“GOOD MIGRATIONS” by THE BEACH BIRDS
It’s started already. The autumn migration of piping plovers from up north to down south. It seems only the other day (April in fact) that the last PIPL were seen on Abaco. Since then, they have spent the summer in their breeding grounds, raising families. This seems to have been a successful breeding season, with good reports that included a record number in the tiny Great Lakes population. But the attrition rate to predation is high: for example, of the 4 chicks in one family that was closely observed on Long Beach Island NJ, only one (‘Beth’) has survived.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THESE BIRDS?
A recent estimate put the world’s supply of these little birds at 8000. And of these, many spend their winter in the Bahamas, Abaco being one of their favoured destinations. The survival of the species is in the balance. Habitat degradation at either end of their migrations could be disastrous; at both ends, more than doubly so.
HOW CAN THEIR SURVIVAL BE ASSURED?
A number of organisations and individuals are dedicated to looking out for the PIPL. This includes ensuring preservation of habitat integrity and protection on the beaches where they nest, and banding programs so that birds can be tracked and monitored during their migrations. This is one aspect which people on Abaco (and elsewhere) can help with – looking out for these birds, reporting their location and how many are seen, and if possible describing the bling: colour of bands, which legs, which order,visible numbers etc. Or better still, taking photos!
WHERE WILL I FIND PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO?
On beaches and shorelines. On the mainland, places where they were reported last year included Long Beach, Crossing Rocks, Schooner Bay, the beach at Delphi, Bahamas Palm Shores, Casuarina and Little Harbour. They also visit the cays, with a number reported on Man-o-War Cay for example.
HOW FAR HAVE THEY GOT IN THEIR TRAVELS?
Well on their way south. Danny Sauvageau, who combines monitoring beaches in Florida with being a wonderful bird photographer, has just reported the first arrivals. On 23 July he saw 3 unbanded PIPL in Dunedin Fl. – here’s one of them.
Then on 29 July Danny found his first banded Piping Plovers of the 2015-16 wintering season at Fort Desoto – 6 birds of which 5 were banded. This enabled him to recognise them as returners, and to identify their origin: “Two were from the Great Lakes (Michigan), two were from the Great Plains (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one was from Nebraska!”.
These 3 examples show the wide variation in banding in the different locations. Which is why a photo of a bird’s legs is particularly helpful for the research into the species.
The CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is involved annually with researching the piping plovers of Abaco. Many will be familiar with the scientists Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger who visit each year to monitor the plovers. For those who do not already have a direct line to them I would be very pleased to receive reports of sightings to collate and pass on. The monitoring work provides exactly the kind of information that will help to ensure the survival of this adorable but vulnerable species. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or, better still, upload info / pics to the new FB page I have set up, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 2015 – 16
The most helpful information to have is date; time; location; number of birds; whether banded or unbanded; and if banded, as much information as possible or ideally a photo…
TYPICAL MUSICAL DEVIATION FROM THE TOPIC
The referencing in the title to a famous ‘disc’ from 1966 by a ‘popular beat combo’ does not presage a re-formation. In the past there was acrimony. Some drink ‘n’ drugs hell. Splits and re-formations. Sadly not all former members are still with us. Here’s a memory of them from (arguably) their most satisfyingly inventive era… **EARWORM ALERT** now you won’t be able to get the wretched tune out of your head. It’s given you ‘excitations’. Sorry about that.
Credits: All photos courtesy of Danny Sauvageau except ‘lone chick’ MDF & ‘chick in hand’ CWFNJ; shout outs to Danny, Todd, Stephanie and all PIPL researchers. Plus Bay Soundings. And the Beach Boys…
ADDENDUM AUG 2 A good article about the significance of banding can be found at BAY SOUNDINGS (based around Tampa Bay). It includes contributions from Danny and a useful info box:
Reporting banded birds
Reporting banded birds is one of the most important activities for citizen-scientists, says Wraithmell. “It’s the only way we have to solve the mystery of migration – to learn where they stop and where they winter so we can protect that habitat too.”
Most photographers stumble upon their first banded birds accidentally because they don’t always see the bands until they review their images on a computer screen. After that, they’ll learn to watch for the bands even if they don’t get close enough to see them with their naked eye.
“There’s something very exciting about photographing banded birds, learning where they came from and following their travels if they’ve been seen and reported before,” Sauvageau said.
But capturing an image shouldn’t outweigh allowing the bird to rest or feed in peace, Wraithmell said. “One thing that’s really important is not disturbing the birds, whether they’re nesting or just resting,” she said. If nesting birds are disturbed, they fly off and leave their eggs or babies in broiling sun and defenseless against predators. Wintering birds need to rest and pack on the pounds before they fly back to their summer breeding grounds.
“Some birds, like piping plovers, actually spend more time here than they do nesting,” she said. “Their main job over the winter is eating and resting so they can nest successfully. And breeding is hard work – it takes a lot of energy to make an egg and then to feed and defend a chick until it’s old enough to take care of itself.”
For the scientists who band birds, “it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea,” Wraithmell said. “Every resighting is valuable because we learn something new.”