Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Wild Bird Wednesday: Snowy Plovers

In late 2015, Ryan and I participated in the OC Snowy Plover survey.  After a day of training, we were assigned a particular beach and went out on two occasions to survey it.  Unfortunately, our beach was an unlikely location and, as expected, we didn't find any Plovers.  However, a few weeks later, the Sea and Sage Audubon Society (who sponsored the survey) also had a Snowy Plover field trip which we attended in the hopes of finally spotting this bird.  While numerous in other parts of the country, Snowy's are listed as threatened in Southern California due to habitat loss.  Work is being done to restore native sand dune ecologies and to set aside some roosting/breeding areas for these birds.  Following are some of the photos from that day:

This shot (looking north towards the pier) shows some of the very small area of remaining native dune plants.

This shot looks south towards Balboa Harbor and shows the fenced off Plover area.

These are some close-ups of some of the native/endangered plants...

...Beach Primrose...

...and Sand Verbena

Hopes were high in the week leading up to the trip as the biologist/guide reported that the Plovers were in the expected location every day.  We arrived at the meeting location south of Balboa Pier on the morning of October 17th...only to be met with the news that the Plovers had apparently just moved to a new location that day.  As we expressed our disappointment and tried to decide what to do next, one possible reason for their departure became immediately apparent:

This adult Cooper's Hawk flew right in and settled on the fence of the roosting area...clearly he wanted a nice plump Plover for breakfast!  Just as clearly, the Plovers weren't coming back to this area any time soon :-(

After much discussion, the group agreed it was worth heading up the coast another 20 minutes or so to Huntington Beach to check out another potential location.  This time...the Plovers didn't disappoint!

Now you see why we couldn't give up on finding them...they are quite arguably the world's cutest bird!

For comparison, here's a shot of Snowy's mixed with Sanderlings.  You think Sanderlings are tiny little birds until you see them next to Snowy's!

Here's an example of what our guide referred to as the "egg carton effect."  Snowy's like to roost in divots in the sand...think a speeding lifeguard vehicle is going to notice them in time?

Speaking of vehicles...guess where the nicest "sand divots" are?  Yep...vehicle tracks!  You can see a track running right through the bottom section of this photo...and a Snowy standing right in it!

These guys are just so cute that I couldn't stop taking photos.  I took well over 1,000 shots that day which is why it's taken me 6 months to go through them all.  Truly, it was a bit excessive LOL!

On the day we were there, I seemed to see mostly females or males in non-breeding plumage, but I was looking for that one male who would be showing the nice dark shoulder bars...

Here's a wing stretch in progress, but the shoulder marks were still a little fuzzy...

...and then this handsome specimen showed up with his nice dark shoulder marks.  If there was a complete single dark ring...this would be a Semipalmated Plover.  If larger and 2 rings...a Killdeer.

Another example of the "egg carton" effect.

Just for fun...see if you can guess how many Snowy's are in this photo!



Mary Cromer said...

Oh they are magnificent little ones, their faces, their colouration, just beautiful. Splendid that you got so many nice images to share along with the Coopers Hawk and your flowers~

Frank Boxell said...

Lovely images of this tiny Plover on its nesting grounds.

Adam Jones said...

Super looking Plovers. Wonderful to see.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be able to stop taking pix of these cuties, either! I love how they snuggle down into the sand. I hope they and the plants return to the beach further south.

Anne (cornucopia) said...

Wonderful mix of photos.

Stewart M said...

What great little birds - with a BOP like that on the fence I'm not surprised that they took cover!

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne