CHATHAM – This past summer, the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge attracted more plovers and terns than previous years, although productivity was mixed.
According to a report by refuge wildlife biologist Kate Iaquinto, more piping plovers and terns nested on Monomoy this summer, and while tern productivity was up, fewer plover chicks fledged than last year.
The refuge saw 52 pairs of federally-threatened plovers nesting this summer, up from 45 pairs last year. There were 65 fledged chicks documented, a productivity rate of 1.25 chicks per nest down from last year's productivity of 1.41 chicks per nest. The report attributes the decline to increased predation from common grackles and gulls as well as a major overwash in June.
“Although this year's productivity is considered good, the refuge is still below its goal of maintaining a five-year average productivity of 1.5 chicks fledged per pair,” the report states. “The productivity achieved this season is not considered adequate to meet recovery plan goals.”
As part of research projects, 25 adult plovers had nanotags placed on them to track their movements both within the breeding season and during the fall migration.
Monomoy's popularity with terns continued. There was a 14 percent increase in the number of common terns nesting on South Monomoy, from 9,203 pairs in 2015 to 10,505 pairs this year. Reproductive success was “excellent,” the report states, with 1.96 chicks fledged per nest. A prescribed burn in November 2015 of 33 acres within the tern colony was effective in increasing suitable nesting habitat for both common the roseate terns, the report states.
Fourteen pairs of federally-endangered nested on the refuge, up from 11 in 2015. Six nests were located in the main tern colony on South Monomoy, with eight located to the south of the main nesting area. Nineteen chicks hatched, 17 of which were banded. Of the 11 adults captured, six had been previously banded and the remaining five had bands attached.
There was a significant increase in least tern nests, from 522 in 2015 to 842 this past summer. Productivity was not measured.
Black-backed gulls, herring gulls, black crowned night herons and coyotes were responsible for tern nest predation, although coyotes had a “minimal impact” on the colony due to “proactive predator management and the fact that the colony is still separated from the mainland,” according to the report.
There was a 92 percent increase in nesting of laughing gulls, from 1,424 pairs last year to 2,738 pairs this summer. To minimize competition for resources with terns, 500 laughing gull nests were destroyed; if the population continues to be above 1,000 nesting pairs, the nest destruction will continue, the report states. The prescribed burn reduced the areas of thick beach grass where the laughing gulls prefer to nest, it added.
Eighteen pairs of American oystercatchers also nested on the refuge this summer, an increase of one pair over last year. Volunteers also tagged 529 horseshoe crabs and staff periodically found tagged crabs throughout the season. The report urges that anyone who finds a tagged horseshoe crab report it by calling the number on the tag.
Also, for the eighth year, the refuge worked with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey on a project to tag red knots, a federally threatened species, with nanotags to collect migratory information. Trapping occurred during three periods on North Beach Island and South Beach, and a total of 85 nanotags were affixed to long- and short-distance migratory red knots in the first two; final numbers for the third trapping period have yet to be compiled, according to the report.
Anyone interested in volunteering on the refuge can contact Refuge Manager Matthew Hillman at 508-945-0594, extension 4001.