BAHAMA MAMA: BIG NEWS ABOUT A TINY BIRD
The bird in the header image is the presciently named Bahama Mama in Muskegon State Park, Michigan – so, one of the rare Great lakes piping plovers. She originally hatched and was banded as a chick in 2014 at Tawas MI, some distance away from Muskegon. When later named in 2015 by Muskegon monitor Carol Cooper, no one could possibly have known then where she would chose to overwinter. The Bahamas, as it turned out – the avian equivalent of nominative determinism.
This little bird is the perfect example to demonstrate the success of (a) an organised monitoring and recording system in the breeding grounds of these rare birds; (b) the use of easily identified coded banding and (c) the deployment of ‘citizen scientists’ to back up the professionals in the overwintering grounds such a Abaco.
A combination of the three factors leads over time to the compilation of a life story. Invariably there will be gaps, but let’s take a look at what we know about Bahama Mama, in her own dedicated timeline. Note two things: her beach fidelity; and the evidence of mate infidelity…
- 2014 Born Muskegon State Park, MI
- 2015 Nested with Little Guy and raised chicks. Winter location unknown
- 2016 Returned to Muskegon and again successfully nested with a new male, Bear, from Sleeping Bear Dunes Park MI. (Little Guy went off with another female on the same beach…)
- 2016 Resighted in October on Long Beach Abaco and stayed for several months
- 2017 Back at Muskegon and raised chicks again with Little Guy
- 2017 Again resighted in October on Long Beach Abaco and overwintered
- 2018 Back at Muskegon, initially back with Little Guy, eventually nested with Enforcer
The official record of the latest union – evidence of fickleness
This summer 4 chicks were hatched. Sadly, one of them (Ringo, 2 pics below) was lost, presumed predated, leaving 3 to fledge.
Bahama Mama with one of her chicks
Little Ringo RIP
These are rare and threatened birds, vulnerable at both ends of their migration for all the usual reasons. The studies undertaken at both ends of the migration have revealed astonishing beach loyalty in these little birds that travel up to 1500 miles (sometimes more) every Spring and every Fall to be somewhere safe to nest and breed; and then to overwinter. In Michigan, Carol Cooper is Bahama Mama’s mama, watching over her, recording the details, checking when she has left the beach, and anxiously watching each Spring for her arrival home.
On Abaco, these duties – pleasures, even – are undertaken by ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH and the team of citizen scientists who keep an eye on the beaches, count the birds, note the banded birds and photograph them for ID, and pass the info on to HQ (which happens to be me). The data from all sightings is collated and then the season’s stats are compiled and provided to the scientists involved. Here’s a summary of stats for last season:
Bahama Mama, first sighting on Long Beach Abaco Oct 2017
Photo Credits: Carol Cooper (1, 3, 4, 5, 6); MDF (2); Keith Kemp (7). Special thanks to Carol Cooper, monitor in Michigan; and to Keith Kemp, primary monitor on Abaco. Also to Todd Pover CWFNJ and all the other real scientists involved for the last 3 years
If you live on Abaco or its cays anytime between August and March and might be interested in helping with piping plover research by becoming a monitor, please get in touch with me. It’s very simple and undemanding. A beach stroll from time to time – even as little as once a month – with a notebook, pencil, binoculars, a chocolate bar and (preferably for accurate ID of banded birds) a camera. Not a dog, though. Not on this walk anyway! Every report, even of a single bird, adds to the picture. Last season there was more than one ‘citizen scientist’ sighting of a plover where none had been seen before.
Stunning photography and wonderful post on Bahama Mama, so amazing!!
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Thanks Donna. It’s huge fun running a Watch. Year 1, I wasn’t so sure – results were inconclusive and my methods needed refining. Now after 3 years I get it, and the significance of the research data produced. Also one kind of identifies with the birds. Maybe naming the birds is not good scientific practice, but it seems more personal… RH
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I love this post. We live in Holland, Michigan, just south of Muskegon. We, like this little bird, love Michigan during the warm months, and visiting the Bahamas when it’s cold. For now that’s only one week a year on Eleuthera, but hoping to follow more closely with the migrating birds when we retire. Haha! They are pretty smart.
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