April 16, 2008

Piping Plover Monitor Training

Tuesday and Wednesday at Inlet Pond County Park, the North Fork Audubon Society sponsored a Piping Plover Monitor Training with The Nature Conservancy, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I learned a lot of interesting things about plovers (and other coastal migratory birds) that I didn't know before. Piping plovers are monogamous while they're mating and produce 4 eggs per couple. Plover chicks are unlike people's common view of baby birds...they don't sit in the nest waiting for mom or dad to bring them food. Plovers are able to run at birth, a defense adaptation they require since their habitat is flat, wide open beaches. Plovers are also camouflaged, their feathers blending in with the sand. And their eggs look nearly identical to the small, ocean rounded rocks common to the shoreline. So campers...look before you leap!

Piping plovers are a threatened species in the northeast, but due to effective management strategies their population has been steadily increasing. Various concerned agencies estimate that at least 2000 plover pairs and a reproduction rate of 1.5 will be required to provide enough genetic variation for the plover to sustain itself. In 2007, 1886 plover pairs were counted by federal and state agents (and volunteers like me!). The reproduction rate in 2007 was approximately 1.1%. The plover's not there yet, but it's species' chances have improved every year since the management plan was implemented.

The last sentence leads to the logical question: "Are there really more plovers now or are people just seeing more of them now because they're looking?" It's a great question, and every scientist should question their data. It's commonly accepted that in the first three years of monitoring plovers their population numbers jumped and that jump is attributed to more people counting them and finding new places plovers nested. However, since those initial years few new sites have been discovered while annual plover counts steadily rise. So, it seems that there really are more plovers, and it's likely that's because the plover management plan is working.

Basically, the plover management plan is to protect plovers against their threats, both human and wild. People can be threats against plovers because we want to use the beach as much as they do. We drive our trucks, fly kites, take our dogs for walks, set off fireworks, build walls to protect our beach homes...all things that either take away plover habitat, attract other plover predators, or simply kill plovers. Other threats to plovers are birds, foxes, and beach erosion. Obviously, people aren't going to entirely give up the beach so that plovers can reproduce, but there has to be a compromise, right?

The management plan's response to plover threats are education, reasonable compromise and exclosures. Plover monitors won't freak out if you have your dog on the beach, but they may ask you to leash your dog, or walk it near the water away from any plover fencing. Various government agencies set up that symbolic fencing, (some stakes, a single string, and red flagging so people see the string), to make people aware that plovers are nesting inside the fence. Usually the fence is accompanied by a sign explaining plovers are nesting and asking people to please not disturb them (not even on your tiptoes). The problem isn't that people scare plovers...they're tiny little things that could be squashed by a mosquito and they're constantly on the hunt for food. They couldn't get more stressed out if they tried! The problem with people is that predators look for every advantage, and one way they look for food is by following people. If a bird sees a lot of people going somewhere it's going to investigate. Whether it's a half eaten hot dog or a plover chick, it's food for the predator. Which is why plover monitors setup exclosures as a last resort. An exclosure is a column of chicken wire covered in netting. The spaces in the wire are large enough for a plover to pass through, but not big enough for a fox. And the netting on top keeps the birds from attacking from above. The drawback is that when the exclosure goes up, all predators, human and animal, know something's happening and want to investigate.

Last summer one plover pair (a male and female) were seen on the sound beach at Peconic Dunes County Park. This summer your fearless camp director will be one of the people responsible for monitoring the beach for mating plovers, their anticipated nest, and hopefully their offspring.

This summer there will be lots of opportunity at The Dunes to learn about plovers and other coastal birds. I hope Everyone's getting excited! And please remember to respect the plover fencing at Dunes beach or anywhere you see it. Biodiversity depends on efforts like the Piping plover management plan to help preserve threatened and endangered species. Plus, plover chicks are really cute.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi this is kendall

i jusst wanted to say this is very intersting to me. i enjoy looking at birds during the day..so yuuh like you siite.. very muuch