incentive to protect shorebirds in the Bahamas. The tidal flats and shallow water habitats that shorebirds use are also important for bonefish, conch, and other fisheries that are important to the local economy and provide jobs. Furthermore, birding and wildlife-based activities are increasing an important part of the tourist sector. However, In order to sustain those activities and opportunities, ecosystems must remain intact and pristine.


A number of organizations, local and from abroad, are diligently working to designate more protected areas in the Bahamas. One of the top priorities now, an effort being led by the Bahamas National Trust and National Audubon Society, is to protect the vast flats area in the Joulter Cays, Andros, which are especially important for shorebirds such as the piping plover. On Abaco, where we have been focusing our piping plover work, Friends of the Environment  is strongly advocating for protection of East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, and more recently The Marls.


During a survey this past week on Man-O-War, one of Abaco’s offshore cays, we were able to locate a banded piping plover that had originally been marked on its breeding grounds in Canada. In discussing the bird with a local resident who had first spotted it, she was surprised that the bird was remaining in the same spot ever since she saw it two months ago. This was site fidelity illustrated in its truest sense, and in the same vein, the researchers in Canada are already anticipating it will return to the same site to nest next spring. From what we know about piping plovers that is highly likely…as long as we remain committed to protecting the habitat they use.


Project RedBand: 04/C from LBI to Trinidad and Tobago!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Auxiliary bands help link Barnegat Bay ospreys to their wintering grounds

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

04/C was banded at a nest on LBI and re-sighted on the island of Trinidad and Tobago by Nicholas Hassanali.

04/C was banded at a nest on LBI and re-sighted on the island of Trinidad and Tobago by Nicholas Hassanali.

When I started work on Monday morning I got some amazing news (at least for an osprey lover). One of the young ospreys that I banded on Barnegat Bay was re-sighted on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago!! To top that cake, the osprey was photographed to confirm its sighting. YES!! Nicholas Hassanali took the above photo and enlarged the red band to read the alpha-numeric code which reads “04/C.” I looked up in my banding records and saw that 04/C was produced at a nest behind the Long Beach Island Foundation for Arts & Sciences in Loveladies, Long Beach Island.

04/C after being banded. He was around 4 weeks old on July 7, 2014.

04/C after being banded. He was around 4 weeks old on July 7, 2014.

I banded him (I can tell its a male by the size of the band on its leg and the lack of a brown necklace of feathers on its breast) on July 7th with a CWF donor Bill C. We ventured to four nests by kayak. This was the first survey where I started to deploy the red auxiliary bands on young ospreys. I remember that it was a pleasant day. Not too hot or windy. As we made our way from one sheltered nest on a lagoon to another out on the bay we felt the winds kick up from the south making paddling difficult (especially when you’re towing another kayak with a ladder on top!).

125-A-032: 04/C's nest.

125-A-032: 04/C’s nest.

We decided to return to Bill’s house and take my truck to survey the next two nests, since we could walk to them from a side street. We walked out to one nest and found that it failed, i.e. no young were produced. Then we proceeded onto the next, 04/C’s nest. I remember climbing up the ladder to band the young and did not get a chance to take any better photos because I had to be on my way soon. While up there I remember the male dropped a fish (bunker) and Bill got it and we put it back into the nest. One thing that I will not forget about this day is the smell of smoke and burning plastic. I found out later that day that a lawyer’s office in Ship Bottom was on fire when we were out surveying these nests. Luckily no one was hurt in the fire!

I personally cannot wait to get more reports of our red banded ospreys. The young that were banded this year will not return until 2016 and even then they might not return until the late spring/early summer and will not breed. At least I know that there are people out there watching and admiring our ospreys! As Nick said in a comment on his photo on Flickr, “ I have a great love for Ospreys.” 🙂

A break in the weather

Friday, February 21st, 2014
Great Bay Blvd. Osprey Platform Install

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

We took advantage of the break in cold/wet weather along the southeast coast of New Jersey and installed a new nesting platform for ospreys this week. The new platform was installed for a pair that previously nested on sensitive equipment used by the Rutgers University Marine Field Station on Great Bay Blvd. in Little Egg Harbor. The equipment was located on a short cluster of pilings near the boardwalk to the Station. It failed to produce young in 2013. More than likely it was predated by raccoon, the main ground predator of osprey young.

A large number of volunteers showed up to help out. The actual install was quite easy considering it could be accessed by the land via Great Bay Blvd. The platform was placed along a tidal creek so that biologists can easily access the nest for future surveys. Rutgers staff will install deterrents on the old nest so birds can’t nest there when they return in late March. You can see the location of the nest on Osprey Watch or drive out on GBB to see it in person.

Thank you to all the volunteers who came out to help!


Osprey Cam reveals winter scenery

Friday, February 7th, 2014
Polar vortex, peregrines, and lots of snow geese

The extreme cold weather in January brought some really neat winter scenery to the coastal saltmarsh. One of the most productive ecosystems in the world is almost totally desolate in the middle of winter. There are still a few signs of life though, which have been captured by our Osprey Cam, including top tiers predators, peregrine falcons, and herbivores, snow geese. There’s no doubt that each plays a role in the ecosystem. The snow geese eat any kind of vegetation that they can find and they consume any part of the plant, seeds, stems, leaves, tubers, and roots.  The osprey cam showed them sticking there heads underground to forage on the rhizoidial roots of saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora).  Here’s an interesting fact from Cornell University’s All About Birds website: “Food passes through the Snow Goose’s digestive tract in only an hour or two, generating 6 to 15 droppings per hour. The defecation rate is highest when a goose is grubbing for rhizomes, because such food is very high in fiber and the goose inevitably swallows mud.” Their droppings will no doubt help to fertilize the marsh in the spring!

Ice floe.

Ice floe.

A few adult peregrine falcons have been perching on the platform.

A few adult peregrine falcons have been perching on the platform.

Snow and geese.

Snow and geese.

More snow geese...

More snow geese…

Snow geese have been foraging all around the osprey nest.

YUM! Roots and tubers!

Snow goose

Got a napkin?

Looks like the arctic...

Looks like the arctic…

6" of fresh snow.

6″ of fresh snow.



Cheesequake State Park: Winter Bird Photography…with Climate Control

Monday, January 9th, 2012

by Brett Klaproth, CWF volunteer photographer & wildlife advocate

Forested habitat at Cheesequake State Park. © Brett Klaproth

What does Middlesex County’s Cheesequake State Park have over Cape May, Forsythe, Sandy Hook, the Great Swamp, and other more notable New Jersey birding sites?  Reliably abundant and nearly effortlessly managed (Talkin’ to you there, Barnegat Light…) stellar winter photo ops.  Plus heat.

Cheesequake is just 5 minutes off Garden State Parkway exit 120 and a 5 minute walk through the hardwood forest off its first parking lot reveals the park’s nature center. The building’s raised and roofed entrance deck sits before a small, lightly wooded area designated as a wildlife sanctuary and serves as a near ideal (Shadow issues (See wooded…).) shooting platform.

The center is operated and the sanctuary maintained by naturalist Jim Faczak, who has installed (soon to be upgraded) platform, jar, and commercial seed and suet feeders–the most active a mere 3 or so yards from the deck’s edge. Protected from hikers by split rail fencing and a steep decline across its far end, the location attracts a roster of favorite species, at times in dizzying (Almost fell once…) numbers, with most taking little issue (Aaand…there’s a titmouse on my lens…) with human observers.

Red-bellied woodpecker. © Brett Klaproth

The most prevalent–the aforementioned tufted titmouse and the Carolina chickadee and white-breasted nuthatch–frequently alternate positions on the platforms (Focus on the one on the right (Ha ha–focus (Never mind…).).), with the latter assuming dominance in the pecking order by virtue of its, well, yes, pecking. Red-bellied and downy woodpecker compete similarly at the suet cages with their
hairy cousins sometimes entering the rotation.

Dark-eyed junco scavenge below, and several resident Carolina wren (One lives in that house hanging off the corner of the building…) maneuver in intermittent shifts through low lying branches. Blue jay make their presence known vocally before venturing in, and a small group of more reserved mourning dove typically makes its way closer as afternoons progress.

Song sparrow. © Brett Klaproth

Northern cardinal, song sparrow, and brown creeper are occasional visitors, with others including American crow, American goldfinch, American robin, hermit thrush, American tree sparrow, and fox sparrow observed during more brief and isolated periods. Though rarities are aptly uncommon, there are also no invasives with which to contend, unless we define the term differently and include the occasional hawk.

Red-tailed, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned all check for status updates, mostly via flyover. Strikes occur extremely rarely. The raptors’ mere appearances though, elicit an instant freezing (as in assuming a motionless position–not in an it’s 30 degrees in the shade and I forgot the Under Armour kind of way) among the smaller birds, creating a silent and somewhat surreal spectacle.

On the plus side of contending with 30 degree temperatures, though choosing a sunny day is most advantageous, shooting here after or even during (See roofed…) a snowfall makes for a sublime photographic experience. The forest itself provides a kind of magical (That’s right, going with magical.) setting when coated in white. And the ground being blanketed not only encourages increased activity at manmade food stations but provides images with added beauty and character as well as enhanced lighting (See shadow issues (Maybe see wooded again if necessary…)…).

With a slight increase in temperature, titmouse and chickadee cling to icicles, drinking droplets as they form. And for those without prejudice, deer can often be easily spotted under these conditions throughout the park. This might be of worthwhile if secondary interest as the sanctuary of course loses the light before do Cheesequake’s many fields.

Carolina wren. © Brett Klaproth

The nature center is typically open from 8-4 Wednesday through Sunday. Calling in advance is advisable if one wants to be assured of immediate access to bathroom facilities and escapes from the cold (and a hand dryer which, okay, odd, but for the warmth provided a photographer would likely eventually share my appreciation).

Food might not be present at all times but Jim is giving readers permission to bring and distribute seed (Be sure there’s sunflower in the mix.) and suet to insure activity. Results are typically swift and satisfying.

And oh yeah, nuts. Offering peanuts will garner immediate popularity with certain (upwards of two dozen) bushy-tailed residents. If not looking to make friends nor prone to begging-induced guilt (Just me?), indulging the squirrels will also help keep feeders clear for the more typically welcome feathered patrons.  And dispensing on the previously recommended platform in particular will optimize results by bringing the most discriminating (blue jay, wren) and timid (red-bellied woodpecker) subjects closer.

Throw in lunch for yourself and a rewarding and unusually comfortable cold weather day at Cheesequake is virtually guaranteed.  Just remember the Under Armour.

All photos were taken last winter with a handheld Canon 40D and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS. That’d be the author on deck with a tripod-mounted Canon 500mm f/4L IS this winter.