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2015 Waterbird Results

Posted on Jan 14, 2016

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division (CT DEEP) has now released the official nesting results for the state-threatened Least Tern and the federally-threatened Piping Plover from the 2015 monitoring season, and the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds (AAfCW) – Audubon Connecticut and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History – has completed our American Oystercatcher report. The first bit of fantastic news is that we hosted a new all-time high number of Piping Plover pairs in the state with 62 attempting to breed on Connecticut beaches in 2015. These pairs were able to fledge 112 chicks, making it the second-highest total ever following our own record of 116 from 2014. Thank you so much to all of our terrific monitors and volunteers for making this possible! Connecticut stands out from the crowd on the Atlantic Coast when it comes to Piping Plover productivity, achieving these sensational sums and easily surpassing management goals while reaching thousands and thousands of people each year in person and through our social media networks.

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Piping Plover adult at Short Beach in Stratford, April 2015

It will be extremely difficult to repeat this level of success in 2016, and we are going to need your help to make it happen as the birds dodge threats including poor weather and high tides, unaware beachgoers, loose dogs and stray cats, natural predators from the land and air, fireworks displays, recreational activities, and more. Please sign up to be a volunteer monitor once again with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, CT DEEP and AAfCW in 2016, and if you are new to monitoring please email ctwaterbirds@gmail.com to join our ranks or find out what you can do to assist. We will likely have an even smaller staff to continue this work in 2016 making your efforts all the more valuable.

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Piping Plover hatchling at Bridgeport’s Pleasure Beach in June 2015

Least Terns had a difficult year in Connecticut in 2015, continuing a disappointing recent trend for the unpredictable species with 241 pairs producing only 27 fledglings. Whether it is a foraging problem and a shortage of food for the young, continually changing coastal habitats and beaches that are now unacceptable quality or condition for nesting colonies, or a preference for other unusually productive locations elsewhere, we are still working to determine the limiting factors for Least Terns.

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Least Tern copulation at Short Beach in Stratford, June 2015

Quite simply it may be that neighboring states currently offer better real estate and a richer menu. CT DEEP reports that June window counts for the species via locations from Maine to Virginia over the past decade indicate the species overall breeding pair population has held steady around 8,000 in these areas with minor deviations each year. While Connecticut has historically had two, three or more times the number of breeding pairs some years, remember that Least Terns are a very mobile colonial nesting species. Only a few groups deciding to nest on a certain sandy beach in a neighboring state can drastically alter our counts and success, but we hope our continual work to improve the quality of life in and around the Long Island Sound will help turn their numbers around.

Last but certainly not least, data from our Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds staff indicates that 2015 was a historically successful year for the American Oystercatcher in Connecticut! The population, consisting of 161 individuals that included 52 breeding pairs and 57 non-breeding individuals, was spread out over 31 different sites including barrier beaches and offshore islands. The breeding pairs successfully fledged an astronomical total of 64 chicks resulting in 1.23 (chicks/breeding pair) productivity.

American Oystercatchers Stratford Point May 9 2015-0501

Three American Oystercatchers flying in the fog off Stratford Point in May 2015

This is a dramatic increase in productivity from previous years, doubling or nearly tripling recent results. It is possible that more American Oystercatchers reached sexual maturity and attempted to breed last year. More significantly, it is our hypothesis that the species generally needs one to two years of nesting experience and attempts at raising chicks before they become adept enough to successfully fledge these young on a consistent basis. Our outreach initiatives have greatly benefited the birds with increased public awareness in critical nesting areas, enhanced protection with additional signage, fencing, and boater engagement, and volunteers monitoring breeding locations on the beach and on boats. In short, our slow and steady past success with American Oystercatchers has ascended to lofty levels as the species achieved this rapid gain and tremendous success due in part to our collective efforts.

Once again, please continue your work as a monitor or volunteer in 2016 or join us for your first season by emailing ctwaterbirds@gmail.com – thank you so much! Stay tuned for the date of the annual shorebird monitor training sessions coming up this March.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator
AAfCW Volunteer Coordinator