Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monitoring Plovers

Piping plover nesting season is once again upon us, and New Jersey is preparing to monitor nesting sites.

For the past two decades, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has directed a plover monitoring system that partly relies on a hardy and loyal band of volunteers to try to create a safe environment for breeding pairs of the endangered piping plovers.

Despite their efforts, however, New Jersey’s plover population is at best holding steady, even though the bird’s numbers have increased in other states. A 1991 count by the United States Geological Survey found 280 birds in New Jersey; last year, the Division of Fish and Wildlife found 111 nesting pairs in four coastal counties: Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May. By contrast, New York’s plover population went to 852 birds in 2006 from 334 birds in 1991. New Jersey ranks fourth in East Coast plover population, behind Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, according to the survey.

Predators and habitat loss to development have taken their toll on the state’s plovers, according to Todd Pover of the nonprofit Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. Last year disaster struck when a strong storm on Mother’s Day flooded beaches and destroyed many plover nests.
The lack of improvement is disturbing, but I cannot say I am surprised. The article mentions predation; while that is a problem for plovers, it is not unique to New Jersey. Other states also have gulls, foxes, and cats on their beaches. New Jersey, though, has relatively little natural beach remaining with what remains concentrated into a few state and federal parks. Most of the rest has been developed for housing or boardwalks, leaving plovers with few real breeding areas. Even those natural areas that do remain are very crowded during breeding season. Given those circumstances, holding steady might be an accomplishment in itself.