Tag Archives: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge

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.

back barrier salt marsh at Prime Hook_usfws_flickr_2013

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.

2_provided by art copolla

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.





At Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Mother Knows Best

A new video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers an overview of the coastline and salt marsh restoration at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on Delaware Bay. “Building a Stronger Coast: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge” is a behind-the-scenes look at how engaged partners and visionary science came together to improve conditions for wildlife and the local community.

After Hurricane Sandy breached the beach at Prime Hook, spilling salt water into an area long managed as a freshwater marsh, refuge staff decided to work with Mother Nature to build a stronger coast.

“We know that we’re going to see more-frequent intense storms,” said Refuge Manager Al Rizzo, “so we didn’t want to put it back into a situation that was vulnerable to the next storm.” Credit: Citizen Racecar

The $38-million project, supported by federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, rebuilt 4,000 acres of marsh and one mile of dune and barrier beach over 18 months. The restoration, one of the largest and most complex of its kind on the Atlantic Coast, enhances habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. It also makes the coast more resilient to future storms and sea-level rise.

A suction-cutterhead dredge expands the width and depth of one of the primary channels in the marsh. Credit: USFWS

The refuge is an important stopover site for migratory shorebirds, including federally threatened rufa red knots, which rest and refuel there during their long migrations along the Atlantic Coast. Delaware Bay also has the world’s largest population of horseshoe crabs, which spawn in the spring. The birds can eat their fill of the crab eggs, then be on their way north.

For decades, refuge staff managed the marsh as freshwater habitat for ducks and geese by blocking tidal flow from the bay. Hurricane Sandy flooded the marsh with sea water, killing the freshwater plants.

After closely studying state-of-the-art computer models, managers decided restoring the marsh to its natural state was the way to go. It is open once again to the ebb and flow of the tides, which will let salt-marsh plants and wildlife return.

“The project is an investment that is already paying off,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who is featured in the film. “The dunes are holding up, the marsh is rebounding, and wildlife is thriving. I hope other areas of our country — and the world — can learn from this success.” Credit: Citizen Racecar

The restored marsh will buffer the effects of storms and sea-level rise, protecting private property and public infrastructure, such as roads. Acting like a giant sponge, the marsh will absorb water to reduce flooding. It will also offer recreation, such as fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching. A new low, wide dune and barrier beach offer a natural defense against rising water.

Managers will use storm-tide sensors, placed in the marsh, to gauge the project’s success. The sensors measure wave height, speed, force, and extent during storms. The information will help scientists create better models for storm surge and flood forecasting, as well as understand how restored marshes spread out storm-tide and wave energy.

“Federal funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery has provided us with a window of opportunity to protect this fragile marsh, while also helping protect our coastal bay-front communities from flooding,“ said Delaware Sen. Gary Simpson (R-Milford), who is interviewed in the video. Credit: Citizen Racecar

Returning the coastline to a more natural state makes it a healthier place for both wildlife and people to live — proving that sometimes, Mother really does know best.

View the video here.

Seeds of Success Interns at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Building a Stronger Coast — One Seed at a Time

Seeds of Success, a native seed collection program led by the Bureau of Land Management, is helping to restore and strengthen coastal areas vulnerable to intense storms and sea-level rise predicted with a changing climate.

Seeds of Success: Bureau of Land Management Intern in North Carolina Field

Seeds of Success: A Bureau of Land Management intern on the lookout for native seeds in a North Carolina field. Credit: Amanda Faucette, Conservation Botanist, North Carolina Botanical Garden

Seeds of Success (SOS) collects wildland native seed for research, development, germplasm conservation and ecosystem restoration. The ultimate goal is to ensure the availability of genetically rich, regionally adapted native plant materials to restore, rehabilitate and stabilize lands in the United States through the multi-stage process of native plant material development (NPMD).  NPMD begins with these wildland seed collections being utilized for plant production and seed increases.  In this way, when environmental restoration projects need native species to plant in a given region, they are able to source genetically and ecologically appropriate materials, which ultimately supports the goal of allowing native plant communities to flourish and fish and wildlife habitats to thrive.

Seeds of Success: Michael Piantedosi

Michael Piantedosi, NEPCop/Seed Bank Coordinator of New England Wild Flower Society collects Asclepias syriaca at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington, New Hampshire. Credit: James Lucas, Seeds of Success Intern, New England Wild Flower Society

Since being established in 2001, SOS has added more than two dozen agencies to its list of collaborators and project partners — including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program recently launched the first large-scale, coordinated seed banking effort in the eastern United States as part of the $360 million in federal Hurricane Sandy mitigation funding the Department of the Interior is using to restore and rebuild national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal assets on the Atlantic coast. SOS East targets 30-50 foundation species found in habitats most impacted by Hurricane Sandy, designed to increase the capacity of coastal habitats and infrastructure to better withstand storms.

Under the SOS East program, the New England Wild Flower Society, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation), Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Cape May Plant Materials Center, are collaborating to provide seed from native, locally adapted plants for restoration of sub-tidal habitats and dunes, wetlands, salt marshes, near-coastal freshwater habits, coastal forests, and inland rivers and streams. Much of the vegetation in these habitats was inundated by salt water, smothered sand, or washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy.

Bureau of Land Management Intern collecting Pluchea odorata (Sweetscent) at Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway, NJ

BLM Intern collecting Pluchea odorata (Sweetscent) at Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway, New Jersey. Credit: Clara Holmes, Seed Collection Coordinator, Mid Atlantic Regional Seed Bank

During the next two years, SOS East will work directly with the Service, providing native seeds to supplement Hurricane Sandy habitat resiliency projects.  In its first collection season, teams have made over 700 wild seed collections. Currently 28 federally funded Service Hurricane Sandy restoration projects from Maine to Virginia are using native plant materials gathered through SOS. Among these is the Hyde Pond Dam Removal on Whitford Brook in Mystic, Connecticut.

“Following dam removal, project partners will sow these seeds collected from local, native plants on bare soil to help hold the soils in place, preempt colonization by invasive, non-native plants, and provide habitat for pollinator insects, birds, and other wildlife,” says Service fish and wildlife biologist Lori Benoit.

Benoit says the New England Wild Flower Society will make a significant contribution to restoring the wetlands and forest surrounding the Hyde Pond Dam site.

Another Service project reaping the benefits of the SOS East project is salt marsh restoration and enhancement at Seatuck and Wertheim National Wildlife Refuges, and Lido Beach Wildlife Management Area in Long Island, N.Y. Collaborating with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB), project partners will sow native low and high salt marsh plant species.

Seeds of Success Interns at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Seeds of Success interns harvesting marsh grass seeds at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware. Credit: Susan Guiteras/USFWS

In addition to benefiting coastal natural resources, SOS partners provide opportunities for recent college graduates to get involved in the program by hiring interns, through Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation Land Management Program, to help out with seed collection. These interns get the opportunity to venture out into the field in search for seed, often accessing remote coastal areas. A team of SOS interns in Delaware spent time collecting native seeds for many plants, including those that will be planted at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge as part of tidal marsh restoration. This is one example of intern participation in an SOS partner project, collecting native seeds that will help to ensure that the restoration plantings include local ecotypes, which can be important for plant survival and success.

“Using locally-collected seeds will give the new plants the best chance for success, as they will be well-adapted for local growing conditions,” says Bart Wilson, the Service’s marsh restoration coordinator at Prime Hook.

To date, SOS has accumulated more than 16,000 native seed collections in its national collection. Each seed has played its own role in bringing native species back to life in areas where their populations have been depleted. Acting as thousands of little building blocks, these seeds and the people who collect, distribute, and nourish them into living species are working together to impact ecosystems effected by Sandy as well as habitats all over the country.

To learn more about this program, visit:
Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank

Bureau of Land Management Seeds of Success Program 

New England Wild Flower Society: Seed Collection for Coastal Restoration Projects after Hurricane Sandy

North Carolina Botanical Garden news release: Seeds of Success Grow in the Eastern U.S. (pdf)