SEA BRIGHT: Beachgoers to Sea Bright, Sandy Hook and Long Branch will again find a portion of the beach is a protected habitat for a shore bird that continues to be on the endangered species list.
Piping plovers likely make this area their breeding and nesting grounds, and for a duration of the summer the Department of Environmental Protection will be monitoring that habitat. That means some areas are off-limits so as to not disturb piping plover.
It’s been that way for years, as the summer means square shaped areas are cordoned off, and pet-owners are asked to keep their dogs on leashes. The National Gateway Area at Sandy Hook is considered the “summer home” of piping plover, according to the park service.
The species is protected under the Endangered Species Act. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Service, the birds have struggled since the 19th century, when their feathers were in demand for hats, and commercial development threatened them again post WWII, as coastal habitat was lost.
And while "Intensive protection has helped the population more than double in the last 20 years," according to the FWS, the most recent surveys count the Atlantic piping plover population at fewer than 2,000 pairs.
The small birds began making their journey from thousands of miles south to this area in the spring. According to the National Park Service: “In the early spring, while local commuters dodge cold rain and surprise snowfalls, tiny birds fly thousands of miles from the warm shores of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean to the shores of New York Harbor. They make their summer homes along waterfront property at Gateway's Sandy Hook and Breezy Point areas.”
In Sandy Hook, park rangers and volunteers section off with string fencing and build wire covers to protect their nests from predators. The areas are protected from mid-March to September.
For Sea Bright, the borough reminded residents that it is again piping plover season, and sent out news to its newsletter subscribers last month during the delicate nesting time for the tiny birds.
Amid the habitat concerns this year is unrelated rebuilding projects from Hurricane Sandy. Volunteers for Sea Bright for dune planting had to be mindful of the piping plover habitat as they spent the day removing debris and planting native species.
A section of Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park is also reserved for the birds.
Although they are tiny with mostly sand-colored plumage, the piping plover also has orange legs, a dark band across their head and short black beak, and a distinct "piping" call.Their nests are small, near the dune line, and often marked with stones or shell fragments. The birds, their eggs and nests are often hard to spot.
The NWS has some advice for beach goers to help protect the piping plover:
• Respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife. • Do not approach or linger near piping plovers or their nests • If pets are permitted on beaches used by plovers, keep your pets leashed. • Do not leave or bury trash or scraps of food on beaches -- food attracts plover predators.
For more information about Atlantic coast piping plovers, see http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover