Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Stone Harbor Point’


Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
Assessing the damage to coastal wildlife and their habitat

By Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

CWFNJ Wildlife Biologist, Stephanie Egger, surveying American Oystercatchers post Hurricane Sandy.

As we all know Hurricane Sandy caused severe damage and devastation to New Jersey residents, homes, and their businesses, but we must not forget that wildlife can also suffer from the impacts of a hurricane.  CWFNJ’s Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager, Todd Pover, Alfred Breed, CWFNJ Field Technician, and myself, conducted wildlife/habitat assessments on beaches from Brigantine to Cape May after the storm.  Our nesting sites further north in Ocean and Monmouth Counties were still not accessible at that time to evaluate.  We assessed nesting habitat for beach nesting bird species, especially Piping Plover as well beach/inlet habitat used by migratory shorebirds, particularly American Oystercatchers.

A view of the severe erosion at Strathmere Natural Area, Cape May County, NJ.

As expected, many of our nesting sites and sites that are also used by migratory shorebirds for roosting were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, losing a great deal of sand and suitable habitat.  However, in some locations such as Stone Harbor Point and North Brigantine Natural Area, the storm scoured out areas with too much vegetation which is good for beach nesters as they prefer sparsely vegetated areas. Sand was also pushed back into the dunes to create blowouts and overwash areas that may serve as additional habitat.  Many of the areas seem to be very low lying now from the loss of sand and might be more flood prone which could impact the beach nesters in the spring.

We also observed migratory songbirds, golden-crowned kinglets, which were taking shelter and flittering through the back dune/bayberry habitat right after the storm.  This was a good reminder of the value of New Jersey coastal habitat for songbirds as they migrate down the coast.

American Oystercatchers roosting with juvenile Black Skimmers at Strathmere Natural Area, Cape May County, NJ

As part of our assessment, we conducted American Oystercatcher surveys as a significant number use New Jersey beaches for roosting during the fall and winter.  Luckily, approximately 900-1,000 American Oystercatchers were still using our southern coastal inlets after Sandy, about the same number of birds observed the week before the storm.  Thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation we were already conducting fall surveys for American Oystercatchers and in the position to compare their numbers before and after the storm.

Only time will tell if the habitat will build back up enough in time for the spring as the birds begin to arrive for the nesting season or if it will have lasting impacts on migratory bird species. We hope to conduct further assessments to gain a better understanding of the short- and long-term impacts to wildlife from Hurricane Sandy and how that may affect conservation and recovery effort for these species moving forward.





For CWFNJ’s videos of wildlife and habitat assessments click on the links below:

Wildlife Assessment Post Hurricane Sandy at North Brigantine Natural Area, NJ

Wildlife Assessment Post Hurricane Sandy at Stone Harbor Point, NJ

Wildlife Assessment Post Hurricane Sandy at Strathmere Natural Area, NJ

Piping Plover Dreams

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
How to Make a Plover Biologist’s Day!

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Group of Post-breedingl Piping Plovers Roosting at
Stone Harbor Point
Photo courtesy of Sam Galick

We spend a lot of time on the beach nesting bird project discussing the love/hate relationship the public has with piping plovers. For every person that supports our conservation efforts for this highly vulnerable shorebird, there seems to be at least two people that complain the plovers take up too much of the beach or prevent dogs from being allowed on the beach.

But every once in awhile, you have one of those perfect encounters that makes all the work worthwhile, so I thought I’d share a recent one with you.

Last week I was conducting a piping plover migration and band resighting survey at Stone Harbor Point. The fact that it was an extremely warm and sunny October day – extending the illusion of summer for just a wee bit longer – alone should have been enough to make me content. Then there was the very cooperative flock of 13 piping plovers, including three with color bands that I recognized as our summer breeders. All and all, it was shaping up as a good day in the field!

As I was almost wrapping up my survey I noticed a birdwatching couple a little further down the beach gazing off into the distance through a scope. On the off-chance they had noticed some plovers I had missed I approached them to see what they were looking at.

“Seeing anything interesting?” I inquired.

“A flock of royal and caspian terns, but no, nothing much really,” the man replied. And then out of the blue he added, “No piping plovers.”

This was a surprising comment since I hadn’t prompted him and October isn’t exactly prime time for piping plover viewing in New Jersey (or anywhere on the breeding grounds for that matter). I proceeded to strike up a conversation with the couple. It turned out they were from Holland, this was their first trip to the U.S., and they were on a birding/nature trip that was starting in the Cape May area.

We talked a little about the work I did and then, naturally, I mentioned to them that there actually was a group of piping plovers just 50 yards away from them on the beach. Given their pale sand color, even more so in non-breeding plumage, I wasn’t surprised the couple had walked right past the plovers.

The man’s eyes widened and he said, “Really?”

Of course, I led them back to the plovers. As we approached the plovers and they came into clear view, the man stopped and turned to me and said, “I have been dreaming of seeing a piping plover for years.”

It isn’t too often you get to make someone’s dream come true. And it is nice to know someone else is dreaming of plovers other than me.

Increasing our piping plover knowledge for greater protection measures

Monday, September 10th, 2012
Determining flight movements and patterns of piping plovers

By Sarah Scheffer, CWFNJ Seasonal Field Technician

This year’s chapter of the Beach Nesting Bird Project brought with it many unique opportunities, particularly with the placement of color bands on nearly 30 of our piping plovers at two locations along the New Jersey coastline. Nesting adults and four chicks from Stone Harbor Point and Avalon were given bands, which we have been using to conduct resight surveys to understand how adults and juveniles move about before migrating. In the long term, these bands can be used to determine if birds return to the same breeding grounds or natal sites, and where they overwinter. The banding was carried out by two researchers from the State University of New York, Emily Heiser and Christy Weaver, as part of a project to determine flight movements and patterns of piping plovers in order to be able to minimize risks to these threatened shorebirds when assessing the placement of wind turbines. Luckily, some of the CWFNJ team, including myself, was able to provide assistance and help with the banding!

Placing the funnel trap around Piping Plover nest to capture the birds for banding.

Being able to band the piping plovers was a truly special experience. Nesting adults were captured by manipulating the predator exclosures (wire cages) placed over their nests to create only one entrance and one exit into a netted tunnel. Once captured the plovers were then carefully measured and weighed to determine crucial information such as body mass, wing length, and beak size. Using a small specialized tool, brightly colored plastic bands were placed on the legs of each bird to give them their own unique combination. Banding schemes can vary depending on who performs the banding and can include small flags and metal or plastic bands placed on the legs. At our two New Jersey sites, birds were given four bands, two on the upper portion of each leg. Piping plovers at Stone Harbor Point sport a green band on the top of each leg, while those at Avalon wear blue bands.

Piping Plover from Avalon NJ dubbed Whitney Houston (aka blue/grey blue/green) in hand for color banding.
Courtesy of Emily Heiser.


These bands have made it much easier to identify individual birds and to observe their habits. Along with the band combinations, we decided to give the plovers nicknames as well! Although the nicknames are definitely something that adds a little bit of fun to identification, they are actually quite practical as well. The nicknames helped to streamline communication about what was happening at each nesting site. For example, it is much easier to say that Bruce (Springsteen) was observed incubating his nest, than to say the bird with green gray, green yellow (band combinations are read from top to bottom, from left to right) was seen incubating.

During the summer piping plover breeding season, our duties included checking the breeding sites and the individual nests or broods every day. As the season progressed, resight surveys were also performed. A section of beach was regularly traversed and the number, location, and activities of the banded piping plovers were noted. These surveys give us crucial information about the site and the movements of the plovers, as well as when they depart to migrate. After her nest was lost in a flood tide, a banded female nicknamed Ivana was observed to have begun her migration and was spotted soon after in Virginia! As most staff check on the same sites every day, we became well acquainted with each bird and their particular idiosyncrasies. The increased ease of identification of these birds has helped turn up some surprising information. The banding project has resulted in a wealth of knowledge and the possibility to further understand the New Jersey population.