Thursday, April 11, 2013

Surveying a Snowy Plover

Counting Shorebirds for the International Shorebird Survey - photo by Mark Kosiewski
Bear Island is one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands along the east coast of the US.  Its wide open sandflats and dunes provide precious habitat for rapidly declining species of migrating shorebirds.

As part of the International Shorebird Survey, my fellow citizen scientists, Ed Corey, Mark Kosiewski, Natalia Ocampo-Penuela, and I, grabbed our scopes and counted hundreds of sandpipers, plovers and dowitchers. 

Of course it was a rare bird that enticed us to make the trip...

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plovers do not regularly appear on the Atlantic coast (and this was a lifer for me!), but over the years, a handful have turned up on various North Carolina beaches.  Ed Corey found this individual back in February.  I wonder how long it will stick around.

It seemed to be right at home (and was well-camouflaged) on the sand flats.  It would tilt its head at odd angles and zip around with remarkable speed making photography a bit of a challenge, but it did not seem particularly concerned about our presence.  Check out the video!

We found a whopping 5 plover species on the day (and 6 on the trip if you count the Killdeer we saw on the mainland), with plenty of Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, a couple dozen of the controversial Piping Plover and more Wilson's Plovers than I had ever seen...
Wilsn's Plover
 ...we counted about 80, which seemed like more than the island could support since they were constantly chasing each other around the beach.

I was too busy counting birds to try to digiscope any of the other species, but there were several of the rare Red Knot, a couple hundred Long-billed Dowitchers, and the ubiquitous Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and Willets.  The most numerous bird was Dunlin--we tallied some 1700.

Hopefully our survey will in some small way help these populations.  It sure was fun counting them and the setting was beautiful!

Big thanks to Ed, for originally discovering the Snowy Plover and arranging the ferry, UTV and State Park barracks for us.