Holly Path Trail Seasonal Closure Begins March 1 to Protect Roosting Herons

Holly Path Trail will be closed for the season beginning March 1. The path is closed to the public to minimize disturbance for sensitive bird species. The bird sanctuary restoration program is working to create suitable habitat to encourage the return of herons and egrets to the rookery. A key component of this effort is the elimination of disturbance to create welcoming and suitable habitat.

Docent-led tours will be conducted in the Sanctuary from Egret Espy Trail (144th St and 2nd Ave) beginning Memorial Day weekend and continuing through the summer. The area around Paul’s Pond can be viewed remotely via a live heron cam accessible from the Sanctuary website.

Last year was the first year that the trail was seasonally closed since the trail was constructed. We are pleased to report that large numbers of Black-crowned Night Heron moved into the area near Paul’s Pond and were seen roosting throughout the summer. Great Egrets, Green Herons and a host of songbirds were active in the area as well. This increased usage of the habitat by target restoration species is encouraging and disturbance management is seen as an important effort in bringing the birds back.

Another critical component of the restoration program is related to managing invasive and aggressive vines that are strangling the native trees and creating unsuitable habitat for herons and egrets. Vine growth can be seen smothering trees throughout the Sanctuary – especially along the sunlit property borders. Last fall and winter, several areas of unwanted vegetation was cleared from the sanctuary. The work is most clearly visible along 113th St between 2nd and 3rd Aves. The underbrush clearing removed non-native and or aggressive vines. Vines were also cut about 5 feet above the ground to allow for the trees to leaf out and grow this year for the first time in several years. Effective management of invasive and aggressive vegetation is a multi-year iterative process. We expect that much of the understory will regrow quickly and need successive clearing events to rob the vines of energy to grow. In the interim, the trees have been rescued and a focus of work will be to maintain a clear forest canopy while the understory recovers to desirable native vegetation that supports the sanctuary wildlife.

Work will continue this spring and summer with a focus on restoring and enhancing the gardens to support wildlife through the use of native plants. Several gardens around the pump house will be cleared of heavy weed infestation and replanted.

The vegetation management plan for the Sanctuary can be found on the website. We will post updates and progress reports periodically. Thank you for supporting the work to restore the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary. Questions or comments can be directed to


Baby Eastern Box Turtles Hatched in the Sanctuary

On Saturday September 20th, four baby Eastern Box Turtles emerged from a nest, followed by a fifth baby on Sunday September 21st.


An adult female Eastern Box Turtle was observed laying eggs near the entrance to Egret Espy Path on July 4th by Brian Williamson, Research Scientist at The Wetlands Institute.


Brian is a turtle specialist and documents turtle activities at the Sanctuary. The Wetlands Institute placed a protective cage around the nest to keep predators like skunks and raccoons from eating the eggs. A sign was placed on the enclosure to explain what was in the enclosure, including a phone number to call should anyone see hatchlings inside the cage.


Meanwhile, members of The Wetlands Institute staff checked the cage for hatchlings because once they hatch in a trapped environment they can dehydrate and die. A member of the public noticed the hatch and alertly called The Institute on September 20th.

You will be pleased to know that the hatchlings were released into the Sanctuary on Sunday.



An Island Refuge in Our Midst

An Island Refuge in Our Midst | Projects Continue at the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary | By Dr. Lenore Tedesco

As early as the mid-19th century,  Stone Harbor gained recogni- tion for large colonial nesting, bird populations – great and snowy egrets,  black and yellow crowned night herons,  blue and green herons among them. At times,  as many as 7, 000 egrets and herons nested and roosted in the trees along the marsh edge in an area of tidal wetlands in the vicinity of 115th Street and Third Avenue. There are early reports of 20-30 nests per tree. This recognition resulted in the official establishment of the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary (SHBS) in 1947. In 1965,  SHBS became the first national natural land- mark in New Jersey., The history of the bird sanctuary is well-known by the many residents and visitors to Stone Harbor who worked so hard to protect and preserve the heronry,  and then later by those who worked tire- lessly to restore the site with the hopes of  [ read more ]


All About the Black-crowned Night Heron

All About the Black-crowned Night Heron

Nycticorax nycticorax

Black-crowned Night-Herons breed in colonies with other night-herons and commonly mix with other wading bird species such as Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Great Egret, and Glossy Ibis. They can be found in social groups all year round.

During this courtship period, the legs of both males and females turn a light pink color and the specialized plume feathers on their head are especially prominent.

Night-herons can recognize their mates, most likely through individual voice characteristics. To us, male and female night-herons look the same but behavior can give us some clues as to who is who in a pair. For example, males select a nest location and attract females to the site. He starts the construction process and then brings sticks to his mate for her to add to the nest. To tell the difference between individuals, researcher may mark birds with uniquely numbered bands on their legs. Pairs tend to stay together during a breeding season but it is not known whether the same pair reforms from year to year.

Eggs are a greenish-blue color, and 3-5 eggs complete a clutch. Parents incubate the eggs for around 25 days before the young hatch. The young are protected (or brooded) by parents to help regulate their temperature and protect them from predators.

Males and females both incubate their eggs and later care for their young. They each make multiple trips a day to find food which they bring back to the nest to feed their chicks.

Disturbance from people near colonies can cause night-herons to abandon their nest and young, and can also increase chances of predation.

Unlike long-legged wading birds, this species rests in trees during the day and forages once the sun goes down. Their croaking call is a familiar sound at sunset when the night-herons depart their daytime roosts to search for prey.

They can be found year-round in New Jersey but can be hard to detect, especially during the non-breeding season when they aren’t busy taking care of young.

Black-crowned Night-Herons breed on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They closely associate with wetlands of all varieties – fresh, brackish, and salt water. With this tight habitat association and because they consume fish and other freshwater and marine organism, Black-crowned Night-Herons are good indicators of wetland quality and contamination


Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary Heron Cam is LIVE!

Stone Harbor Heron Cam 2014
On April 10th 2014, the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary turned on its high definition, real time camera on area populated by the relatively rare Black-crowned Night Heron. Last night, the star of the show did not disappoint. In fact, he brought a surprise guest, the ever proud osprey!

Heron cam is the cornerstone of a multifaceted educational initiative designed to bring the unique birds of the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary to the public and birders alike throughout the world. The initiative began last year with the creation of virtual tour videos that showcased the diverse attributes of the Sanctuary including ancient maritime forest, a 300 year old holly tree, artistic stands of sassafras and a dynamic yet unique blend of saltwater marsh and a spring-fed freshwater pond.

With the help of students from Stockton University, the Sanctuary added an android mobile app at the end of last year. The app is free and shows the user what birds are available in the Sanctuary, where they might be found and the sounds they make. The app also provides highlights of the Sanctuary as you walk on its paths. Apple aficionados will be pleased to know that an IOS app is expected before the end of the summer this year.

The star of the initiative is Heron Cam, a high definition, pan and zoom camera complete with audio and night vision that can bring the sights and sounds of the Sanctuary to everyone, 24 hours a day. The acquisition and installation of the camera is the product of a three year effort that began with generous financial support from friends of the Sanctuary, John and Kayann Laughlin, Kathryn and John Nardone, Julian and Betsy Miraglia and Jack and Dorothy Berrigan. Once the funds were in place, Councilwoman Josee Rich generated Stone Harbor Borough Council approval to give the project “wings”. But as Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary Chairman, Jack Berrigan stated, “we needed the experienced, technical expertise of James Sessions, JES Hardware Solutions and Ben Wurst of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey to get us off the ground and the ingenuity and creativity of the Stone Harbor Public Works staff led by Grant Russ and Rocky Tirado to install the equipment”.

According to Jack, the Heron Cam is the first of its kind in the world to focus on the beautiful, elegant Black-crowned Night Heron. Jack encourages you to go to the Sanctuary website at and watch the Heron Cam. He expects the number of Black-crowned Night Heron to increase dramatically between now and the end of September, when they begin their migration south. By the way, Jack would not be surprised if the Heron Cam had guest appearances by Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron and Egret. Be sure to check throughout the spring and summer.

The audio and night vision capabilities of the heron cam will be added over the next few weeks.