Category Archives: Western Snowy Plover

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.

Nope.

Nothing.

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

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.

Plover Patrol Flocking up for 2014

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.

 

Plover Patrol is Flocking Up!

Plover Patrol is Flocking Up!

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!

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