Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cape May Shorebirds Now Threatened by Coyotes

Despite better protections against feral cats, the nesting shorebirds around Cape May are still threatened by other predators such as skunks and raccoons. The latest predators to enter the mix are coyotes.

During her ten-week internship at the Jersey shore’s Wetlands Institute near Stone Harbor, Delaware Valley College Senior Liz Dancer was charged with monitoring a least tern colony in Cape May Point State Park. While there, she found tracks that look an awful lot like those of a coyote.

“The tracks around the Cape May nest site most likely belong to coyotes,” said Dancer, who matched the imprints left behind against her hand. “The park guards told me they’ve heard coyotes from time to time.” The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection estimate that roughly 3,000 coyotes inhabit the state, some in Cape May County.

Dancer thinks the birds nesting in Cape May have a poorer chance of hatching their eggs because more predators are on the prowl there. To learn more about it, she is planting electronic temperature recording devices called iButtons against eggs in nests in Cape May, as well as Sea View Marina in Longport, NJ.

“iButtons can detect temperature fluctuations when a bird is incubating or when it leaves the nest to escape predators. This new technology allows wildlife managers to understand how frequently predators are interrupting incubation” said Ilene Eberly, Coordinator of Research and Conservation.
Coyotes are definitely in the area. From one of the raptor banding sites I have heard them howling in response to the fire sirens at Cape May Point and several other towns on the island. It sounds like there are a lot of them, too.