Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Field Season Summary, 2016
Northeast Region, December 22, 2016
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Piping plover with a nanotag.
Piping plover with a nanotag. - Photo Credit: Peter Paton/USFWS 2016
Common Terns over head.
Common Terns over head. - Photo Credit: Becca Mattson/USFWS 2016
Horseshoe Crabs gather to spawn on South Monomoy Island.
Horseshoe Crabs gather to spawn on South Monomoy Island. - Photo Credit: Kate Iaquinto/USFWS 2016
American oystercatcher chicks hiding in the vegetation.
American oystercatcher chicks hiding in the vegetation. - Photo Credit: Cheryl Horton/USFWS 2016

The following update is a summary for the 2016 field season at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). The data within this summary is current as of 22 December 2016 and is subject to change as the data is reviewed and finalized.


Beach Nesting Birds

Piping Plovers:
A total of 52 pairs (63 nest attempts) of federally threatened piping plovers nested on the Refuge during 2016. Forty-nine pairs nested on South Monomoy Island, two pairs were located on North Monomoy Island, and one pair on Minimoy Island. Refuge-wide, the population increased (45 pairs in 2015), but this is primarily due to an administrative boundary change that occurred after the 2015 season.

Sixty-five piping plover chicks were documented as fledged and overall reproductive success was 1.25 chicks fledged per pair. This is a decrease in productivity from 2015 (1.41), but is still above the threshold for maintaining the current population on the Refuge. Lower productivity this season can be attributed to increased common grackle and gull predation. There was also a major overwashing event in early June. Interestingly, a single chick fledged from North Monomoy Island and one fledged from Minimoy Island as well; this is an increase from zero chicks fledged from either island in 2015. 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 productivity achieved this season is not considered adequate to meet recovery plan goals.

The Refuge participated in three research projects pertaining to piping plovers in 2016 including collaborations with US Geological Survey, State University of New York (ESF), and UMass Amherst. UMass master’s student and Refuge Biologist, Kate Iaquinto, and Pathways student Dr. Pamela Loring placed 25 nanotags on adult piping plovers at Monomoy NWR to examine movements within the breeding season and during fall migration.

Common Terns:
South Monomoy Island - A total of 10,505 common terns nested on the north tip of South Monomoy Island in 2016. This is a 14% increase from the 9,203 pairs nesting in 2015. Reproductive success was excellent at 1.96 chicks fledged per nest (based on a subset of 258 A-period nest attempts). Nest predators included great black-backed gull, herring gull, black crowned night heron, and coyote. Coyotes had a minimal impact on the colony this year likely due to a combination of the benefits of proactive predator management and the fact that the colony is still separated from the mainland.
Prescribed Fire - In November 2015, the 33 acre tern colony at the north tip of South Monomoy Island was burned to increase suitable nesting habitat for roseate and common terns by maintaining and expanding the existing mosaic of grass and sand by thinning areas of thick grass cover. Data collected before and after the burn from 80 vegetation plots shows a decrease in thatch from 37% before the burn to 26% after the burn. Percent of woody vegetation, herbaceous cover, and sand were also compared and showed an increase in percent sand from 46% to 62% and a decrease in herbaceous cover from 51% to 35%. Woody vegetation increased slightly from 3% to 4%. These numbers show that the burn was indeed effective in increasing suitable nesting habitat for both roseate and common terns.
Minimoy Island - During the A-census on Minimoy Island, zero common tern nests were found (1 in 2015, 0 in 2014, 0 in 2013, and 364 in 2012). This decrease is due to habitat loss caused by repeated winter storms which have eroded the main nesting dune. Habitat loss on Minimoy Island continues with frequent overwash events occurring throughout the season.
North Monomoy Island - There were two common tern nests found on North Monomoy Island in 2016 (3 in 2015, 22 in 2014, 0 in 2013). Productivity was not consistently monitored on North Monomoy Island throughout the season, but periodic checks indicated that one nest was abandoned and one was likely predated. This area is also subject to frequent overwash and no longer contains much suitable nesting habitat.

Roseate Terns:

Fourteen pairs of Federally endangered roseate terns nested on the Refuge in 2016 (11 in 2015, 8 in 2014, and 8 in 2013). This is an increase of three pairs compared to 2015. 17 of the 19 roseate tern chicks and 1 common tern chick hatched to a roseate pair on South Monomoy Island were banded with standard metal bands on the right leg, and colored plastic field readable (PFR) bands on the left (blue with white characters). Eleven roseate adults were captured using potter traps. Six adults had been previously banded and a PFR was added to one leg. Five adults were previously unbanded and a PFR was affixed to the right leg and a standard metal band to the left. 14 chicks were documented as fledged for the A-period pairs, contributing to an overall productivity of 1.00 chicks per pair, a slight decrease from 1.27 chicks per pair in 2014. Six roseate tern nests were located in the main common tern colony on the north tip of South Monomoy Island and eight nests were located south of the main nesting area near field camp. One nesting pair was believed to be a roseate-common tern hybrid nesting with a roseate tern. No roseate terns nested on Minimoy Island this year, which is comparable to 2014 and 2013. There were no roseate terns nesting on North Monomoy Island this year.
Attraction Project - The roseate tern attraction project that began in 2009 was continued this year, and a habitat restoration project was started in 2014. In May 2014, 725 seaside goldenrod seedlings were planted in three study areas within the colony, and 1,450 more seedlings were planted in the study areas in September 2014. All seedlings were grown from seeds collected in Plymouth, MA and Monomoy NWR. In 2014 and 2015 the plantings were documented by taking photos at predetermined locations, three times throughout the summer. Many of the plants in the main colony did very well and even went to seed. Plantings south of the main colony, where vegetation is sparse, did not do as well. Two sound systems accompanied by nesting structures were placed in the habitat study areas, and nesting structures were placed near the main colony. The sound systems were operated during daylight hours from mid-May through July, however the sound system in the south was non operational for the majority of the season. For the third year, a new type of teepee-shaped nesting structure modeled after those used on the Ram Island nesting colony in Buzzard’s Bay were used in the colony. One pair of roseate terns nested under artificial nesting structures, and 10 pairs nested in study areas within 30 meters of a sound system.
Least Terns:
A total of 842 least tern nests were censused in nesting areas on the Refuge during the 2016 A-census period (June 5-20); 839 nests on South Monomoy Island and 3 nests on Minimoy Island. This was a significant increase from 522 nests counted during the A-census period on South Monomoy Island in 2015. Productivity was not measured, but was estimated to be qualitatively good on South Monomoy Island. Zero chicks hatched on Minimoy due to nests being overwashed. This is comparable to 2015. A B-census was not conducted.

Laughing Gulls:
In 2016, 2738 pairs of laughing gulls nested on South Monomoy Island. This is roughly a 92% increase from the 1424 pairs nesting in 2015 and 983 pairs nesting in 2014. Overall productivity was estimated to be excellent based on the number of large chicks observed in the colony. Additionally, a high number of laughing gull kleptoparasitism was observed. 500 laughing gull nests were destroyed this year to minimize competition for habitat and resources between laughing gulls and common terns, and may continue in future if the population continues to be above 1000 nesting pairs. Areas of thick beach grass where the laughing gulls prefer to nest were also reduced by the previously stated prescribed burn.

American Oystercatchers:
A total of 18 pairs (21 nest attempts) of American oystercatchers nested on the Refuge in 2016: five pairs on North Monomoy Island, ten pairs on South Monomoy Island, and three pairs on Minimoy Island. Total number of nesting pairs increased by one pair from 2015 but distribution of pairs over the different islands shifted with a decrease in pairs on both Minimoy and North Monomoy; and an increase on South Monomoy. This is likely due to the continued shrinking of suitable nesting habitat on Minimoy and North Monomoy as dunes and beaches erode. Two nests were also added as a reflection of the refuge boundary change and were monitored for us by Massachusetts Audubon this season. Overall reproductive success was the best the Refuge has seen since monitoring started in 2009 with 1.56 chicks fledged per pair; this is an increase from 2015 when 1.0 chicks fledged per pair. Coyote predation was the main cause of failed oystercatcher nests on Minimoy and North Monomoy Island in 2015 but no nest failures could be directly attributed to coyotes in 2016. In fact this year, Minimoy produced 100% fledge success at all three nests while gull predation was a factor in nest success this year on South Monomoy, as well as suspected on North Monomoy.

Wading Birds:
A wading bird census was not conducted in 2016.

Black Skimmers:
There were no black skimmer nests located on the Refuge this year. Black skimmers have not been seen nesting on the Refuge since 2012, when one pair attempted to nest within the tern colony on South Monomoy Island.

Horseshoe Crabs
Monomoy Refuge is one of the most important spawning areas for horseshoe crabs in Massachusetts. In 2016, 529 horseshoe crabs were tagged on the refuge with the help of several volunteer groups. Tagging efforts took place during June 18-19 and spawning surveys were conducted on April 22, May 21-22 and June 4-5. No official tag resighting was conducted in 2016 although tags were reported during tagging and spawning surveys. If staff incidentally found tagged horseshoe crabs throughout the season, they reported these directly. Sightings of tagged horseshoe crabs should be reported to the phone number listed on the tag itself.

Monomoy Shorebird Project
The Refuge continued to partner with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey for the 8th consecutive year. This project aims to capture migrating shorebirds with the objectives of recapturing previously banded shorebird species and equipping red knots with nanotags to gain information on migratory patterns of adult and hatch year birds. Red knots were listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014, adding additional weight to this critically important project. Trapping efforts in 2016 took place from July 30-August 6, August 26-September 2, and September 30-October 3; with captures occurring on North Beach Island and South Beach. Species captured included short-billed dowitchers, black-bellied plovers, ruddy turnstones, dunlin, sanderlings, and red knots, as well as a single semipalmated sandpiper. In the first trapping window, 51 nanotags were deployed on adult (not molting) red knots presumed to be long distance migrants, 20 nanotags deployed on adult (molting) red knots presumed to be short distance migrants, and one geolocator recovered from a previously tagged red knot. During the second trapping window, a total of 14 nanotags were deployed on juvenile and adult red knots believed to be a mix of short and long distance migrants. Additionally, 7 nanotags were deployed on adult ruddy turnstones during this window. A third trapping window was completed, but final numbers have not been compiled.

The Refuge staff wishes to thank the many dedicated volunteers, school groups, conservation partners, and the Friends of Monomoy for their assistance and support with biological surveys, maintenance tasks, and public outreach efforts. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities at the Refuge year-round. If you would like to become a volunteer at the Refuge please contact Matthew Hillman at (508) 945-0594 ext. 4001.

Contact Info: Kate Iaquinto, 508-945-0594 ext. 13, Kate_Iaquinto@fws.gov
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