WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY? YAY! AN ABACO COMPETITION!
In the past I have occasionally offered a Kalik™ (half in jest) for a ‘right answer’ or a nugget of info. Anyone who didn’t get their beer can still claim it, of course [no, no, not all at once please…]. But now I’m getting serious. World Shorebird day is on September 6th, and this weekend sees a global shorebird count in which, it is hoped, large numbers of people will scan their shorelines and post the results on the great and good resource that is eBird.
But you don’t need to go to those lengths. Here’s the deal. Is there a bit of beach near you (hint: on Abaco you’ll never be far from a beach or shoreline except in the National Park)? If the answer is yes, then can you spare an hour (or two?) to take a walk on the beach over the weekend? Or Monday and Tuesday? If so, can you look for a particular rare bird that makes its home on Abaco for the winter? Great. You’re in the competition, then. And there’ll even be a PIPL-related prize…
THE (SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE) RULES
- go for a beach walk, taking a notebook, pen, a camera or even just a phone. Binoculars would be good.
- look for tiny shorebirds that look like the birds in this post
- count how many you see at a time (watch out, they move quite fast). Maybe 1 or 2. A dozen is the likely max.
- check their legs for coloured flags or bands and if possible note the colours and any numbers / letters
- if possible, take photos of the bird(s), showing legs if banded. Don’t worry too much about quality – enhancement is possible
- tell me about what you found and send me any photos (see below)
HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
- Size – very small (6″ – 7″) and usually busy
- Legs – orange
- Beak – black, possibly with a hint of orange at the base
- Eyes – black and beady, with a streak of white above
- Front – white / very pale
- Underside – ditto
- Back – greyish / brownish-tinged
- Head – ditto
- Tail – darker feathers at the end
- Neck ring – a greyish hint of a partial one (they are black in summer)
WHERE WILL I FIND ONE?
- On a beach or maybe a rocky shoreline
- Out in the open on the sand, anywhere from back of the beach to the shoreline
- Foraging in the tide margins
- Rushing round in a seemingly random way
- Taking a dip in a sea-pool (see above)
- On a rock near the sea
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?
In an ideal world, all the details below. But I’d be really pleased just to find that you had seen a piping plover on your chosen beach. Even the knowledge that a particular part of the shoreline is favoured by the birds is valuable for their conservation. The most useful info is:
- Date, name of beach, approx location (‘north end’). Time would be good too, and whether tide high, mid or low
- Number of piping plovers seen (if any) and how many banded / flagged (if any).
- Impression of bands if unclear: ‘I think it was… a green flag / an orange ring / a metal ring’ or if visible…
- ‘One was green flag 2AN on it’ / ‘one had bands – left leg upper leg orange, right upper leg light blue…’
- Take a photo. This will help eliminate other species of shorebird from the ID, and enable a close-up look
WHAT’S THE POINT OF BANDING & TRACKING THEM?
Marking a plover with coloured bands or flags (or a combo) gives a unique ID to each bird. Usually it will be done on the beach where they hatched, within a day or two. These adornments weigh nothing, do not impede the birds in foraging or in flight (or when mating…) and expand as they grow. The scientists who carry out the banding will have weighed and measured the hatchling and made a detailed record of the data collected. They need to get as much information as possible about the habits of each bird to help with conservation initiatives at both ends of the migrations.
Each fall the plovers travel south between 1000 and 2000 miles south from their summer breeding grounds. Tracking individual birds to where they overwinter enables scientists to build up a picture of the type and location of fragile habitat that these little birds prefer, and to compare the annual data for each banded bird. For example
- A particular beach does not seem to attract piping plovers at all (there may be several good reasons for this)
- A particular beach has single or small groups of piping plovers who come and go but don’t settle there
- A particular beach usually has at least one or a few birds on it who show ‘beach fidelity’, eg Winding Bay
- If birds are found in groups – more than 10, say – in a particular location, it means the beach suits the breed especially well. It is sheltered, has plenty of scope for good foraging, few predators, and has not been spoilt by humans. Long Beach (Island Homes) is a good example. Last December, groups of more than 60 were found there. It’s a *hotspot*!
GIVE US AN EXAMPLE, PLEASE
Last season a bird called Tuna (see photo above) arrived at Watching Bay (Cherokee) in at the end of August. He moved from time to time to the Cherokee mud flats and Winding Bay, but mostly he remained at Watching Bay until April. His unique banding colours and their positioning led to the following information
- The precise coordinates of location of the nest where he hatched in New Jersey
- The date of hatching, banding, fledging and the last date he was seen there before migrating to Abaco
- The name of the banders, plus his weight and the length of his body, wings, legs and beak
- Even the names of Tuna’s parents. In fact, mother Paula headed to the Bahamas too – she was resighted on Joulter Cays, Andros last winter.
Tuna was not reported over this summer – he didn’t return to his ‘birth beach’ – but we believe Tuna is now back at Watching Bay The distant photos were not clear enough to make a positive and definite ID. On the next visit we may know for sure, and all because of the bands. And we’ll know that he likes Abaco enough to fly back 1200+ miles to the same beach as last year. We can conclude that Watching Bay provides a suitable and safe habitat for Piping Plovers.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
- Potential ‘fun for all the family (nb best leave the dog at home for this adventure…)
- Exercise in a lovely beach setting
- Seeing a rare and vulnerable bird in its natural setting
- Wonderment that such a tiny bird should fly many miles & choose Abaco to overwinter
- Assisting in logging the beach presence of the birds so that researchers know where to look
- Helping count the birds so that year-on-year comparisons of the population can be monitored
- Getting appreciation and thanks
- Being described as a ‘Citizen Scientist’
- Winning a prize if your are the most successful finder of banded birds, as verified by photos
I’ll post details of sightings on ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH with credited photos. Later I’ll follow up with a ROLLING HARBOUR post summarising the results, listing the participants and their scores of both unbanded and banded birds, and naming the winner of the PIPL-themed prize to mark their glory…
Contact me via APPW, DM me on my FB page, or email me at rollingharbour.delphi [at] gmail.com
Credits: Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper, Gyorgy Szimuly (WSD logo)