WELCOME, JONESY: A NEW PIPING PLOVER ID ON ABACO
All piping plovers on Abaco are welcome winter visitors. Or I should say, winter residents. They are little different from the many Abaco second-homers who live in North America during the summer. As the chill of autumn and early winter takes hold in their northern habitat, they too fly south to their winter destination in the hope of warm sun, unspoilt sandy beaches and good food bahamian-style. Not worms, though. The humans draw a line at those, though they do pull things out of the sea that plovers would disdain as acceptable sustenance.
Jonesy was first sighted more than month ago on the beach at Winding Bay. This beach, and its neighbours on Cherokee Sound, have proved to be this season’s PIPL hotspot so far. Ali Ball originally reported having seen one bird with a green flag in a group of birds. Eventually, on October 29, she was able to get close enough to get a photo of Green Flag with its friends.
Tantalisingly, however, no amount of enhancement could reveal the code on the flag. Never mind, there was already enough information to start the process of identification. It was not a returning Bahamas-banded bird, which have bright pink coded flags. ‘Green Flag Upper Left’ indicated a bird banded by, or in conjunction with, the Virginia Tech program. This in turn pointed to the shorelines of Connecticut or Rhode Island. But it was vital to get a clear sight of the expected 3-character alphanumeric code on the flag. PIPL maestro Todd Pover was quickly on the case.
There are several obstacles for the local ‘civilian’ bird monitor, who may well not be equipped with a powerful camera and tripod, or a digiscope. The birds are very small. They scuttle. They can be nervous and quite difficult to get close to. They may hang out in much larger groups of shorebirds such as sandpipers and turnstones. The light might be poor or the weather unhelpful. Counting the birds is one matter. Seeing bands or flags – let alone reading codes – may be quite another.
Luckily, within a couple of days, Keith Kemp was able to visit the beach, and managed to get a couple of definitive shots of the bird. As you can see below, it turned out to have a blue band upper right as well as the flag, a fact that would narrow down the search for its summer habitat. The first task was to check out the code on the flag, a process of cropping, enhancing and magnifying… to get, finally, to Bird 09C
I posted Ali’s Oct 29 sighting as a provisional ID. Within a very short time of Keith’s nailing of the alphanumeric code, Todd Pover had located the bird’s origin and obtained some information which I then posted to my page ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH:
#44 OCT 30. 08.30. **NEW ID** Winding Bay. Mid-tide. 17 foraging PIPL inc. ‘JONESY’ (see #43) at the cabanas end. 2 photos. Green Flag code 09C. π Ali Ball (original spotter & monitor); Keith Kemp (follow-up). ID CONFIRMED: SY male, unsuccessful nester this summer at Sandy Point, Rhode Island. Last sighted there July 16. COMMENT Jonesy gets an upgrade from green to red marker. Most of these birds will have been counted already, but 17 suggests a handful of new arrivals. on that end of the beach. More details about Jonesy soon.
JONESY’S SUMMER HOME
To give an idea of how accurate the professional conservation teams are, the red flag on the map above marks the exact location of the last sighting of Jonesy, on July 16th. Sandy Point is a narrow sand spit on the boundary of Rhode Island and Connecticut; and of the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Jonesy seems to have spent the breeding season there scuttling backwards and forwards between RI and CT. He apparently paired off, but the reason for being ‘an unsuccessful nester’ is unknown at the moment. I haven’t yet been able to obtain any further information; I am hoping to be able to identify the bander, as with TUNA.
NAME THAT BIRD!
Originally Jonesy was called ‘Mrs Jones’. On Ali’s visits to the beach at Winding Bay, this little plover was regularly in “the same place, the same time”, as in the Billy Paul song “Me and Mrs Jones”. The only drawback being that it then emerged that Mrs Jones was a male. To change his name to Mr Jones seemed rather formal, and the suggestion that ‘Jonesy’ would cover the awkward situation was approved…