Category Archives: aquatic connectivity

(The Real) Plovers of New York

Beaches, bagels, and ’burbs: the three B’s of Long Island. If you haven’t been to the island—like me, prior to this week—you probably associate the area with some of these trademarks. But do you know about one of the tiniest but most important ‘B’s on the island—birds?

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Outreach coordinator Bret Serbin’s first trip to Long Island with Long Island field biologists, USFWS.

Long Island is a crucial habitat for many birds, including a number of terns, skimmers, and even a few bald eagles. Only if you look very closely in the right places will you see one of the most important birds on Long Island: the piping plover, a tiny shorebird unique to North America that has been considered threatened since 1986.

Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers

Piping plovers are small migratory shorebirds with white and sandy coloring that nearly camouflages them in their beach surroundings. The Atlantic Coast breeding population was listed as a federally threatened species in 1986 and are considered endangered within the state of New York. Their entire Atlantic Coast New York population is concentrated on Long Island beaches, where they make their nests for the spring and summer and fortify themselves for their long journey south. As you’re reading this, hundreds of plovers are preparing for their imminent migration to their wintering grounds in far-off tropical destinations like the Bahamas and Cuba.

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Here you see an adult and chick plover blend in with their surroundings, USFWS.

Piping plovers love sandy open spaces for their summer homes and thrive on the tiny invertebrates that colonize decaying vegetation known as wrack. But due to major habitat loss and disturbance from beach recreation, plover populations have grown precarious.

Long Island is a crucial site for plover protection and recovery.

Arverne, for instance, is a community on the very western part of the island where there was once no hope for plover reproduction. Now, this site is on track to support the Service’s recovery goal of 575 breeding pairs for the New York-New Jersey area. This success comes after years of dedicated efforts by community members, legislators, and scientists to protect the birds and their environment.

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A beach in Arverne, a success story for piping plover recovery, USFWS.

Piping Plovers of the Great Lakes

 And while Long Island habitats like these have become hotspots for the plovers, the Long Island gang is not alone in the state of New York.

There is a Great Lakes piping plover population (say that 5 times fast) that is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The majority of Great Lakes birds nest in Michigan, but scattered pairs occur in other Great Lakes states including New York. This population went from a low of 12 pairs in 1990 to a high of 75 pairs in 2015, but it remains small enough to be vulnerable to shoreline development, public recreation, predators, human disturbance and extreme weather events.

In 2015, after a 30-year hiatus, Great Lakes piping plovers returned to nest in New York State on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

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Assessing the health of the piping plover chicks on Sandy Island Beach State Park, USFWS.

This year there was another documented successful breeding pair that took up residence at Sandy Island Beach State Park in Pulaski, New York. Four plover chicks were reared and fledged while being closely monitored by conservation scientists. The New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) designated a protected bird nesting area which allowed these plovers to have a safe place to nest and forage for food. Parks hired full time staff to educate beach goers as well as protect the plovers out on Sandy Island Beach.

Ways to Protect Plovers

 Ways we can help protect all populations of piping plovers is to continue to protect and conserve habitat. If carefully and thoughtfully planned, development can occur on shorelines without affecting nesting plovers or landowner enjoyment or access to the shoreline.

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Keeping our distance from the chicks by walking in the water during a health survey, USFWS.

Invasive plants such as spotted knapweed, lime grass and phragmites rapidly take over and alter habitat along the shorelines and dunes, making it less desirable for nesting plovers. Removal of invasive plants each season will help maintain plover habitat.

As a beach goer there are some simple ways we can share the beach with piping plover adults and chicks and help them survive:

  • Follow the guidance on signs and respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife.
  • Watch these entertaining birds from a distance.
  • If pets are permitted on beaches, keep them leashed and away from birds.
  • Remove trash and food scraps, which attract animals that might eat piping plovers and their eggs.
  • Do not feed animals on or near the beach. Keep your cats indoors.
  • Volunteer as a piping plover monitor, ambassador, or educator on your local beach. Tell your friends and family how to help.

Starting in April, sites with proper nesting habitat are surveyed to locate nesting piping plovers. Once a nest is found it is protected by placing a wire enclosure over the nest. This provides protection from predators, while allowing the adult plovers to come and go for feeding. The entire nesting site is posted to inform people to keep their distance.

You can take initiative to help keep piping plovers safe and continue to allow this amazing migratory species to not only survive, but thrive.

This blog was written in partnership with Bret Serbin from the Long Island Field Office

 

Connecting students with their watershed, one trout at a time

Have you ever held a juvenile brook trout in your hand?

Up until last week my answer to that would have been no.

This week was the huge culmination of work going on in K-12 classrooms across the country.

Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students in grades K-12 get the chance to raise trout from eggs to fry (a juvenile fish).

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5th graders assessing habitat quality prior to release – USFWS

These students are responsible for caring for the fish, monitoring tank water quality, and learning about stream habitats.

This truly unique program fosters a conservation ethic and provides a firsthand look and appreciation for water resources and all those who depend on them.

Most programs end the school year by releasing their trout in a state-approved stream near their school or within a nearby watershed.

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Selected area for release, Virgil Creek in Dryden, NY – USFWS

During the year, each teacher tailors the program to fit his or her curricular needs and therefore, each program is unique. This in turn provides younger generations with new skills and knowledge to help ensure healthy waterways and robust trout populations in the future.

The eastern brook trout is often regarded as an aquatic symbol of fresh, clean water. Water quality issues and loss of habitat have contributed to decline of this species over time.

Partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are actively pursuing projects to identify barriers to fish passage, open up more waterways to improve aquatic connectivity in the state, and implement restoration and habitat improvement projects to support sustainable brook trout populations.

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Biologist Justin Ecret evaluating a white sucker fish after an E-fishing demo – USFWS

Being the State fish of New York, brook trout have a long history of being a part of the complex waterways of the State.

Trout in the Classroom offers the opportunity for students to get their feet wet, literally, in the world of wildlife and environmental conservation.

The actions taken to promote diverse fisheries and help conserve a species that needs our help are just a few of the larger rewards students gain from participating in a course like this.

The goals for this project stem from a place of stewardship.

Classroom aquariums provide a direct platform for hands-on learning that can enhance and engage students in not only environmental science and mathematics, but social sciences, fine arts, and physical education.

I spoke with a few students and this is what they had to say about the project,

“Watching the fish get bigger was fun. We would come in to class, check on them, make sure they looked healthy, and kept their water clean. It’s exciting to release them, but I will miss them.”

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The students releasing the brook trout they raised! USFWS

Trout in the Classroom fosters sensitivity about the importance of our shared water resources by engaging students directly. The more we can bring that level of excitement to students the more they can grow to be lifelong proponents of environmental stewardship and conservation.

 

Finding Refuge in Restored Rivers

 

Wildlife refuges are often invisible to those who don’t seek them out. They stand on the periphery of the modern world, separated from the traffic and noise that has come to define our lives. But these havens serve an important function: not only do they provide sanctuary for animals, but they also give conservationists a chance to research, test, and develop best practices without interference from the outside world.

One of these best practices is restoring rivers to their natural state, which the Service and Partners do by upgrading aging infrastructure and using nature-like solutions to create suitable habitat for fish and wildlife. This story maps some of this work as it has been completed in the Northeast.


Since 2009, the Service and partners have removed or replaced more than 507 barriers to fish passage from Maine to West Virginia, reconnecting more than 4,020 miles of rivers and streams and 19,300 acres of wetlands. While some of this work has been supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, partners across the Northeast have matched the Service’s contribution at nearly 5 to 1, contributing $56.1 million to the Service’s $12.5 million to restore aquatic connectivity for wildlife and protect communities.