Tag Archives: Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

#ShareTheShore with one of Our Rarest Shorebirds

Today we’re hearing from piping plover with pink leg band 85. He’s been spotted in several places along his migration journey and would love to share his story as he arrives home to the Atlantic Coast.

Hey everyone! I’ve had a lovely winter vacation in the Bahamas enjoying the crystal clear water and white sand beaches. I’ve eaten my fill of tiny invertebrates in the sand and the changing sun has let me know it’s time to fly. I’ve flown over one thousand miles now and I’m quite exhausted, but it feels great to be home on the beaches of Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Within no time, I revisited my favorite hangouts. I love feeding at the water’s edge and reuniting with old flocks of friends. I recently found my mate, Maverick, and we plan on nesting here this spring.

A couple winters back, I was outfitted with this showy bracelet, lucky number 85. Scientists use it to monitor our population numbers, as we dwindled to 790 pairs in 1986. How scary! Luckily, as of last season, we were up to 1,941 pairs along the Atlantic Coast, with the help of the Endangered Species Act and conservationists. Did you know there are still fewer piping plovers than polar bears? There’s more work for us ahead.

Photo by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Forsythe is one of a handful of national wildlife refuges that provide safe havens for me and my friends. Outside of these areas we face a lot more people—and pets too. We try to deter those who wander too close to our families by feigning a broken wing (See below photo by John Van de Graaff). Our sand-colored eggs hide well from predators, but can easily be stepped on. While many people, and even their furry four-legged companions, can be gentle giants, it’s exhausting work keeping our chicks out of their way.

The cool and crisp waters and wide sandy shore are the perfect places to share with family. Maverick and I hope to have four little eggs in the nest this year. Being my third breeding season, I’ve got parenting down to a science. We’ll spend equal time sitting on the nest, but I’ll wrangle the chicks while their mother forages and regains her strength. This time can be chaotic, having babies running in every direction only hours after hatching.

Piping plover growth chart over 23 days. Photo from Readings from the Northside

We do have some concerns for our little peeps as they grow. Our sandy-colored crew blends into the shells making us hard to spot for some, but also leaves us vulnerable to getting trampled. If that’s not frightening enough, predators like cats and raccoons are drawn to the trash and scraps left behind by others enjoying the shore. Dodging all dangers is a grueling task at best, but thankfully we’ve got biologists and volunteers on our side. My family and friends feel safest on our nest and foraging in the sand without many disturbances. We look forward to our busy summer months on the Atlantic coast and hope our children can experience the same when they return here next spring.

By following some specific steps, we can share the beach with piping plover adults and chicks to help them survive.

  • Follow the guidance on signs and respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife. Your actions can benefit sea turtles, terns, American oystercatchers, and black skimmers, among other animals.
  • Watch these entertaining birds from a distance.
  • If pets are permitted on beaches used by piping plovers, keep them leashed and away from birds. Keep your cats indoors.
  • Remove trash and food scraps from the beach, because they attract animals that might eat piping plovers and their eggs.
  • Do not feed animals on or near the beach.
  • Volunteer as a piping plover monitor, ambassador, or educator on your local beach. Tell your friends and family how to help.


Piping plover

It’s a good year for plovers in Holgate, NJ!

sleepy plover

Sleepy piping plover chick by Kim Caruso, submitted to Home Tweet Home by NestWatch – Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Did you know that this year marks 30 years since the piping plover was protected under the Endangered Species Act? Things didn’t look so good for this little shorebird back then. Thanks to decades of dedicated conservation efforts, the plover has more than doubled its population along the Atlantic Coast. If you’re headed to the beach this summer, find out how you can help us reach recovery!

(This story comes to us from The Sandpaper)

The overwash areas of Holgate have been very good to piping plovers this year and to other beach nesting birds, including least terns and American oystercatchers.

“If there is one thing to take away from our conversation is that Hurricane Sandy was not a bad thing for plovers,” said Paul Castelli, lead wildlife biologist at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, which owns and manages the wilderness areas of Holgate and Little Beach in Little Egg Inlet.

Beach-nesting birds prefer areas that are sparsely vegetated and flat so they can better see predators approaching and their fledglings can negotiate their way to the surf for their first meals of organisms living in the surf zone.

What Superstorm Sandy did in October 2012 was send a series of waves right over much of the Holgate wilderness area, flattening dunes and killing vegetation. It was a loss for some nesting birds, but a boon for beach nesters.

So far this year, volunteers and scientists have counted 77 piping plovers on Holgate and Little Beach –mostly on Holgate – and 55 piping plover nests that have fledged over 30 chicks. In addition there have been 51 American oystercatcher nests and 427 adult least terns with 155 chicks.

“It’s been very busy down there,” said Castelli. “These are the largest numbers of beach-nesting birds we’ve ever seen, or at least in recent years. It’s a combination of over-wash areas (for nesting) and good habitat management and protection.”

Castelli said last year was also a good year contributing to plover numbers, but the species is still considered in decline in New Jersey and is on both the federal and state endangered list and needing protection. In 2015, there were 24 nesting pairs, double the number that nested in 2014. Now it has doubled again. [EDITORIAL NOTE: The population doubled following Hurricane Sandy from 12 to 24 pairs last year. The 2016 population remained high at 25 pairs!]

Least terns are also on both lists, and the American Oystercatcher is a species of concern in New Jersey. Foxes and raccoons are the worse predators of nests, but those have been kept under control, and the practice of enclosing nests to keep predators out while allowing birds in and out has been carried out by volunteers.

“Mostly it’s the sheer numbers of people that we need to protect them from,” said Castelli. “I know it’s controversial to close beaches to people, but it really pays off, especially in years like this.”

This year, Jonathan Cohen and an intern Michelle Stantial from the State University of New York, Syracuse, College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, have been banding the birds.

Piping plover

Photo of a piping plover chick by Kim Caruso – it won the recent Home Tweet Home photo contest from NestWatch – Cornell Lab of Ornithology!

“This makes it easier to better calculate which birds are successful at breeding, which birds are re-nesting and which birds are leaving to go to Cape May or somewhere else to nest. It’s a big deal to get a handle on the behavior of an endangered species,” said Castelli. “Banding is only done by individuals that are trained and have a high level of competency,” he added.

Plovers and other shorebirds are just starting to migrate south, a process that goes on for about two months. Ones that are landing to rest and fuel up at Holgate today may have come from as far away as Canada’s shores.

The Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Management Area is run under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This year the service joined with the nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey and its state coordinator and manager for the beach nesting birds project, Todd Pover.

According to Pover, piping plovers have very strong site fidelity, so adults tend to come back to the same site year after year, often to the same patch of beach. The young will return to the same patch of beach but have to lay claim to their own territory as existing pairs fight for theirs. This territorial fight may be why a single nesting pair of plovers has staked a claim on the tip of Island Beach State Park, closing that area to fishermen through the summer.

Pover hires seasonal workers to inform tourists on why the Holgate Wilderness Area is closed during the summer and the importance of the wilderness beach to beach-nesting birds. The Holgate Wilderness Area can be visited when volunteers are there for one-hour guided walks that start at the Holgate bulkhead. Be prepared for walking, wear appropriate clothing, and bring water, sunscreen and insect repellent. Loaner binoculars and pamphlets are provided.

The shorebird tour is held Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 to 11 a.m. thru Sept. 1. The Ever-Shifting Sands tour is held on Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m., and a Wilderness Walk is held on Fridays, Beachcombing held on Sundays, same time. If guides are not available, then the tours are canceled.

For more information, call 609-652-1665.

— Pat Johnson


See more photos at the Nest Watch.

Through the eyes of the interns: E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

During the summer of 2014, interns at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey focused on monitoring piping plover and other beach nesting birds, as well as conducting salt marsh inventories and forest surveys.  Along the way, interns also banded Canada geese, wood ducks, salt marsh sparrows and ospreys, collected tiger beetles, and entered and proofed lots of data!  Much of the data collected by interns this summer will serve as a baseline for evaluating Hurricane Sandy resilience restoration and enhancement work that will begin next year.  The accompanying video was put together by the 2014 intern staff to document this work. Enjoy!