In March we announced that Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space sought help to boost the population for the state-threatened American Kestrel by increasing nesting opportunities throughout Hopewell Valley. After receiving a grant from the Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program, FoHVOS staff and interns facilitated box-building workshops and installations.

The community responded in force and more than 100 volunteers from Bloomberg, Calvary Baptist Church, Cambridge School, Cub Scout Troop 1776, Girl Scouts, Painted Oak Nature School, and The Pennington School helped successfully construct 50 nesting boxes and install 36 boxes in the most suitable habitats in local preserves, Mercer County parks, and private resident lands throughout the Hopewell Valley.

The boxes are monitored every two weeks by volunteer citizen scientists to record any kestrel nesting activity and to thwart nest-building attempts by non-native starlings and house sparrows. At the time of writing, six of these boxes have already been occupied. Females from three nests were fitted with uniquely-numbered leg bands by Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists to help track the population’s recovery.

Kestrel hatchlings in a nesting box in Hopewell Valley.

Two nests have eggs that are being incubated by the adults, and two nests have already hatched. The other two nests were abandoned before hatching, which is unfortunately a common occurrence in this species. It is still early in the Kestrel active nesting season, and more nests are expected.

More pictures and information about local American Kestrel activities is online. FoHVOS officials anticipate increasing numbers of kestrels to use the nest boxes in future years.

Kudos to Hopewell Valley for supporting community conservation efforts for building, installing, and monitoring boxes that provide important nesting habitat for these state-threatened raptors.

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Bear Tavern Principal Chris Turnbull led a school-wide assembly to announce that Bear Tavern received a Green Flag award from Eco-Schools and the National Wildlife Federation. This is in addition to their Sustainable Jersey Bronze certification received earlier in the school year.

The assembly also celebrated the success of its Outdoor Learning Area that flourished in under a year. They honored community conservation efforts by presenting awards to: The Barn at Gravity Hill, Bear Tavern PTO, former Bear Tavern PTO president Christine Butrym, Cedar Creek, Cedar Hill Farm, Chickadee Creek Farm, local builder Dennis Dougherty, student volunteer Michaela Drake, FoHVOS, Hopewell Township Public Works, HTS Tree Care Professionals, HVEF, former Bear Tavern teacher Jay Ingalsbe, Mercer County Park Commission, Nectars, The OLA Committee, Neill and Belinda Overman, Swanson Family, TCNJ and Tom’s Tree Service.

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Riparian buffers are strips of forested land along rivers, streams and lakes that help keep pollution out. Trees and all the smaller plants under them provide neverending miles of root systems that absorb pollutants before they reach valuable waterways.

Forested riparian buffers also provide extra storage for flood waters, and supply food and habitat for a variety of in-stream and riparian wildlife.

That means the community can help keep our rivers and streams healthy by planting natives shrubs and trees that help restore water, soil, and ecosystems.

Under a Roots to Rivers grant, Sourland Conservancy, New Jersey DEP, New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors, Mercer County Parks Commission, Howell Living History Farm, and more than 250 individuals, families, corporations and groups including Bank of America, Educational Testing Service, MCCCC YouthCorps volunteers planted 51 different species of native shrubs and trees totaling 1,800 in all.

Lisa Wolff is executive director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. Email: lwolff@fohvos.org.