STICKING TOGETHER: BIRDS OF A FEATHER ON ABACO


Smooth-billed Ani Pair, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer / Birds of Abaco)

Smooth-billed Anis, Abaco – Gerlinde Taurer

STICKING TOGETHER: BIRDS OF A FEATHER

In times of trouble, of grief and of despair, humans have an instinct to rally round for the greater good. Right now, I am very conscious that on Abaco – and indeed Grand Bahama – there is little or no time or mental space for overmuch concern about the wildlife. I am safely distanced from the tragedies and dire misfortunes of the countless individuals, families and communities affected by Hurricane Dorian. In this post I simply offer some images of birds – all photographed on Abaco – that are bonded together as adults or adult and chick, as symbolic of the huge combined human efforts on Abaco to comfort, restore, and rebuild a shattered island.

Northern Bobwhite pair, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Northern Bobwhites, Abaco backcountry – Tom Sheley

Piping Plovers, Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Piping Plover, Delphi Beach Abaco – Keith Salvesen

Abaco (Bahama) Parrots, Bahamas - Peter Mantle

Abaco Parrots – Peter Mantle

Neotropic Cormorants, Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas - Bruce Hallett

Neotropic Cormorants, Treasure Cay, Abaco – Bruce Hallett

Common Gallinule Adult & Chick, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

Common Gallinule adult & chick, Abaco – Tom Sheley

Wilson's Plover adult & chick, Abaco Bahamas - Sandy Walker

Wilson’s Plover adult & chick, Abaco Bahamas – Sandy Walker

American Oystercatcher pair, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

American Oystercatchers, Abaco Bahamas – Tom Sheley

CREDITS: Gerlinde Taurer (1); Tom Sheley (2, 6, 8); Keith Salvesen (3, 8); Peter Mantle (4); Bruce Hallett (5); Sandy Walker (7)

Sanderlings, Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Sanderlings, Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas – Keith Salvesen

BLUE CHROMIS: A FLASH OF COLOUR ON THE REEF


BLUE CHROMIS: A FLASH OF COLOUR ON THE REEF

I’ve gone pictorial for today because I have only got my phone with me while we are away. Composition is slow, close to decomposition – and the comms connection is close to disconnection

Blue chromis (Chromis cyaneus) belong to the same group of fishes as damselfishes. These unmistakeable, bright reef denizens are very visible despite their tiny size. These fish are shoalers, so out on the reef you can enjoy them flickering around you as you swim along or hang in the water to admire the corals.

Like many a pretty and easily captured small fish that can be monetised once removed from its natural home environment, the blue chromis is popular for aquariums, and for humans to keep in their own home environments, unselfishly feeding them concocted food.

Blue chromis are adaptable and sociable, and will happily swim with other small reef fishes (as above). My own favourite combo is chromis mixed in with sergeant majors. But a shoal of them (mostly) alone is pretty special too….

I cynically mentioned ‘concocted’ food earlier. Here is one online care instruction for looking after them: “They are omnivores, meaning that they eat both meaty and plant based foods. They are not difficult to feed and will eat a variety of regular aquarium fare, frozen, live, and sometimes even dry food. Feeding them a variety of foods will help them retain their color in captivity. They sometimes feed on the algae in the tank”. 

If you are tempted to rescue some from their reef habitat, rest assured that: They have been known to spawn in captivity. Blue chromis can usually be obtained for about $10-15. And don’t hold back on the frozen food (though maybe warm it up a bit before feeding time).

Credits: Melinda Rodgers / Dive Abaco; Melinda Riger / G B Scuba

ABACO’S RARE PIPING PLOVERS: CITIZEN SCIENTISTS WANTED FOR YEAR 5


Piping plover adult & chick (Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ / birdsbyKim)

ABACO’S RARE PIPING PLOVERS: CITIZEN SCIENTISTS WANTED FOR YEAR 5

  • BE A BEACH MONITOR IN THE CAUSE OF RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION OF A TINY RARE BIRD THAT CHOOSES ABACO FOR ITS WINTER HOME
  • NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY; MINIMAL EQUIPMENT (pen, paper, binox & a ‘normal’ camera)
  • ABILITY TO COUNT TINY BIRDS IN (USUALLY) SMALL NUMBERS AN ADVANTAGE
  • SIMPLE AS TAKING A NATURE WALK ON YOUR FAVOURITE BEACH (but sorry, not with a dog)
  • COMMITMENT UP TO YOU – ONCE A WEEK, ONCE A MONTH, JUST THE ONCE
  • EVERY SIGHTING IS LOGGED – BANDED BIRDS ARE TRACKED BACK TO THEIR ORIGINS
  • EVERY BIRD IS A STAT THAT ADDS TO THE OVERALL PICTURE FOR RESEARCHERS
  • THE BIRDS MAY BE FOUND ON THE MAINLAND AND THE CAYS – EVEN THE MARLS
  • WE WORK IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SCIENTISTS  IN THE BREEDING GROUNDS
  • ABACO IS THE ONLY BAHAMAS ISLAND WITH AN ANNUAL WINTER-LONG WATCH

At the end of July – my guess is the 28th, on past form – the first piping plover of the winter season will be resighted on Abaco. It will weigh less than 2oz, and will have travelled at least 1000 miles (direct route). In practice it will be much further, because the journey will be broken by coastal stopovers en route.

‘SQUID’ from the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe NWR, NJ, overwintering on Abaco (year 2)Piping Plover Squid from NJ - on Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

My bet is that the first bird will touch down in the Cherokee Sound area. There’s a fair chance it will be called ‘Squid’  from New Jersey (for the 3rd year) or ‘Black Flag 2J’ from Prince Edward Island, Canada (for the 2nd year). At once, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH will switch from summer indolence to red alert and piping hot… for the next 7 months. The last winter visitor will leave on ± March 15 2020 to return to its breeding grounds in the North (specific parts of northern US / Canada).

Piping Plover on Man-o-War Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU PREDICT THIS?

Since the 2015-16 season, we have been monitoring Abaco’s beaches, shorelines, and flats (there are specific locations that are preferred by the birds) throughout the winter season. Each year adds to the data from previous years and as the annual information is analysed, the knowledge of the behaviours of this little plover significantly increases.

‘TUNA’ – a legendary regular from past years (Rhonda Pearce)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)

Over 4 years, distinctive patterns have emerged.

  1. Firstly, the plover numbers each season are fairly constant.
  2. Next, we have found that a number of birds return the following winter. Some are repeat returners – the current record is held by Bahama Mama from Lake Michigan, with 5 annual visits to the very same beach.
  3. Then, we have established that many of the banded birds are (a) resighted along the US coastline where they take a stopover during migration and (b) return to exactly the same beach where they were born.
  4. Often, we can find out when they hatched, fledged and left the beach – and even the person who did the banding.
  5. Finally, the number of banded birds – especially Canadian ones – is on the rise. This in part reflects an increase in summer chicks banding – but the fact is, we can show that they are turning up on Abaco, and returners usually turn up either on the same shoreline (or very close to it) as the previous year.

Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WOULD IT MATTER IF APPW DIDN’T EXIST?

In one sense no, because the birds would still undertake their Fall and Spring migrations, even if no one took any notice. But then, of course, no one would have any idea where the plovers might be for 6 – 8 months of the year. What the Watch can do, in conjunction with our partners in the breeding grounds, is to complete the annual migration circle and provide the specific details that help research and conservation of this rare little bird (world population around 8000). Furthermore, the Watch results provide continuing evidence that Abaco and its Cays provide a safe and suitable overwintering habitat for the birds. 

SQUIDS KIDS – THE MIGRATION CIRCLE COMPLETED

KEITH, CHEROKEE & ABACOPiping Plover 'Keith' - CWFNJ    Piping Plover 'Cherokee' - CWFNJ Piping Plover 'Abaco' CWFNJ

These 3 little chicks are this summer’s hatchlings (in June) of parents Squid (see above) and ‘Sophia’. This is on the very same beach where Squid was born and banded in July 2017. Sometime this Fall, we hope that Squid will return for a 3rd year in Cherokee Sound. And we hope just as much that one or maybe all his chicks will arrive on Abaco too. We’ll certainly know if they do – we already know their band combinations! They each have an Abaco-related name – maybe that will encourage them too.

Piping plover on the beach at Delphi (Peter Mantle)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE CAN BE BEACH MONITORS?

Anyone at all. No experience is needed. You’ll be given all the info you need about the birds you’ll be looking for, and it may be possible to go out with a monitor to see what it’s like. Even a blank report is useful to have, to indicate where the plovers are not… And there’s no such thing as a mistake – the system allows for occasional miscounts, for example. Below is a summary of the last season, from which you can see the kind of data that is accumulated. 

You’ll see that there were 17 beach monitors of whom most were local Abaconians or regular second-homers. You probably know some or all of them! A few were visitors from US and UK. The 2 pro monitors were from our partners Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ, and Audubon Caribbean. Keith Kemp is the wonderful and hard-working lead monitor and very regularly visits the hotspot shorelines. Other people made quite frequent reports, some about once a month, and several made fewer than 5. Each one added to the overall picture.

Piping Plover chick on LBI (Northside Jim Verhagen)

 

If you would like to become involved, even on the most casual basis, please do get in touch. Ditto if you’d like to know a bit more about it. If you decide not to go ahead – or once started, to stop – that’s all fine. It’s basically up to you whether you want to turn a beach walk into a bit of research (though as I mentioned above, it’s not a thing that can be done with a dog, for obvious reasons). Take a friend – or even a spouse. A single sighting might reveal a hitherto unknown location or a new banded bird – it happens every year. It’s Citizen Science in action!

Please email me at rolllingharbour.delphi [@] gmail.com or contact me via FB. Or just comment on this post!

A flock of piping plovers (with a few birds that aren’t), Cherokee Flats (Lucy & mark Davies)Piping Plover Flock, Cherokee Sound, Abaco Bahamas (Lucy & Mark Davies)

Credits: CWFNJ / Kim; Keith Kemp; Charmaine Albury; Rhonda Pearce; Keith Salvesen; CWFNJ / Michelle Stantial x 3; Peter Mantle; ‘Northside’ Jim Verhagen x 2, LBI; Lucy & Mark Davies

I’m on Long Beach Island right now – hope to meet you on Abaco in the Fall (Northside Jim)
Piping Plover chick on LBI (Northside Jim Verhagen)

THE DITZY CHICKS & THE BEACH BYRDS: BANDS TO ADMIRE


Piping Plover Chick Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial)

‘KEITH’

‘THE DITZY CHICKS’ & ‘THE BEACH BYRDS’: BANDS TO ADMIRE

Piping plovers are rare, tiny, unutterably cute, weigh about 2oz – and every Fall they fly south 1000 miles or more to warmer climes. Abaco is one such clime. The data collected during the 4 years of the ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH project shows annual counts of ±250 individual birds found either in flocks in specific hotspots, or more randomly in small groups, pairs or singles. Certain areas on the Cays are also popular. Of all these, around 10% are banded. All the birds are banded in their breeding grounds, usually as chicks (apart from a few ‘pink flags’ banded as adults on Long Beach, South Abaco). 

Piping Plover Chick Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial)

‘CHEROKEE’

SQUID’S KIDS

To set the scene (the story is developed below). The 3 tiny chicks with the ring bling in the large photos hatched at a Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey about 10 days ago. Their parents are Squid and Sophie. The scientists who captured, weighed, measured and banded them also named them, for reasons which will become apparent, Keith, Cherokee and Abaco. This post aims to explain the background story, and in particular the great significance of banding as a tool of research into rare species.

At the outset – and because a few people express concern –  I’d better add that no deleterious effects arise from banding. The bands are not constricting, and the birds are unaware of them. Individual banded birds are often seen year after year at either end of their migration or at both; and sometimes during stopovers along the way:  they have all survived being banded, Also, if the scientists and conservationists were to take risks with the chicks in their care by using inappropriate methods, they would in fact be damaging or destroying the very creatures they have dedicated their skills to preserving.

Piping Plover Chick

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS SPECIES?

PIPL are not just rare, they are IUCN Red-listed as ‘near-threatened’. Last Autumn the IUCN estimate for adult birds was 8000. The summer breeding grounds are located in quite specific areas of North America and Canada.

These vulnerable little shorebirds nest in scrapes on the beaches and forage on the shoreline. They face many dangers including predation (eg gulls, cats, foxes), human activities and disturbance (eg the inalienable right to use beaches for off-road fun), and habitat degradation (eg. development, encroachment, and pollution). This last is the greatest problem of the three, and it is of course the responsibility – or fault – of humans. Fortunately, the establishment of extensive coastal / shoreline wildlife refuges has provided managed habitat and careful protection in some areas.

Piping Plover Chick Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial)

‘ABACO’

WHERE DOES BANDING COME INTO ALL THIS?

For the purposes of the ongoing scientific investigation and conservation research, the wildlife organisations in each area carry out programs to examine, measure, weigh and band birds on their ‘home’ beach. This process builds a database year on year against which the health of the birds and also the habitat can be measured. 

       

Banding enables individuals to be identified and observed in the breeding grounds; and crucially, where the birds overwinter (see below). Birds are given flags or bands or both in unique combinations. These may be put on one or both legs; mostly they will be on the upper leg(s), but sometimes the lower legs are also used; unique alphanumerics or coloured dots provide further means of ID. Some locations have a tradition of naming the chicks during banding. Thus ‘Green Flag AH3’ became ‘Atari’ . Felicia Fancybottom is the most exotic name so far (she had a random posterior-feather sticking out when banded).

On Abaco, we sometimes give unnamed overwintering banded birds an ID to avoid confusion, for easy reference, or actually just for fun. For example Green Flag 70E became (obviously) ‘Joe’.

Piping Plover Banding Box (Steph Egger)

Bander’s Box: H22 is now on ‘Harry Potter’

Piping Plover Chick NJ (Kim / CWFNJ)

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS IN PRACTICE

MANY HAPPY RETURNS FOR ‘SQUID’

January 2, 2018 the female bird called ‘SQUID’ was resighted on Abaco at Casuarina. Her bands were: upper left, blue on black; upper right, green on red (photo below). Checks of the band combination produced the following information:

  • originated from the Holgate unit of Edwin B. Forsythe NWR in NJ, banded there as a female
  • monitored and researched by Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ
  • recorded at the same location the previous summer so had already completed Fall and Sping migrartion, returning to the same beach where she hatched and fledged.
  • named for the bander’s mom’s cat
Piping Plover, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

‘SQUID’

July 29 2018 SQUID was resighted for the second year at the same location on Casuarina flats, Abaco, the first banded bird of the season. She was also the last to leave, in mid-March – a stay of of around 8 months. During that time, APPW beach monitor Keith Kemp saw Squid on several occasions, all in the immediate area of Cherokee Sound (of which Casuarina is a part).

LATE MAY / EARLY JUNE 2019 Resighted for the third season at EBF, and nested with male (as it has turned out) called Sophia! Sexing tiny newly hatched chicks is not an exact science. Originally there were 4 eggs, but on June 2 only 3 chicks hatched – ‘nature’ had intervened with the 4th. They were named ABACO, CHEROKEE… and KEITH (a kindly nod both to me and to monitor Keith Kemp). The chicks were captured by Michelle Stantial of SUNY, in conjunction with CWFNJ, to be banded, weighed, and measured so they can be monitored and assessed for growth, beach activity, and protection purposes. In a couple of months these chicks will themselves feel the urge to fly south, and will continue the annual PIPL migration cycle.

Piping Plover Chick Banding, Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial / Todd Pover)

Squid being banded by Michelle Stantial in July 2017

 WHAT HAS THE RESEARCH REVEALED SO FAR – AND IS IT USEFUL?

SQUID is an excellent example of conservation, research, and science (both pro and citizen) in action. From his story we can conclude the following:

  • Squid has been on the same summer beach in NJ for 3 years running
  • She has also overwintered for 2 years running in the same location on Abaco
  • So she has flown 4 migrations of c1000 miles with extraordinary location accuracy
  • This is a prime example of ‘beach loyalty’, a vital ingredient for species conservation
  • At 2 oz, she is a doughty and determined survivor of all the dangers arising from such long journeys
  • The habitats at both ends of the migration are good and safe, without notable degradation 
  • The nesting success with A, C and K adds 3 more birds to the population, if they all fledge and survive
  • There is every chance that Squid will be seen on Abaco this Fall
  • There is some chance that at least one of the chicks will turn up on Abaco too; or in the Bahamas anyway

Piping Plover Chick, LBI (Northside Jim)

This story is one example of many similar ones that occur every season. One plover, Bahama Mama from Michigan, has spent the last 5 winters on the same Abaco shoreline. Overall, there is optimism that the conservation measures in place will prevent the decline and encourage the increase of the species. There’s a lot of dedication that goes into all this. I think it can be fairly said that the story of Squid and Sophia’s little family is a both reward for that dedication, and a sign of hope for the future.

NOT THE DITZY CHICKS!

Credits: Michelle Stantial / SUNY; Todd Pover / CWFNJ; Holgate Unit EBF NWR; Stephanie Egger (now with NOAA); photos from Keith Kemp, Kim / CWFNJ, ‘Northside’ Jim Verhagen LBI

Piping Plover Chick, LBI (Northside Jim)

Goodbye, and well done for sticking it out to the end

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2018: ABACO’S 6 TREASURES


Wilson's Plover Chick, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2018: ABACO’S 6 TREASURES

Every day of the year, or so it seems, at least one worthy creature has been awarded an ‘Appreciation Day’, a special day when a particular species has its profile raised and awareness spread around. It certainly seems to be the case with birds; I’m going to assume that it applies to all the other classes of animal – mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, each with their own worthy candidates for recognition. Except for no-see-ums, obviously. And fire ants, I hope. You’d think standing on a nest while taking photos just once in a lifetime would be a lesson. I’ve done it twice… Anyway, yesterday was Plover Appreciation Day 2018.

PLOVERS ON ABACO

Until recently Abaco had 33 recorded shorebird species but since the first-ever sightings of a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER in 2016, the number has risen to 34. Of these, a mere 6 are plovers: 

  • Black-bellied Plover                        Pluvialis squatarola                      WR 1
  • American Golden Plover                 Pluvialis dominica                         TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                Ochthodromus wilsonia             PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                     Charadrius semipalmatus            WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                    Charadrius melodus                     WR 3
  • Killdeer                                              Charadrius vociferus                    WR 2

The codes tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5)

The best-known of the 6 Abaco plover species is the Wilson’s Plover, because it is the only permanent resident. The American Golden Plover is a rare transient, but we luckily have a photo of one (below) taken on Abaco. All the others are winter residents and easy to middling hard to find.

The Piping Plover is the most interesting species, with a mere 8000 left in the world. There is a vigorous conservation program to protect them and their habitat, both in their breeding grounds in the North and their southern overwintering grounds. Their summer breeding range is in Canada and the Great Lakes, north-central US, and the eastern seaboard. In winter they migrate south, many to the Bahamas – and Abaco is one of their preferred homes. We count as many as we can between August and February, report the banded ones, and find out their origins and histories

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER  Pluvialis squatarola   WR 1

Non-breeding plumage (as you would see normally it on Abaco, without the black belly)Black-bellied Plover intermediate plumage. Marls. Abaco Bahamas. Tom Sheley

 Breeding plumage – and the reason for the nameBlack-bellied Plover (breeding plumage), Bahamas (Linda Barry-Cooper)

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER  Pluvialis dominica  TR 4

American Golden Plover, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

 SEMIPALMATED PLOVER Charadrius semipalmatus WR 2

Semi-palmated Plover, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)Semipalmated Plover (f nb), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus WR 2

Kildeer, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PIPING PLOVER  Charadrius melodus WR 3

Piping Plover, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WILSON’S PLOVER Ochthodromus wilsonia  PR B 2

This permanent resident plover is a year-round presence on the Delphi Club beach, where in summer they nest and raise their tiny fluffball chicks. They are especially significant on Abaco as the only breeding plover species – it’s the only chance we get to see plover nests and chicks… (see header image and below).

Wilson's Plover, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco - Craig NashWilson's Plover, Abaco 12

RELATED POSTS

PIPING PLOVERS

50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER

WILSON’S PLOVERS (1) ‘Dream Plover’

 WILSON’S PLOVERS (2) Nest Protection

 WILSON’S PLOVERS (3) Scrapes, Chicks & Broken Wings

SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS

Photo credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2); Linda Barry-Cooper (3); Tony Hepburn (4, 5, 8); Bruce Hallett (6, 7); Peter Mantle (9); Keith Salvesen (10, 13); Sandy Walker (11); Craig Nash (12); Charmaine Albury (14)

Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

BAHAMA MAMA: BIG NEWS ABOUT A TINY BIRD


Piping Plover Bahama Mama, Michigan / Abaco (Carol Cooper)

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.

Piping Plover Chick (MDF / Wiki)

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 chicksBahama Mama & Chick, Muskegon MI (Carol Cooper)

Little Ringo RIPRingo Piping Plover, Muskegon MI (Carol Cooper)

Another of the chicks

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: 

Abaco Piping Plover Watch Stats 2017-18 (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Mama, first sighting on Long Beach Abaco Oct 2017Bahama Mama Piping Plover, Long Beach Abaco (Keith Kemp)

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

POLITE REQUEST

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. 

PIPING PLOVERS ON GRAND BAHAMA (for a change…)


Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

PIPING PLOVERS ON GRAND BAHAMA (for a change…)

I used to go on a bit about piping plovers*, because they are so special. Rare. Endangered. Creatures rewarding observation, and deserving research and conservation. Most of all, they favour the Bahamas for their winter migration destination.  The islands – especially Abaco, Grand Bahama and Andros – provide a safe and unspoiled habitat for them in winter. The photographs shown here are piping plovers taken on Grand Bahama in early September by well-known birding guide Erika Gates, who has kindly given me use permission.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

These days, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH diverts PIPL from these pages to a dedicated Facebook page. Now in its 3rd season, useful data is being collected for the research teams in the breeding grounds in North America by volunteer beach monitors**. Some are regular, some are occasional, some are one-off reporters: all contribute to the overall picture. In particular we are able to identify individual banded birds and track them back to their summer locations.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

WHAT USE IS THAT?

Almost every banded bird resighted this season is a returner to exactly the same beach as before. Some are here for their third or even fourth year. These tiny birds are therefore surviving a journey of between 1000 and 2000 miles each autumn and again each spring – and locating their favourite beaches with unerring accuracy. A few are resighted en route during their migration; often we get reports of their nesting and breeding news during the summer.  Their little lives can be pieced together.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

AND THE CONCLUSION TO BE DRAWN?

The summer breeding grounds generally have conservation programs that help to protect the nesting birds from danger and disturbance. Those are the most vulnerable weeks for the adults and their chicks. The arrival of the plovers each autumn on Grand Bahama, Abaco and elsewhere in the Bahamas demonstrates their ‘beach fidelity’. They are confident that the beaches offer a safe and secure winter habitat where they are left alone. And when the time comes in Spring, they will be ready to make the long journey north again for the breeding season.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

* uncouth reader “you certainly did…

** additional volunteers welcome! If you walk a beach once a fortnight or even a month, own a piece of paper & a pencil, can count, and ideally have a camera or even a phone, you too can be a citizen scientist!

Photo credits: all photos, Erika Gates, with many thanks. Erika’s related websites are