Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Shorebird Sister School Network’

International Migratory Bird Day Series: Piping Plover

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016
CWF is Celebrating International Migratory Bird Day all Week Long

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

CWF’s blog on the piping plover is the second in a series of five to be posted this week in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). IMBD 2016 is Saturday, May 14. This #birdyear, we are honoring 100 years of the Migratory Bird Treaty. This landmark treat has protected nearly all migratory bird species in the U.S. and Canada for the last century.

Piping plover. © Steve Byland

Piping plover photo by Steve Byland

The piping plover – a small sand-colored shorebird that nests in New Jersey as part of its Atlantic Coast range from North Carolina up to Eastern Canada –weighs only one to two ounces and is about six to six and a half inches long. These tiny shorebirds migrate all the way to their wintering grounds along the coast of eastern Mexico and on Caribbean islands from Barbados to Cuba and the Bahamas.


Migrants can be seen in New Jersey from early March to late April and again from mid-July to the end of October. Females are the first to leave the breeding grounds, followed by males, then juveniles. Breeding plover “hot spots” in each coastal county of New Jersey are Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit, Barnegat Light, North Brigantine Natural Area and Stone Harbor Point.


We see a number of migratory piping plovers in New Jersey because the Garden State is roughly in the middle of their breeding range. Todd Pover, CWF’s beach nesting bird project manager, reasons that we have a high number of Eastern/Atlantic Coast Canadian breeders that stop in New Jersey — based on band resights — albeit usually for just a day on their way north to breeding grounds. Therefore, New Jersey may play an important role in the piping plover life cycle not just for breeding, but for migration as well, which emphasizes the importance of protecting shorebirds in all phase of their lives or “full life-cycle conservation”.


Piping plovers face a number of threats, including intensive human recreational activity on beaches where they nest, high density of predators, and a shortage of highly suitable habitat due to development of barrier islands and extreme habitat alteration.  Sea level rise and increased storm activity related to climate change will also likely lead to more flooding of nests.


Federally listed as a threatened species in 1986, piping plovers have since recovered in some areas of the breeding range. Yet piping plovers continue to struggle in New Jersey, where they are listed by the state as endangered. For more information about piping plover nesting results in New Jersey, please read Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s 2015 report.

Piping plover chick, photo credit: Asbury Park Press/Nancy A. Smith

Piping plover chick, photo credit: Asbury Park Press/Nancy A. Smith

CWF, in close coordination with NJDFW’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, oversees piping plover conservation throughout New Jersey. Staff and volunteers help erect fence and signage to protect nesting sites, monitor breeding pairs frequently throughout the entire nesting season from March to August, and work with public and municipalities to educate them on ways to minimize impacts. Although conservation efforts on the breeding ground remain the primary focus, in recent years, CWF has also begun to work with partners all along the flyway, in particular on the winter grounds in the Bahamas, to better protect the at-risk species during its entire life-cycle.


We are working hard to link students across the piping plover’s flyway through our Shorebird Sister School Network, where we pair up schools in New Jersey and the Bahamas, one of the most important wintering areas for Atlantic Coast piping plovers. Now, we are hopefully recruiting some Canadian students as well.


Conserve Wildlife Foundation will continue to find innovative ways to save the small migratory shorebird. In 2015, 108 pairs of piping plovers nested in New Jersey, a 17% increase from 2014. What will 2016 bring? Follow us on social media to learn more about the tireless efforts of a team of passionate, dedicated biologists working to save the iconic coastal species.


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

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.