Category Archives: Ocean Shores

Happy Plover Day!

Today is Plover Day!

Starting today Oregonians share 16 beaches with this small shorebird for the spring and summer. The only shorebird that nests in the dunes of the Oregon Coast (apart from the wayward killdeer), western snowy plovers are a threatened bird that is making a come-back thanks to all the efforts of conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and most importantly, Oregonians.

Recreation restrictions at beaches managed for shorebirds go into effect today; watch for the yellow diamond signs to show you are entering a plover area. The birds make little nest scrapes in dry sand, and from here through July there could be camouflage eggs out there. For more on recreation restrictions, visit the official OPRD regulations page here.

If you want to know more about these amazing birds, 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 focuses on how to survey for plovers, and is required for OPRD’s Plover Patrol volunteers.

When: Saturday, March 18 9 am – 1pm
Where: Kiawanda Community Center, 34600 Cape Kiwanda Drive, Pacific City Oregon


WSP two-egg nest

Two western snowy plover eggs. Note there is no vegetation around them – plovers need open sand, and do not nest up in the beach grass.




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



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.


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

Share the Beach – Ways to Help Wildlife this July 4

Many Oregonians flock to the Coast for July 4. The cool breezes are a welcome respite from the Valley’s summer heat, and there are so many things to do! People and pets will be playing on the beaches, where wildlife can be overwhelmed by the disturbance. What is fun and relaxing to us can be very nerve-wracking to wildlife, and can even cause the loss of young babies and nests.

Each year on our sandy beaches, imperiled western snowy plovers settle down to nest. Federally and state threatened, plovers have been forced into smaller and smaller areas as their habitat has been consumed by invasive plants and development. With no where else to go, the birds try to raise their young on the beach that is left – which is also where people go to play. Since plovers and their nests are well camouflaged, beach visitors often don’t even know they are there!

Camo Plovers

How many plovers do you see?

But the birds certainly know people are there. When an adult flushes away from its nest to avoid people and pets, the nest and young are vulnerable to predators and weather. A tiny shorebird nest can get covered in sand very quickly with our Coast “breezes”! Keep in mind that infrequent disturbance short in duration isn’t the problem – it becomes a problem when people are always walking by (different people!), or sitting down near a nest.

Each nest is critical to the survival of these birds, and thanks to Oregonians their population is on the rise! Some preserved areas serve as nesting grounds and affords these birds a chance at successful nesting, which is helping their populations to rebound.

This holiday, the main concerns are the large crowds and the use of fireworks. Fireworks and nesting birds do not mix; to a shorebird, fireworks are loud, startling noises rather similar to gun shots. Adults can panic, and leave nests and flightless chicks without protection. In order to help us protect these birds we ask that you not shoot fireworks into the nesting areas or on beaches (where it is illegal whether birds are there or not), keep your dogs on a leash and out of the nesting areas (where they aren’t allowed anyway), and do not cross any rope barriers that are established to protect nesting birds. There has been a large time investment by beach goers, OPRD staff, and many other agencies ensuring the success of this year ‘s flock of fledglings and we need your help for that success to continue.

Following these simple steps will help you share the beach and still enjoy it yourself:

  • RESPECT POSTED AREAS– Nests are hard to see! They are well camouflaged and blend in with the sand. Walking or allowing your dog to roam in roped off areas puts nests at risk of being trampled or abandoned by their parents. Shooting fireworks, flying remote controlled planes, or flying a parasail adjacent to or within protected areas creates a disturbance and will chase birds away.
  • NEVER INTENTIONALLY FORCE BIRDS TO FLY– Birds come to our beaches to rest just like we do. When we scatter a group of birds they have to use energy that they need to reserve for nesting activities or migration. While it creates a great visual it is the same as someone chasing you as soon as you sit down on the beach.
  • KEEP PETS ON A LEASH AND AWAY FROM NESTING AREAS– While your dog might not chase birds, nesting shorebirds can’t distinguish a good dog from a predatory dog, or a leashed dog from an unleashed one. They assume all canines are predatory and react as such, flushing off of their nest when approached by anything resembling a threat; this includes your dog no matter how well behaved.
  • KEEP THE BEACH CLEAN AND DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE– Food scraps attract predators such as crows and ravens to the beaches. It is against the rules to feed wildlife on the Ocean Shore not to mention it is impolite to your beach neighbors to attract gulls with snacks. They will eat anything and don’t know when to go away. It’s funny in “Finding Nemo”, but not so great when they are staring at you!

That’s it! Pretty straight forward, and so easy to do. Please go and enjoy our beautiful coast, and share the beach with the wonderful wildlife!


Western snowy plover adult, sporting color bands to identify him

Western snowy plover adult, sporting color bands to identify him

Western Snowy Plover Workshop

When the weather outside is frightful, why not learn about some wildlife? OPRD is hosting a Western Snowy Plover Workshop on February 13, 2013. The workshop is from 8 am until noon at the Skamania Lodge (1113 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA) in conjunction with annual meeting for the Oregon and Washington chapters of the Wildlife Society. Anyone can attend!

35351 Plover Workshop Flyer (web)

The goal of the workshop is to provide all the current information on the plover’s population, recovery and management goals, changing recreation on Oregon beaches to aid the plover, and survey methodology. Attending this workshop will count as the needed “classroom” style information required to survey for the birds during the breeding season (Note: You need a USFWS recovery permit, or to be listed under a permitted biologist’s permit, to survey for plovers during breeding season).

Guest speakers include Laura Todd (USFWS), Theresa Bolch (BLM), Eleanor Gaines with the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center (ORBIC), and me!

Registration is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Morning snacks and coffee/tea are provided.

I hope you’ll join me there!