Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Friends of the Environment’

Plover Power

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
Reflections Three Years into the Shorebird Sister School Network Program

by Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Deep Creek Primary students with the migratory and wintering Piping Plover decal.

Deep Creek Primary students with the migratory and wintering Piping Plover decal.

As we begin to wrap up our third year of the Shorebird Sister School Network, we are able to reflect on how far we have come in just a short time. In our first year, we started with just one class at Amy Roberts Primary School (Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, The Bahamas), led by teacher Jan Russell, which was paired up with a class at Ocean City Intermediate School (Ocean City, New Jersey), led by teacher Deb Rosander. We presented the students with information on the full life cycle of the Piping Plover, commonly referred to as “our birds” in New Jersey. Really they are residents of The Bahamas, spending over half their life on the warm sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise water. Piping Plovers in The Bahamas,  in most cases, see less disturbance than what is experienced by plovers on their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.


We not only focus on breeding, migration, and wintering of the plovers, but the importance of their habitat to a suite of species. In The Bahamas, the tidal flats used by the Piping Plovers are of huge importance to the ecological value and economy of The Bahamas, as the flats are also used by bonefish, conch, and shark species. We had both classes conduct similar projects  interpretive signs placed on the breeding and wintering grounds  using their writing skills and original artwork. The students also participated in field trips where they learned how to use spotting scopes and binoculars to find and identify shorebirds.

Shorebird Sister School Network leaders and CWF biologists, Stephanie Egger and Todd Pover at Amy Roberts Primary School, one of the first sister schools in the program.

Shorebird Sister School Network leaders and CWF biologists, Stephanie Egger and Todd Pover at Amy Roberts Primary School, one of the first sister schools in the program.

Three years later, we still are teaching our core lessons, but have vastly expanded on the curriculum and projects, as well as extending the program onto another island, Eleuthera, which is just south of Abaco. We now are working with Cherokee Primary in the settlement of Cherokee Sound (Abaco) and Deep Creek Primary (Deep Creek, Eleuthera). We have continued working for the last three years with Amy Roberts Primary School and Ocean City Intermediate School. Back in the United States, we have added a second class from Ocean City, as well as the Leeds Avenue Elementary School Environmental Club (Pleasantville, New Jersey) led by Mary Lenahan. We’ve added new components to the curriculum such as bird anatomy, foraging differences between species of shorebirds, invasive species, habitat assessments (including macroinvertebrates) and marine debris.


We continue to implement interpretive signs as a project with classes that are in their first year of the program, but have come up with new and exciting projects to keep the students (and teachers) motivated and engaged to continue participating as a sister school. For example, during the second year we worked with Amy Roberts, we removed 1,500 Australian pine (Casuarina spp.) from Green Turtle Cay as it degrades the habitat for piping plovers and other species. We created a Piping Plover activity book complete with crossword puzzles, word searches, and mapping activities designed mainly by the students at Ocean City Intermediate School, Leeds Avenue Elementary School, and Amy Roberts Primary School. Because Cherokee Primary and Deep Creek Primary are new to the program this year we hope to have their students create interpretive signs, while the second and third year students in the Program may develop PSA-type videos this year and pen pal letters to their respective sister schools in the United States.


Throughout the year, each class receives one or two classroom lessons and a field trip. We keep busy during the few short weeks we have in The Bahamas; coordinating the field trips, conducting surveys, presentations, and working to continue to build and strengthen our existing relationships with partners, such as Friends of the Environment and local citizen scientists. This year, we’ve reached over 120 students in the program, both from the Bahamas and in the United States.

Official Shorebird Sister School Network Logo


One of the most rewarding aspects of the Shorebird Sister School Network is that we are able to provide lessons to the some of the same children throughout multiple years in the program, which strengthens the conservation messages we are trying to instill in the upcoming generations. We hope to foster a greater appreciation for wildlife, especially for the Piping Plover and its habitat, and inspire students to help now and later on in their lives as adults ensure the recovery and survival of the bird for years to come.


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Stephanie Egger is a wildlife biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.


Bahamas Revisited

Sunday, February 21st, 2016
Piping Plover Research and Conservation Five Years Later

by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager



The wintering segment of the 2016 International Piping Plover Census has just wrapped up in the Bahamas. This marks six winters of my own involvement with piping plover conservation work in the Bahamas – starting with the last international census in 2011 – so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the changes I have observed in the years between the censuses.


First and foremost, we now know much more about how many piping plovers winter in the Bahamas and where they are located, including some areas where there are particular high concentrations of piping plovers and other shorebirds. This knowledge is due to the significant increase in survey effort put forth by partners in the Bahamas during the census, but also surveys conducted by Bahamas National Trust and National Audubon Society, as well as our own work at Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF), in the years since 2011 to supplement the earlier surveys and better understand how piping plovers use the sites.

The author, CWF's Todd Pover, scoping out  piping plovers during the census.

The author, CWF’s Todd Pover, scoping out piping plovers during the census.


This is demonstrated by the results of the 2016 census. As just one example of how this extra research paid off, in 2011 when we visited Casuarina Point on Abaco for the census, we knew from local birders and e-Bird that piping plovers were frequently seen there, but not that it was only for a narrow window during low tide to forage, nor that depending on wind conditions or disturbance, they could be at another more remote flat across Cherokee Sound. So in 2016, we had surveyors in place at the correct tide AND in both locations at the same time, thus allowing us to record 26 piping plovers, instead of 0 in 2011. Using similar information gathered across the island we found 178 piping plovers in 2016, compared to 76 in 2011 (and 82 on Eleuthera in 2016 vs. 30 in 2011).

The CWF 2016 International Piping Plover Census team for Abaco and Eleuthera: Pam Prichard, Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger, Michelle Stantial, Emily Heiser, Brendan Toote (left to right).

The CWF 2016 International Piping Plover Census team for Abaco and Eleuthera: Pam Prichard, Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger, Michelle Stantial, Emily Heiser, Brendan Toote (left to right).


Even with some oversights like those, the 1066 piping plovers tallied in the 2011 census revealed that the Bahamas was one of the most significant wintering locations for piping plovers, second only to Texas. And with band resight data, we now know that the Bahamas is THE most important winter location for the Atlantic coast population (as compared to the Great Lakes and Great Plains populations). Although the final count for the 2016 census is not complete yet, it has already topped the 2016 figure and will account for a good part of the remaining unknown wintering birds and locations. New surveys in the Turks and Caicos, more intensive surveys in Cuba, as well as the Southeast/Gulf Coast U.S. (which is critical for all three populations of piping plover) should make this the most comprehensive and informative survey to date.


While improved census results are important, one may reasonably still ask how the census is going to translate into better conservation. The Bahamas is a good example of what can be done with the data  last year the Bahamas government set aside the Joulter Cays as one of a series of new national parks, to a large degree based on its importance for shorebirds, especially piping plovers, as a result of information initially gathered from the census and follow-up surveys. This marked the first time shorebirds played a significant role in such a designation, so this is a watershed event for shorebird conservation in the Bahamas (and the Caribbean).


I have noticed other “sea changes” in attitude on a smaller scale. When I first visited the Bahamas (Abaco) during the 2011 census, aside for some birders, piping plovers were little known by the public there. Now when I come, I am recognized as the plover guy and piping plover bumper stickers can be spotted around the island on golf carts and trucks. There is even a new post card, entitled “Birds of the Bahamas” that has a piping plover side by side with a flamingo, the national bird. And there is refreshingly little of the rancor we sometimes have in the states over their protection – the habitats piping plovers use in the Bahamas, especially tidal flats, are also important for valuable resources, such as conch and bonefish, and other marine species, so protecting them is less of a conflict.

birds of the bahamas postcard


The important role the Bahamas plays in the piping plover life cycle is now much better known by the public and other stakeholders. Many of the participating partners have not only provided technical shorebird expertise during the surveys, but worked hard to provide education and outreach towards a long-term conservation goal. One area my colleague Stephanie Egger and I are most proud of in this realm is our Shorebird Sister School Network, where we pair up schools and students in the Bahamas and in New Jersey, using piping plover migration as the link. Now in its third year, this project is working to create a new generation of young conservationists (and piping plover lovers)!


This is not to say our work is done. There is still more to learn, a banding study is being conducted to help us better understand survival compared to other wintering (and breeding) regions, more detailed aspects of site fidelity, and how birds move around sites within islands. Still, piping plovers are no longer a novelty in the Bahamas as was largely the case when I first came in 2011. The challenge over the next five years will be how to harness the increased awareness and knowledge to aid recovery of this endangered species.


A special thanks to Friends of the Environment, who have been our piping plover partner on Abaco from the beginning, please check out all the great work they do! Also to the Disney Conservation Fund and The National Audubon Society for funding, as well as Bahamas National Trust for other support and the conservation work they do in the Bahamas in general. Thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey, sponsors of the International Piping Plover Census, for supporting CWF’s inclusion in the surveys. Thanks to Rolling Harbour Abaco for setting up the Abaco Piping Plover Watch this winter to help us keep track of piping plovers and raise local awareness. Thanks to those who participated in the CWF led 2016 census on Abaco and Eleuthera: Brendan Toote, of the College of the Bahamas, Michelle Stantial, of SUNY – ESF, Pam Prichard, and CWF’s own Stephanie Egger and Emily Heiser. And finally, thanks to our local citizen scientists on Abaco who participated in or provided valuable knowledge for the 2016 census, especially Ali Ball, our “super” volunteer!



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Todd Pover is the Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

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.


Bahamas Piping Plover Project

Friday, January 17th, 2014
Eleuthera Edition

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

Piping plover roosting beach on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas.

Piping plover roosting beach on the island of Eleuthera, Bahamas.

Up until now, nearly all of our piping plover conservation work in the Bahamas has been focused on the island of Abaco.  One of the objectives of our Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund grant is to identify other islands and partners where and with whom the model we are developing on Abaco might be implemented as well.  With this in mind, we spent the past several days on the island of Eleuthera.

Although we believe the basic elements of our Abaco work are transferable to other islands, a “one size fits all” approach may not entirely work.  The various major islands are unified under the Bahamas flag, but each also has its own flavor, history, and way of life.  The best analogy would be that they operate much like the individual states in the U.S.

On Abaco, we have been partnering with Friends of the Environment, a non-profit organization with a strong education and outreach component to all of their work – not so different from what we do here at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation.  On Eleuthera we are hoping to partner with the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) and The Island School.  Although education is at the core of their work as well, it is also different in that they carry out and support primary research and host visiting scientists and students at their campus. (more…)

Plovers in Paradise

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

The Bahamas Blog – Trip 1, Day 5

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

Piping Plovers Bahamas_General Presentation

CWFNJ’s presentation at Friends of the Environment to the local Abaconian community on November 7, 2013.

Last night we presented for the Abaconian community at Friends of the Environment’s office on the international link of piping plovers between the Bahamas and the United States, draft results from the 2011 International Piping Plover Census, and the importance of the Bahamas to piping plovers. We had a decent turnout including David Knowles from the Bahamas National Trust and a writer from the local Abaco newspaper.  We spoke at length with Abaco’s premier birder, Woody Bracey, who has helped with on the ground coordination for piping plover surveys over the last several years.  We hope to work with Woody and other Abaconians to develop a citizen scientist network to survey sites that we have been unable to get to because of time or logistics (i.e. tide cycle, transportation to the site) and to have the network securely in place for the 2016 International Census. (more…)