Not only did Nehalem Bay have the first western snowy plover chick in over 50 years hatch and fledge this year, so did our newest park! Sitka Sedge State Natural Area, which will be open to the public in 2018, had three chicks hatch in late May. Just recently, two of these little birds have been spotted 100 miles from their birthplace! Plover biologists banded the babies in order to keep track of them. In late July, teenage plovers were seen sporting these very bands on beaches near Florence. Now that they are big birds, they have spread their wings to explore the coast. These birds will likely return to their birthplace to breed next year, if they can make it through the winter.
Plovers occasionally nest outside of plover management areas (plovers don’t read our maps, apparently). After reports of nesting plovers near Bayshore, Oregon State Parks beach rangers have been protecting each nest (with signs and ropes) as it is found. These buffers around the nests help people avoid stepping on the inconspicuous eggs and chicks.
Two of the nests at Driftwood have now hatched, and tiny chicks are out on the beach! Reports of these birds are now showing up on e-Bird. If you get the birding bug and want to go look for them, please be aware that the tiny chicks can be easily stepped on, and it’s very hard for them to escape. Give them some space while you enjoy this new experience!
The Pacific Coast Trail has been covered in snow this year, and many hikers have chosen the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT) as an alternative. Who can blame them? The Oregon coast is gorgeous! This puts more hikers on Oregon beaches, where a small, fragile shorebird known as the western snowy plover is nesting. The birds are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and there are only about 750 birds on Oregon’s beaches. Late last month, OCT hikers crushed a nest that was within a few days of hatching.
This unfortunate event serves as a reminder for all OCT hikers and beach visitors to be vigilant on sandy beaches during the spring and summer. Snowy plovers can be found on any sandy beach, and especially in the designated plover management areas. We encourage you to #sharethebeach in these areas, where we are working to improve sandy beach habitat and reduce disturbance from predators, people, and pets. Plover management areas are marked with signs letting you know that the dry sand is restricted to all recreation. This includes camping, firewood collection, and potty breaks!
A few key points to remember if you are hiking the OCT during nesting season (March 15-September 15):
- Watch for signs. You’ll know you’re on a plover beach when you see yellow “shorebirds nesting” signs, like those pictured above.
- Hike on the wet sand. Plovers build their nests in dry, open sand in tiny, shallow scrapes that are very well camouflaged. They’re very easy to miss (or step on). A bird will run from its nest when disturbed by activities it considers a threat—activities we may see as harmless. When this happens too many times, the eggs get cold and are exposed to predators and the harsh winds, killing the chicks in the shells.
- Some activities are restricted or prohibited. Camping, kites, campfires, and vehicles (including non-motorized ones like bikes) are not allowed in plover management areas. Please plan your route accordingly.
- Dogs are not allowed in occupied areas. Even on a leash. Even on the wet sand adjacent to signed or fenced areas.
- Check the maps. Our OCT maps have been updated to include plover-specific information at state parks with nesting plovers: Bandon, Nehalem and Sitka Sedge near Sand Lake. The South Coast map covers Waldport to Port Orford. Please let us know any edits to these maps or other information that would make planning your trip easier.
By following these tips you’ll be doing your part to help these tiny birds make it on the harsh Oregon coast – and avoid tainting your trip with a horrible memory of crushed eggs and chicks!