Author Archives: bradleymeghan

A Passion for Piping Plovers: Annie Larsen, 2017 Refuge Biologist of the Year Award Recipient

Today we recognize Annie Larsen, a wildlife biologist at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware, who is the recipient of our regional Refuge Biologist of the Year Award. Annie has worked for the Service for 26 years and has spent the majority of her career at Prime Hook.

The award recognizes Annie’s dedicated efforts in the spring and summer of 2017 to document and protect piping plovers on the refuge’s recently restored barrier beach. The restoration was part of a $38-million project supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery that also rebuilt 4,000 acres of tidal marsh. The project enhances habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife and makes the coast more resilient to future storms and sea-level rise.

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Annie and learning about her work.  Here’s what she had to say.

Annie Larsen_Credit_ Maddy Lauria_The News Journal

Annie Larsen, Credit: Maddy Lauria/The News Journal

Prime Hook NWR is in a unique position to help piping plovers, which are listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Why is this?

Delaware has so little undeveloped barrier beach habitat left. The State manages some areas, but they are not as strict as we are. The intensive management we do on the refuge in closing the beach and prohibiting a lot of activities gives the birds a chance.

We also were fortunate to receive the Hurricane Sandy funding to create almost two miles of beautiful beach strand parallel to the Delaware Bay. It’s very inviting to migrating and nesting shorebirds and spawning horseshoe crabs, and unusual for our location and situation.

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One of the back barrier salt marshes at Prime Hook NWR, Credit: USFWS

Tell us about your first time seeing piping plovers on the refuge after Hurricane Sandy. What was going through your head? What made these sightings unusual?

The tidal marsh restoration project was still underway in 2016. The spectacular thing was, as we restored the beach —  lo and behold, we saw American oystercatchers and least terns setting up territories and nests! Then, along came a piping plover, and we said “no way.”

I was always told piping plovers wouldn’t nest on a beach with little wave action like on the Delaware Bay because they like the Atlantic coast for habitat. We were shocked. There were still construction crews and equipment out there, and we had a pair of piping plovers set up shop.

The pair laid four eggs, and we enclosed the nest with fencing. It was a late nest and, unfortunately, the eggs were eaten by predators. The pair abandoned the nest, but it was just incredible. That was the first time ever we had piping plovers nest at the refuge. The next year, we had eight pairs of nesting plovers who laid 27 eggs, hatched 18 chicks, and raised 12 to fledging. This was totally mind-boggling to us.

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Annie Larsen (far left) works with Service partners to collect data during the Hurricane Sandy Saltmarsh Restoration Project Fish Characterization Study, Credit: USFWS

What fascinates you most about piping plovers?

I was surprised to see the tenacity with which the pairs do all kinds of tricks to protect their nesting territory. It’s astounding to watch the males chase terns and laughing gulls away. This adult bird, a small fuzzy ball on two sticks, can chase these larger birds away. Watching the male and female work in tandem to build their nest and protect it against other birds and other piping plovers is  stunning. They accomplish so much in such a short time to propagate the species.

piping plovers and chicks_Kaiti Titherington USFWS_flickr

A piping plover and its chicks, Credit: USFWS

feigning broken wing to protect eggs_Ariel Kallenbach_usfws_flickr

Two piping plovers feigning broken wings to protect chicks, Credit: USFWS

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

My biggest joy is sharing what I experience, especially with wildlife and conservation, with the public. I have such a special job — not everybody gets to experience or know about the work happening on the refuge. It’s always a pleasure when people stop me in the field and say ”Hey, what are you doing?” I love to show them the equipment and what I’m working on. It’s rewarding to see how much people truly appreciate the work we do.

I think it’s important for people to have a sense of place. No matter how many seasons I spend at Prime Hook Refuge, every season is a new and exciting thing. With that sense of place, you know how the seasons progress and what comes and goes.  It becomes a neat foundation for a lot of the biological work you do.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

I work for my own satisfaction and the joy it gives me. My career with the Service has given me the opportunity to experience a lot of things. Receiving this award is the culmination of all those experiences, and it’s so heartwarming to see people appreciate my passion. You don’t look for it, but when it happens it’s the greatest thing in the world.

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https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2018/05/21/endangered-piping-plovers-delaware-beach-restoration/623541002/

 

 

In the quest to study bats on Long Island

Last year, biologists at Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex in New York conducted a survey to determine which bat species call Long Island home. 

As the summer sun set and people wound down from a long day of work, a team of biologists from the Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Biodiversity Research Institute were only just beginning their workday. They walked quietly down refuge roads and trails carrying ropes, poles, and reams of mesh as fine as a hair net. The only light came from their bright headlamps. The biologists were on an important 10-day mission: catching bats.

The health of every bat species is important, but biologists were specifically interested in confirming the presence of the federally threatened northern long-eared bat. “We wanted to locate potential maternity colonies and roost sites on the refuges so we can protect them and appropriately manage the habitats they use,” said Camille Sims, the wildlife technician.

To survey bats, refuge staff and BRI scientists used a technique known as mist netting. Camille Sims, the wildlife technician, describes the mist net as as undetectable, fine netting that acts like an invisible volley ball net, gently capturing bats while they search for food. The nets are monitored continuously from dusk until midnight.

Kaibab Bat Survey

Here you can see what a mist net looks like. Photo by: Dyan Bone, Credit: U.S. Forest Service

“We checked the nets every 10 minutes for bats that may have been captured,” Sims said. “As bats fly down roads and trails where the nets are set up, they hit the net and drop into a small pocket. When we find a bat, we lower the net and gently untangle the bat to retrieve it from the net.”

The biologists weighed the bats, measured their forearms and ears, determined their gender, age, species and reproductive status.  Each bat was also fitted with an identification band and wings were examined for signs of white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has devastated bat populations across North America.

Upon completions, bats were safely released back into the night sky.

Ann Froschauer USFWS_little brown bat

This little brown bat may look uncomfortable but using a net is a safe and effective way for biologists to catch passing bats. Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

During the 10-day mist netting surveys at two refuges within the Complex — Wertheim and Elizabeth A. Morton — the team of scientists caught 5 eastern red bats and 26 big brown bats at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge and one eastern red bat and one northern long-eared bat at Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge. The northern long-eared bat also received a radio transmitter to track its location.

The biological team found no evidence of white-nose syndrome during the summer surveys, but they remained alert for signs of the disease. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome mostly affects bats during the winter, but scarring on the wings and remnant traces of the fungus can be detected in the summer. The team at the Complex doesn’t know where their bats hibernate, but northern long-eared bats have been found overwintering on Long Island in crawl spaces under buildings.

In 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened, primarily due to the threat of white-nose syndrome. In the Northeast region alone, the species has declined by up to 99 percent from pre-white-nose syndrome levels at many hibernation sites.

“As someone who cares about wildlife, I am concerned about it [white-nose syndrome] and I wouldn’t want the disease to spread to the bat populations here on Long Island, so I think it’s great news that we haven’t found signs of the disease here,” said Sims.

After many long nights, the summer surveys were completed and the team could catch up on some much needed sleep – knowing that no evidence of white-nose syndrome was found in the bats they documented on Long Island.

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The surveys mentioned in the blog were conducted from June to July 2017 at Wertheim and Elizabeth Morton National Wildlife Refugess. The Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex uses information gathered during the surveys to determine which bat species call the refuge home and identify habitat-use during migration and breeding seasons. This information is important for species protection and best habitat management practices.

To learn more:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region Endangered Species profile on Northern long-eared bat: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nleb/index.html

White-nose syndrome: https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org

Building a garden paradise for pollinators in Rhode Island and in your own backyard

This week is National Pollinator Week (June 19-24), and here at the USFWS we are excited to be joining in on the celebration because we know how critical it is to keep pollinators around. They are incredibly important to human life, as they are essential to growing the food we eat. According to a 2016 study from the USDA, more than 90 species of U.S. specialty crops require pollination. If you eat honey, peaches, berries, or even coffee, thank a pollinator. But unfortunately, their numbers are declining, which could eventually impact the availability of these dietary staples. The good news is that you can help protect them by providing the habitat and food resources they need to survive!

So what can you do to help? It’s simple: build a pollinator garden. With a little planning and some shopping, you can design and build your very own pollinator garden and play host to so many wonderful pollinators, including bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other small animals and insects.  All it takes is a little work, and you can provide a versatile habitat for these animals.

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Credit: Susan Wojtowicz/ USFWS

Tips to starting your pollinator garden:

Use plants native to where you live 

Native plants attract native pollinators. A successful and thriving pollinator garden needs to have both. Native plants are great because they are already adapted to survive in the local climate and soil, and attract the right pollinators.

Unsure about the plants native to where you live? We have provided you with a list of plants native to the Northeast Region (New England states and eastern New York) and to the Mid-Atlantic Region (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.). You can also visit your local garden store or nursery for recommendations on the types of plants that are best suited to your area.

Plant in clusters to create a “target’ for pollinators to find

Birds, bats, bees, and butterflies (and many others) can’t pollinate a flower if they can’t find it. This is where you can help: try planting large, concentrated clusters of the same plant species, rather than one single plant. This makes it easier for passing pollinators to see them and stop.

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While this photo wasn’t taken at a pollinator garden it is a good example of using a variety of plants to attract pollinators. The two plants shown are Jesup’s Milk Vetch (the lilac-colored flower) and Red Columbine (the red and yellow flower) both of which get help from pollinators. Credit: USFWS

Interested in attracting butterflies to your pollinator garden? Here are 7 tips for creating a successful monarch butterfly pollinator garden

Use a variety of plants in your garden

Like us, pollinators need a place to rest and a place to eat. You can help provide this oasis by planting a mixture of native host plants and nectar plants. This variety will provide the necessary food and shelter that many different types of pollinators need to survive. Make your garden habitat a one-stop-shop for pollinators.

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Skipper butterfly on a garden phlox at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, PA. Credit: Frank Miles/USFWS

If you want to learn more about how to create a pollinator-friendly landscape click here

Avoid or limit the use of pesticides in your garden

Remember that harmful chemicals have no place in your garden habitat. Pesticides can kill more than the target pest; they can also kill the very pollinators you are trying to attract. If you find you are having a pest problem, try introducing native predators (for example, praying mantis) into your garden and let them eat the pests.

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Credit: Susan Wojtowicz/ USFWS

Still needing inspiration?

We have good news! With close to 72 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast region alone- from Virginia to Maine- you are all but guaranteed to find a amazing example of a pollinator garden near you.

One of these incredible pollinator gardens is at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island. Here you can explore four native-plant pollinator gardens designed for different environmental conditions including: a shade garden, wet garden, sun garden and butterfly garden. Visitors are encouraged to walk among the beautiful native wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs abuzz with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds, and take in the plants, animals, and habitats native to the State. The gardens are located next to the Kettle Pond Visitor Center.

Check out these photos taken at the garden at Ninigret NWR below

Or you can attend a public tour of the native plant garden at Ninigret NWR on Saturday , June 23 and learn how you can incorporate native plants to your garden.

We hope this has inspired you to build your very own backyard pollinator garden.