INDEPENDENCE DAY… FOR TINY PIPING FLUFF BALLS
Happy July 4th to all those for whom the date has special significance (aside from it being plenty of people’s birthday). I’m celebrating the occasion by exercising my personal independence with a post that wrote itself. Mary Lenahan has done all the hard graft. Her photos and captions of a day in the field with her student Alex, in the company of CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION NJ savants Todd Pover and Michelle Stantial merely needed to be arranged in traditional Rolling Harbour format, with a few additional comments.
BIRDS IN THE HAND
“My student Alex and I were invited by Todd Pover (Conserve Wildlife of NJ Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager) to help out with some piping plover work in Avalon the other morning. We were lucky to observe the plover family from afar and close up as Michelle Stantial (Wildlife Biologist from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry) and her technicians collected data on the week old plover chicks. What a thrill when we were able to release the fluffy chicks back to their parents in the Avalon dunes! Alex even took the time to help Todd take down a plover predator exclosure and to retrieve a balloon from the beach. What a fantastic and life changing experience for a budding scientist and her bird-nerd teacher. It is my hope that these endangered plovers overcome the many threats and obstacles they face and survive to migrate to their wintering grounds in the Bahamas”.
RH NOTE: 5 of the identified banded piping plovers that overwintered on Abaco were from NJ preserves. 2 of them (including the famous ‘Tuna’) were actually banded by Michelle herself last summer, with Emily Heiser.
Alex and Michelle Stantial discuss the bands on a piping plover chick
Alex cradles a 1 week old chick before releasing him/her back to its parents
Michelle Stantial places two fuzzy fluff balls into Mary’s hands for release!
Go find your parents!
These tiny birds, weighing a couple of grams maybe, were one week old. Already, they were nearing their own independence: still learning the arts of life from their parents, but fast becoming mini autonomous units too. To give you an idea how fast they develop, the first “fall” PIPL found on Abaco last year were spotted by Woody Bracey on July 31 on Green Turtle Cay mudflats – 6 birds in a group. Tuna, born in June, was first seen on Abaco in August, having undertaken a journey of well over 1000 miles.
ANSWERS the answers to the questions are as follows: ‘no’; ‘no’; and ‘not in the slightest’.
QUESTIONS the questions are: ‘don’t the parents reject a chick that has been handled during weighing, measuring and banding’?; ‘aren’t the chicks terrified and traumatised by the whole process’?; and ‘don’t the bands hamper their foraging / flying abilities or otherwise cause lifelong alarm and despondency’?
The field work on the beach involves more than measuring and banding the chicks. Exclosures erected to exclude predators from the nest areas need to be regularly checked, and removed when the time is right (below)
Alex finds a stray balloon very close to plover nest. BALLOONS BLOW and should never be released into the environment! This balloon could have been mistaken as food by a turtle or a whale, becoming trapped in the animal’s stomach, causing it to become very ill and die. The strings of balloons have been found tangled around the necks, bodies and legs of birds, causing pain, injury and death. Don’t release balloons or better yet, don’t buy them!
Many thanks to Mary Lenahan, Michelle Stantial, Todd Pover and of course Alex for being happy to share their experiences! And Birdorable for the little guys…