Category Archives: Western Snowy Plover
“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!
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!
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.
I switched to my binoculars. Plover. She bobbed up and down. My heart rate increased. She ran a bit further and bobbed again.
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.
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.
Hello Oregonians! We’re looking to start up our Plover Patrol again to hunt for western snowy plover at three of our north coast parks. For more details and to apply, go to our Volunteer Posting.
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!
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!
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!
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!