Conserve Wildlife Blog

A Return to Barnegat Light to Get the Beach Ready for Plovers

February 23rd, 2024

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Winter maintenance of the Barnegat Light habitat restoration site is a key element in the project’s success to benefit New Jersey’s piping plovers and other beach-nesting birds. The original project – clearing about 40 acres of dense beach vegetation and dunes to create an early-successional habitat favored by plovers and adding “ponds” to create foraging opportunities – was completed over two winters in 2019 and 2020. Each winter since, we have returned to the site for a short period, typically a week or so, to thin vegetation and reestablish foraging habitat along the pond edges in advance of nesting birds returning for the season.

This year was no exception, I was on-site in late January and early February to guide a bulldozer operator to prepare the site for plovers. Although the maintenance work we do each year is similar, the details and nuances of it vary quite a bit. Last winter, for example, one of the foraging ponds was completely sanded over from fall and early winter storms, so we spent most of the time re-digging that. This year, the ponds were in much better shape, so we had more time to focus on clearing out thick vegetation that had crept back into the site to improve the nesting substrate.

CWF Senior Wildlife Biologist Todd Pover on-site at Barnegat Light to oversee winter maintenance of piping plover nesting site.

It is hard to believe that we’ve gone through five nesting seasons since the project was started. Fortunately, all the hard work has paid off, the project has been an unmitigated success. Last season six pairs of piping plovers nested at the site, up from just one pair the year before we started, making it the site with the most pairs in the state outside of Holgate and Sandy Hook. Productivity, the number of chicks fledged per pair, is one of the key recovery metrics that has consistently been well above the state average and above the federal recovery goal. Last year was the only exception as reproductive success dipped, largely due to predator issues. 2023 was a tough year for piping plovers in New Jersey in general with just 0.53 chicks fledged per pair statewide, the second lowest on record since federal listing.

As the saying goes, “hope springs eternal,” and that is true for beach nesting bird biologists too. We are hoping the improvements we made to the site this winter will help boost the abundance and productivity of piping plovers this breeding season. We will find out soon enough. Earlier this week (February 21) the first plover was observed in New Jersey, the earliest “spring arrival” on record (February 27 was the earliest previously, as per e-Bird records). The first real surge of spring arrivals will occur in early to mid-March, so it is only a few weeks until plovers will be checking out our “touch-up” of their habitat at Barnegat Light.

Along with CWF, this project has been made possible through collaborative efforts and funding from a number of partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

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