Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Piping Plovers’

A Return to Horseshoe Island

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

This marked the second year that CWF worked in close partnership with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife and Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (EBF) to monitor and manage birds on Horseshoe Island. The island, located just offshore on the southern edge of the Little Egg Inlet, has quickly become one of the most important sites for beach nesting birds in the state, as well as a critical resting and feeding site for migratory shorebirds.

Horseshoe Island hosted the state’s largest black skimmer (state endangered) colony this year with just over 1400 total adults or about 700 pairs. Although flooding and some avian predators impacted the overall nesting success at the island, at least 225 skimmer chicks “fledged” from the site. Horseshoe’s skimmer fledglings, along with those from nearby Holgate, a unit of EBF, and especially from Stone Harbor Point in Cape May County, made 2023 a moderately good productivity year for black skimmers in New Jersey.

A small portion of the black skimmer and royal tern colony on Horseshoe Island.
Photo credit: Teri Bowers
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Beach Nesting Birds- an Insider’s Look from CWF’s Seasonal Monitors

Friday, June 30th, 2023

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

With about 50 pairs of both piping plovers and American oystercatchers nesting this year at Holgate, a unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, CWF’s seasonal staff that monitors breeding activity for the Refuge has been working at a non-stop pace. We asked them to take a short break from their field tasks to reflect on their season, for some this is their first experience with beach nesting birds. Specifically, they were asked about their favorite and most surprising things about the birds, so far. Read their responses below, including a little twist of the “least favorite” thing in one case.

CWF’s 2023 beach nesting bird monitoring crew for Edwin B. Forsythe NWR and Horseshoe Island.
Morgan Phillips, Gianna Canale, Audrey Randazzo, Amy Kopec, Dakota Bell (l to r).
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Annual Preparations for Piping Plovers Return to NGTC

Monday, April 10th, 2023

by Sherry Tirgrath, Wildlife Biologist

Each year in the early spring, piping plovers migrate north to their breeding range, which spans from North Carolina to the Canadian island of Newfoundland. The New Jersey coastline has historically been integral for breeding birds to forage and raise chicks, although suitable habitat is becoming more and more of a rarity in the state. The increase in development, as well as the impact of storms, shoreline erosion and climate change, have permanently altered much of the Jersey shore. Nesting habitat for beach-nesting birds is limited, and predators with exploding populations benefiting from human presence along the coast, make their homes among the beach vegetation and nearby man-made domiciles. Natural beaches with minimal recreational usage are extremely valuable for beach-nesting birds in NJ, with most located along the southern shores. However, some Monmouth County beaches like the National Guard Training Center beach in Sea Girt, are managed to protect the natural resources that are present and continue to host nesting plovers annually. 

The NGTC beach is monitored throughout the year by Conserve Wildlife Foundation biologists assigned to the duty as part of the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan for the site, established by the NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA). Included in that plan are various surveys, practices and regulations designed to protect vulnerable species and habitats on the site while still allowing public recreation and beach maintenance to occur. The south half of the beach is a popular bathing beach that is free to military, veterans, police, and their families. The north half is primarily designated as natural beach where recreation is not encouraged. Piping plovers have nested in the Northern Protection Area for the last four years, from 2019 to 2022, with the same resident pair returning each year to reclaim their territory. Piping plovers “Joey” and “Hamlet” had a bitter end to their long-term relationship last year when Hamlet was found deceased, likely killed by an avian predator. Joey attempted to renest with a new female he met later in the season but was unsuccessful. Eventually, both birds moved on. However, given that he survived his winter retreat, Joey may return to the NGTC for 2023 and try to attract a new mate.

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Barnegat Light Habitat Maintenance – Prepping for Piping Plovers

Thursday, February 23rd, 2023

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist 

When the Barnegat Light habitat restoration was completed to benefit piping plovers several winters ago, the partners anticipated it would need periodic maintenance to keep it in optimal condition. As it has turned out, the inlet beach site has needed more frequent attention, an annual winter “touch-up” to prep the site for the nesting season. With this in mind, earlier this month, Todd Pover, CWF Senior Wildlife Biologist was on-site for nearly a week to oversee the habitat work. 

The maintenance this winter primarily focused on the two foraging ponds, as those features have proved critical to the success of the plovers utilizing the site. Thick vegetation was mechanically removed from about three-quarters of the perimeter of the large pond. Excessive vegetation can obstruct piping plovers, especially their chicks, from using the pond’s edge to feed. The heavy vegetation can also provide cover for predators. Meanwhile, the smaller pond was filled in with sand due to late fall/early winter storms and tidal surge. Although the small pond has needed to be “refreshed” each winter, this was the first time it had to be entirely re-dug. Experience has shown that having two ponds present at the site – giving plovers alternative feeding options if one pond is not accessible or as productive during a portion of the season – has been a key element in boosting productivity, especially as more plovers chose the site to nest. In addition to the pond work, some vegetation thinning or removal was also completed to enhance the suitability of the nesting areas as plovers prefer sparsely vegetated areas to lay their eggs. 

Invasive vegetation being removed from the edge of the large piping plover foraging pond.
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Piping Plover and Least Tern Workshop

Friday, February 17th, 2023

by Meaghan Lyon, Wildlife Biologist

At the beginning of February, CWF biologists Todd Pover, and Meaghan Lyon attended the USFWS’s Piping Plover and Least Tern Workshop at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. The winter season is the perfect time for beach nesting bird folks to gather and discuss the status of each state’s breeding population and how we can do better to reach recovery goals for these endangered species in the coming years.

For management purposes, the east coast of the United States is broken up into three sections; the Southern recovery unit, the mid-Atlantic recovery unit (this is New York and New Jersey!), and the New England recovery unit. The Southern recovery unit, consisting of plovers breeding from North Carolina north to Delaware, has been on a decreasing trend for productivity and not meeting recovery goals, whereas the population in New England is booming with pairs (so much so that plovers are nesting in parking lots and the backyards of beach front homes!). New Jersey and New York have been holding steady with 581 pairs of piping plover combined and just barely meeting our collective recovery goal.

Topics of high interest among the group of roughly 100 participants included predators, migratory pathways, and advancing diversity and inclusion among our community. Biologists across the coast have been grappling with predation by ghost crabs and this could be increasingly problematic in the future with impacts from climate change. As the climate warms, we could be seeing more mild winters, which translates to less crab die off during the winter and bigger crabs during the beach nesting bird season, thence becoming more of a threat to nests and chicks.

Workshops like this allow us to join together and discuss what is working and what is or could be problematic in the future so that biologist across the range can be well equipped with the knowledge and connections to protect plovers and all of the other species that use beach habitats across the range.