Plover Patrol Workshop

Do you spend a lot of time on the beach and want to know more about western snowy plovers? Join Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s wildlife biologist Vanessa Blackstone for an in-depth workshop on the western snowy plover. Members of Coastwatch, SOLVE, and folks that just like walking the beach can all learn what to look to aid this tiny shorebird when out on our wild Oregon Coast. The first half of the workshop is all about the bird! The second half (after lunch) focuses on how to survey for plovers, and is required for OPRD’s Plover Patrol volunteers.

When: Sunday, April 24 10 am – 2pm
Where: Nehalem Meeting Hall, Nehalem Bay State Park

To register: contact


There are 16 Snowy Plover Management Areas in Oregon

Topics Covered

First Half: A Tale of Plovers 10-noon:

  • Western snowy plover identification and life history
  • Threats and protection of the plover
  • Management history and what is happening now

Noon: Lunch break! Get to know your fellow plover lovers. Light refreshments provided.

Second Half: Surveying for Plovers 12:40 – 2 pm:

  • Survey Protocol
  • “Mock” survey to practice! Prizes for those that get it right!
  • Q and A on anything plover

Plovers at Sitka Sedge!

Local residents at Sand Lake have been hearing about Sitka Sedge State Natural Area, the newest addition to OPRD’s parks focused on conserving amazing natural spaces for Oregonians to enjoy. Apparently western snowy plovers heard about it too, and they have set up some home sites!

Active Scrape (raven tracks)

Plover tracks around a nest scrape – the male makes many scrapes and the female picks one by laying her eggs in it! Photo courtesy Jeff Allen

This is the first documented nesting activity at Sitka Sedge since 1984 – a similar story to Nehalem Spit at Nehalem Bay State Park where last April plovers were found nesting there for the first time since 1984. I’m sure there is an interesting theory about that. Either way, they disappeared from our two north coast beaches the same year, and now they have returned one after the other!

Another interesting story is that BOTH pairs of plovers where discovered by volunteers on our Plover Patrol!


The beach at Sitka Sedge is one of 17 designated for western snowy plover recovery, and now that birds are in residence a Shorebird Conservation Area is in place. To help this these birds gain a foothold, vehicles (motorized and non-motorized, including bicycles), dogs, and kites are prohibited in the SCA from March 15-September 15. All other recreation must remain in the wet sand. These restrictions give the birds the best chance at raising a family – plovers are very sensitive to disturbance, and need that extra bit of space between us and their nests! You can help be a part of threatened species recovery by sharing the beach and letting plovers nest in peace.



Plover Patrol 2016

Do you love plovers?

Would you like to be on the team that spots these birds as they reclaim their historic nesting grounds?

Oregon Parks and Recreation (OPRD) is looking for volunteers to survey for western snowy plover, a threatened shorebird, at four of our State Parks in 2016!

We are very excited that this threatened shorebird is making a comeback, and we need help to track where they are interested in nesting. Last year a pair nested at Nehalem Bay for the first time in 30 years. To help plovers make this comeback, OPRD has four beaches set aside for them where we ask the public to let them nest in peace.

But! We need to know if the plovers are there!


Male Western Snowy Plover patrols Nehalem beach while his mate sat on their nest.

Time commitment is at least 1 survey per month, and each survey usually takes 2-3 hours.  Training is provided on survey protocol and identification. Surveys consist of walking on the beach on a (relatively) nice day, scanning for signs of plovers! Not too shabby. Surveys involve walking the beach and scanning for signs of western snowy plover, documenting potential predators and food sources, and noting recreation uses. Volunteers should be comfortable walking a few miles on the beach in wind and sun or light drizzle. In addition, a 4-hour training is required so that you can be listed as a sub-permittee on OPRD’s Recovery Permit. Don’t worry if that’s confusing – it will be explained during the training.

If you would like to attend a training, even if you don’t want to be a volunteer, please participate in our Doodle Poll: This helps us select the date(s) that work for the most people.

To apply to volunteer, contact



Beach Recreation Restrictions Lifted at Nehalem

Beach recreation restrictions on the spit south of Nehalem Bay State Park are being lifted for the remainder of the year. The restrictions went into place this April after a pair of western snowy plovers were found nesting on the spit and were scheduled until September 15, when the breeding period ends.

Lifting the restrictions means beachgoers may recreate in the dry sand, along with their leashed dogs. Vehicle use remains restricted, including bicycles. The park will continue presenting interpretive programs about shorebirds through the summer.

We have been surveying for the birds since first spotting them on the spit this past March, and at this point it is unlikely a pair would start a new nest. There just isn’t time for the parents to incubate eggs and raise young before winter. Even though their nest attempt wasn’t successful, it shows that we are on the right track for shorebird recovery at Nehalem. I would like to thank all our visitors for their compliance and understanding over the past few months. Restrictions will go back in place March 15, 2016, and OPRD will resume surveys for nesting shorebirds. Click here for more information on the HCP (Habitat Conservation Plan) and beach restrictions, and plover recovery.

Peeking at Plovers

It’s been a long, busy summer, and I’ve been out on the Spit many times since discovering our little plovers’ nest. Back on April 9th, I was out with USFWS biologist William Ritchie to “float” the eggs – floating is exactly that. You put the eggs in a jar of room temperature water and see where they float. Based on where they are in the water (bottom = freshly laid, surface = close to hatching), biologists can estimate how old the eggs are and when they will hatch! It isn’t the most precise effort, but it did give us an idea of when to expect the eggs might release the little balls of fluff that are plover chicks.

It also isn’t the easiest thing to do. The adults are not happy about people being close to them, and run away to safety. And you can’t just walk up to a nest, since crows and ravens (corvids) are smart and curious enough to follow a direct trail… or just watch you if they happen to be around. AND you can’t actually SEE the nest because it is so camouflaged, so there is some trial and error in approaching it! We use similar techniques that the corvids use, and follow plover tracks.

Western snowy plover tracks in the sand. MotoX phone for scale.

Western snowy plover tracks in the sand. MotoX phone for scale.


So, Will and I carefully checked around to make sure no corvids were hanging out, then carefully crept roundabout to the general area of the nest, then even more carefully floated the eggs. No pictures of that, we wanted to get the work done and get out as quickly as possible. It was a nice day and not too cold, but every moment the parents are away from the nest increases the chances of failure. Will determined the eggs were likely to hatch the last week of April, and then we carefully packed up equipment and snuck away, using a small broom to brush our tracks out of the sand to leave less evidence for curious corvids.

I had my date, and set the calendar! As the weeks went by, ODFW and I took turns checking on the nest, usually seeing the female only through spotting scopes to avoid disturbing her. Our beach rangers let the public know what all the signs were for, and beach visitors were (mostly) respectful of these birds’ privacy, for which I am very thankful.


What I saw on most nest checks - through the lens of a spotting scope.

What I saw on most nest checks – through the lens of a spotting scope.

Then I got the email from ODFW. Their Friday nest check had the female off the nest, foraging, and the male wasn’t sitting in her place. That is unusual. Winds were high, though, and ODFW didn’t linger on the beach. All weekend I worried over our little plovers, wondering if A/W/A:V and his unbanded female had lost their nest. I went out on the following Monday to check the nest – to confirm or deny that it was still there.



The beach had changed.

What had been a relatively flat sandy spot was now an uphill slope, with no sign of eggs or nest (or my wildlife camera). To say I was sad is an understatement, but at the same time this is what happens out on our Oregon Coast. It is a rough, rugged place, and early nests are often lost to the weather. Since my wildlife camera vanished as well we don’t know exactly what happened to the nest. Did some people walk by on a windy day, bumping the female off the nest, and by the time she came back the sand had blown over her eggs? Was it a crow, or the resident beach coyotes? Was it simply such a windy gust that no matter how tight she sat she couldn’t keep the sand off her precious eggs? I don’t know, and never will (unless that camera washes up somewhere).

Taken April 9, the nest was in between the long, flat-topped board on the left and the tuft of beach grass.

Taken April 9, the nest was in between the long, flat-topped board on the left and the tuft of beach grass.


Taken April 23, that long flat log is in the bottom of the photo.

Taken April 23, at a slightly different angle. That same long flat board is in the bottom and the beach grass is at the top.

We continued to survey the Spit for any sign of plovers; they usually nest again after losing a nest, and will keep trying until it gets too late in the breeding period. After late July there just isn’t enough time for the birds to incubate, hatch, and raise their young to fledging before winter. I found some tracks shortly after the nest was lost, but then even those too disappeared.

And the beach continued to change. The southern half of the spit that had been such nice habitat early in the season kept getting more sloped as the winds sculpted the sand around driftwood. The northern half started getting more ideal, with flat expanses and bits of shell. Even though this nest attempt failed, it shows us that Nehalem is indeed attractive to western snowy plover and the HCP plans were not in vain. OPRD and USFWS have opted to lift recreation restrictions for the remainder of the breeding period, since there have been no sign of plovers all throughout May and June.

As for me, I’m planning some habitat restoration to get that beach a little wider, to give the birds a bit more room away from the wind, the predators, and the people. Maybe next year A/W/A:V will come back and try again. Or maybe one of his cousins. Either way, I’ll be waiting with a spotting scope to help them as best I can.


WSP two-egg nest

Jewels of the Fen

The round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) is one of several relatively uncommon insectivorous plants found in Oregon. Unlike its (perhaps) more well-known distant relative, the pitcher plant Darlingtonia, this tiny beauty (it’s only a few inches tall) requires one to get up close and personal with the ground to get a good look at it. This is no easy task in the type of environment they need to grow (wet, mushy and very sensitive to trampling boots). The fen that’s home to the below pictured sundews was discovered by our state park botanist during botanical surveys, and we were lucky enough to see it during a short detour on an unrelated site visit to the park.

round-leaved sundew

Sundew amongst sphagnum moss on the Oregon coast (fingernail for scale)

I discovered that the liquid on the “hair” ends (or maybe more aptly named, tentacles) is not dew as it may first appear. Instead it is a special sticky substance that helps trap insects lured in by the tips of the bright crimson hairs.

sundew tentacles

Close-up of bright crimson sundew tentacles

Once trapped, a process which involves the sticky tentacles wrapping around the victim, the insects are slowly dissolved. These carnivorous plants supplement their diet with bugs to get nutrients (particularly nitrogen), which are lacking in their bog-like environment. The sundews pictured here are living in a fen, a type of wetland, which is similar to a bog but hydrated with surface or groundwater (vs. primarily precipitation). Check out this Forest Service page for more information about bogs and fens.

Sundew with small bugs

Sundew with small trapped insects

Sundew with larger bug

Sundew with larger victim trapped in tentacles

Carnivorous plants, including almost 200 species (!) of sundews are found all around the world. Although the famed Venus fly trap isn’t native to Oregon, you can see insectivorous pitcher plants (aka cobra lilies) in Oregon by visiting the state park wayside named after them (Darlingtonia State Natural Site).


Pitcher plants (Darlingtonia californica) on the central Oregon coast.

Nehalem has some new residents

“I have a nest! I have a nest! I can’t believe I have a NEST!”

Those were my words at 1:30 pm Friday, April 3.

I was out on the beach at Nehalem Spit, looking for western snowy plovers. And boy, I found them!

Unbanded plover watching over its nest at Nehalem Bay State Park

Unbanded plover watching over her nest at Nehalem Bay State Park

See, March 15 – July 15 is the “detection period” for our north coast Shorebird Conservation Areas, and our dedicated Plover Patrol volunteers go out bimonthly to scan the beach for this tiny dune ghost of a shorebird. On March 26 our Patrol spied 3 snowy plovers, all banded: male A/W/A:V, female O/G:V, and O/Y:V. The V stands for the violet leg band on the right leg, and indicates these birds were hatched on the southern Oregon coast last year. These same birds had been spotted by birders loafing on the spit throughout the winter (check eBird!). But when I got the message that fateful Thursday I was excited! These birds were still on the spit, and the breeding period was at hand!

Cut scene to Friday April 3! I was on site meeting with Dan Elbert of USFWS and Herman Biederbeck of ODFW to strategize monitoring the birds, with intentions to head out and check on the birds. We didn’t really expect to find nesting; the earliest snowy plovers have nested in Oregon was April 17, and that was over two weeks away. The weather did not cooperate though – it was raining. It is so harsh out there for plovers that looking for them in the rain isn’t good for them, even if you can spot them hunkered down, hiding from the inclement weather. My wildlife biologist compatriots left the park, and I stayed around to discuss events with park staff. And then… the weather cleared! Sunny and beautiful and the perfect time to go out on the beach!

Nehalem Spit after the storm

Nehalem Spit after the storm


I didn’t really expect to find nesting – or even plovers! I honestly figured they would move on, head back down south, and that we wouldn’t get them to stay without some habitat restoration efforts first. The last time I was out on the Spit driftwood lay so think that you could scarcely put your foot down on dry sand. Near the jetty it was how I remembered –  driftwood packed tight like sardines in a tin. But the further north I went the more it opened up, and the beach was lovely. Dry, flat sand with bits of detritus scattered about, some logs to hide behind, and the occasional shell for camouflage. Maybe plovers were still here. I paused to take some photos – because you never know when you’ll need a good photo of the beach – and a small white thing ran and then halted at the edge of my vision.

Uh oh.

I switched to my binoculars. Plover. She bobbed up and down. My heart rate increased. She ran a bit further and bobbed again.

Uh oh!

That is a sign the bird is uncomfortable! Uncomfortable means nesty!  OMG!! I backpedaled away from the plover and bee-lined for the wet sand, spotting scope whacking my shoulder and bins bouncing! At this distance the plover was just a little white speck, easily missed a midst the driftwood and crab shells. She scurried across the sand and sat funny.

I had that spotting scope up faster than you can say “Big Year Birding.”

A tiny little plover, sitting in the sand. She picked up a little piece of something or other and put it down again. The plover version of knitting?

She stood up, turned around, poofed out her belly feathers like a dancer spreading her skirts and nestled back down again.


Western snowy plover on nest at Nehalem

Western snowy plover on nest at Nehalem


It’s been over 30 years since plovers nested at Nehalem Spit. Welcome back, little birds! Make your nests, sit tight on those eggs, and raise some little cotton ball babies! I’m honored to be the first to see it, and hope that many more to come will see the dune ghosts dart across the beach.


Gearhart Birdy Beach Trail!

In case you missed it in the Daily Astorian article, the new name for the trail along Necanicum Spit is:

Birdy Beach Trail!

The name was submitted by fourth-grader McKenna Roberts, and won out in a public vote over the 30+ entries.

Name the Trail!

Get your vote on!

OPRD, Gearhart Elementary, and the City of Gearhart invite you to help select a name for the new beach trail at Gearhart Ocean State Recreation Area! OPRD went to Gearhart Elementary and presented exciting information about the Esturary, the ocean, and the dunes that are right down the street from their classrooms. Students in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades rose to our challenge, submitting over 30 potential names for this new trail. We ranked the submissions on local, natural, and geographic resources plus that special “Wow!” factor. The students also went out to the beach itself with OPRD Coastal Visitor Experience Coordinator Brian Fowler. They learned more about the history of the area, the power of the ocean, and the creatures that use the beach right here in Gearhart.

Brian Fowler and local students investigate the beach!

Brian Fowler and local students investigate the beach!

Take the Survey

The top ten results are now open for the public to view! Which one is YOUR favorite? The survey closes by midnight on December 1, 2014! Feel free to take a moment and stroll along the trail or check out the photos below, get a feel for the place, and cast your vote! You can access the survey here:

Where is the Trail Located?

In the City of Gearhart, leading from Little Beach at Necanicum Estuary out to Gearhart Ocean State Recreation Area. The new trail is a loop connecting the residential access point with the Little Beach access point near Wellington. Here’s a map!

New trail, ready and waiting for your feet!

New trail, ready and waiting for your feet!


What’s it Like?

The new trail winds through the dunes, letting visitors to shelter from the winds, pause to take in the rugged beauty of the North Coast, and loaf on benches that offer ocean views. The trail takes visitors along the Necanicum Estuary, where they can watch shorebirds and, during the right season, people clamming. Necanicum Estuary is an Important Bird Area, and thousands of migrating shorebirds visit its sands to forage and rest on their twice yearly journeys between breeding and wintering grounds. Eagles, gulls, and herons hang out year round, and maybe Caspian terns or the threatened western snowy plover might decide to nest in the Shorebird Conservation Area adjacent to the trail!

View of Necanicum Estuary from the new trail. At low tide all that sand provides great places for shorebirds to feed!

View of Necanicum Estuary from the new trail. At low tide all that sand provides great places for shorebirds to feed!


View point on the trail

View point on the trail



Students on the beach

Students on the beach

LaPine State Park – home to frogs and toads

If you love amphibians and missed the breeding season on the west side of the state, take a trek over the Cascades and you’ll find more breeding! With higher elevation and different rain patterns, the amphibians on the east side breed much later (in actual Spring!) than their west side counter parts that already did their thing last February.

The Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa)  is a mostly aquatic species that used to occupy the Willamette Valley and the Cascades. In 1993, USFWS designated it a threatened species, but did not list it due to other higher priority species needs taking precedence (down side of being a wildlife biologist: prioritizing species’ lives). Last August, USFWS proposed to list the Oregon spotted frog as threatened.  So, USFWS is gathering more data about them, and invited OPRD to survey a known breeding site along the Deschutes River at La Pine State Park. USFWS wants us to go look for awesome amphibians to help the species? Absolutely!

So last week I drove over to Bend and met up with Greg Cianella, our Natural Resource Specialist for the Eastern Region. He had arranged everything – kayaks, data sheets, GPS and maps – so all I had to do was get in the boat and start paddling.

Paddling the Deschutes River - I love my job

Paddling the Deschutes River – I love my job


In contrast to our other breeding frogs, Oregon spotted frogs breed in very shallow water – preferring it less than a foot deep.  They like it still, shallow, and what a lot of us people consider “icky”.  Breeding areas are often devoid of emergent vegetation where the sun can warm the water – and the eggs – quickly. The breeding season is very short, only about four weeks long. That means when it’s time to survey you get out there and do it!

Oregon spotted frogs prefer to breed in shallow water, like this perched spring.

Oregon spotted frogs prefer to breed in shallow water, like this perched spring.


They lay their eggs as large masses that float on the surface when fresh. The masses are about the size of an orange, and as they mature the mass gets more “fluffy” and swells in size.


Oregon spotted frog egg masses posing with a kayak paddle

Oregon spotted frog egg masses posing with a kayak paddle

Oregon spotted frog egg mass that sunk to the bottom. My theory: the algae and sediment collected around the eggs made the mass heavy enough to sink!

Oregon spotted frog egg mass that sunk to the bottom. My theory: the algae and sediment collected around the eggs made the mass heavy enough to sink!


While we were trying to get a nice shot, maneuvering kayaks around, Greg noticed something different laying on the bottom of the slough. We did some more maneuvering – the wind was determined to move us where we didn’t want to go – and managed to get a good look at the stuff. Long strings! Everywhere. Like really long shoe laces crisscrossing the muddy substrate. Yet MORE maneuvering, and I managed to carefully lift the mystery shoelaces up to see them. The sediment dusted off and revealed a beautiful string of delicate eggs.

Western toad eggs! Don't try this at home, kids.

Western toad eggs! Don’t try this at home, kids.

All told, we found 30 spotted frog egg masses, the toad eggs, quite a few bufflehead, a slough of mallards, and sunshine on the water.

It was a good day to be a wildlife biologist!