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

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” REVISITED: THE LEGEND LIVES ON


PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” REVISITED

THE LEGEND LIVES ON

by ROWLING HARBOUR

It was a bright sunny morning and the sand on the beach was warm under Harry Potter’s bare feet. Although by now an experienced flyer, his recent adventures during his epic 1000-mile journey had left him very tired. All his friends that had undertaken the same long flight were tired too. Now they were enjoying a quiet, peaceful time away from all the dangers they had somehow survived during their scary expedition (see Harry Potter and the Migration of Fear). It would be a long time, Harry said to himself – maybe as long as 6 months – before he wanted to have another adventure like that. He wondered when Ron Peeplo and Hermione Plover would arrive… 

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

But the little group on a remote shoreline on Abaco were not as safe as they thought. Unknown to the happy, sleepy plovers on the beach, they were already being stalked by two creatures. This determined pair had one sole aim – to find plovers, to catch them and to carry out scientific experiments on them. That’s three aims, in fact. The editor would surely fix that error later (No – ed.). Would Harry and his friends soon find themselves in mortal peril from these formidable adversaries, these beasts with huge brains, armed with the latest technology? What magical powers would be needed to combat the imminent danger creeping stealthily towards them? The male definitely had a spine-chilling look about him; the female appeared less daunting – but might therefore be all the more dangerous…

TOPO & STEG PIC JPG   piping-plover

Suddenly, Harry felt a terrible foreboding. Fear ruffled his neck feathers and his little left foot started drumming impatiently on the sand. He’d felt like this several times before, like that time a Dark Lord had driven a SUV straight at him on that nesting beach many miles away, the one where he cracked out (see Harry Potter and the Vehicle of Dread). And when the massive dog came and sniffed round the nest when he was a tiny chick (see Harry Potter and the Hound of Horror). Instinctively, he grabbed a magic meat-string from the damp sand, ate it, and took to the air… only to be caught up in some sort of fearsome spider’s web (a mist net – ed.). He was trapped. He struggled bravely, piping out his anger at this cruel trick. But it was no good – he was caught fast, and wriggling only seemed to make it even worse. The massive creatures were running towards him fast, shouting in triumph – they had got Harry exactly where they wanted him – at their mercy…

A Mist Net (if unsuccessful, A Missed Net)Mist Net jpg

Just as Harry had started to believe that his last moment had arrived, an amazing thing happened. Instead of dispatching him with a swift blow to head, as a Dark Lord might have done, he was gently removed from the net and softly held in the female’s hands. His instant fear that she might crush him to a horrible mangled pulp rapidly lessened. Why, she was even talking to him. And those voices. They sounded not so much fearsome as friendly. But were they lulling him into  false sense of security, only to wreak an evil vengeance upon him? (*Spoiler Alert* No – ed.).

Steph the Egger with captive Harry Potter, & wearing the cap of the mysterious ‘Delphi Club’PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Then suddenly things got worse. Much worse. Harry was slowly wrapped in a large white blanket and laid on something that wasn’t sand. Something hard. What were they planning to do with him now. He heard the male – Harry had now concluded that he must be dealing with the Avian Overlord himself, the infamous Todd of Pover, first cousin of Severus Snipe – mutter an incantation: “54 grams. Pretty good. 54 grams. Have you got that”. Yes, they’d taken his dignity and his weight but there had been no pain. Yet. Harry began to relax a little.

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Meanwhile, Steph the Egger was making a strange rattling sound. As Harry was unwound from his shroud he suddenly saw a box filled to the brim with exotic jewels of the most opulent colours glistening in the sunlight. At once, he knew he had to have one of them. A beautiful pink one. One to wear on his leg. One that he could keep for ever. One that would always mean ‘Harry Potter’. That very one on the top. Just there. With the magic number 22 on it in black writing. And Harry started to breathe a special silent Piping Spell: ‘Please pick me up… in your hand… and fit the Magic Two-Two Band…’ 

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

And, miraculously, the spell began to work. First, Harry was gently held as the Magic Band was put round his right leg. At the top, just where he wanted it. Harry shut one eye and repeated the spell.PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Then despite an awful wound from an earlier battle, the Todd of Pover made sure the band was secure and would never come off. It would be there forever – the Harry Potter ID band. By this time Harry didn’t even mind the indignity of being turned upside down.PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Finally, it was done. Really, the jewel was more like a flag than a band. But Harry knew instinctively that it would take a massive effort for his story to be rewritten to make this clear from the start, so he decided to let it pass. Band. Flag. What did it matter. It was his prize, gloriously his. 

And then he was passed to Steph the Egger. Harry presumed she got her name for her ability to find nesting birds in that other place he had flown South from. And now, here she was, holding him tenderly, talking to him and telling him how cool he looked. Even her bright red claws did not seem so frightening now. Except… WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Suddenly, Steph the Egger stood up and Harry found himself several feet above the safe warm sand. Steph held him out in front of her and then, in an instant, he was free… Free to fly away with his beautiful pink jewel band, his special number, and an intuition that wherever he might be, and whoever saw him, they would always know that he was Harry Potter for as long as he lived. Against all odds he had gained… THE MAGIC BAND.

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

piping-plover

POSTSCRIPT & UPDATE FEB 2017

Harry returned to Abaco on his magic Quidditch stick (no he jolly didn’t, he just flew. OK? Do stop this Potter nonsense now please – ed.) for his 3rd winter on Long Beach Abaco. He was sighted as follows:

  • 23 Nov 16  Long Beach, with Pf #36 & Pf #50, also 3rd year returners, & several other banded returners. Keith Kemp
  • 06 Dec 16  Still in the same group, except Pf #50 absent. Todd Pover
  • 23 Jan 17  In the same group, Pf #50 still absent. Todd Pover

piping-plover

FURTHER UPDATE SPRING 2018

  • 20 Aug 17 Resighted for the 4th year on Long Beach (the same area) with Pf #36
  • 21 Sep 17 Still on the beach with Pf #36 & several other non-Bahamas banded birds
  • 18 Nov 17 Ditto
  • 02 Jan 18  Ditto, the last sighting of the watch period. Departure date unknown.

Harry-Potter-pf22-Long Beach, Abaco, Keith Kemp 19-11-16

PREVIOUS HISTORY

Harry was banded Pf #22 on February 7th 2015 at Long Beach, Abaco, towards the end of his 1st winter there. No one knows where he spent his has spent his summers. He has not been reported anywhere other than Abaco – i.e. along his migration route. All that can be said with certainty is that every 12 months he turns up on the same beach, Long Beach Abaco, in the same place (it is a very Long Beach). 5 other PIPL were originally pink-banded with Harry by a joint National Audubon, Virginia Tech, BNT, and CWFNJ team (pink being the colour used for Bahamas birds). Of those 6, 3 have returned to the same beach twice, and the other 2 once. Some of them have also been tracked to their breeding grounds and on their migrations. And somehow they have all found their way back to the same place on Abaco to overwinter together again for the 2016-17 season; and most again for the 2017 – 18 season.

GENDER NOTE

In fact it isn’t clear if HP is male or female (see below). He might be Harriet Potter. But I have played safe and stuck with the gender implied by his given name…

Harry Potter Pf #22 on Long Beach Abaco, 3 Dec 2015, a year after (s)he was banded there PIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 2 (Stephanie Egger) copy

STEPH THE EGGER EXPLAINS THE NAME, NUMBER & QUIDDITCH PIC

“I helped band this piping plover, and called him “Harry Potter.” I know 22 isn’t Harry’s quidditch number (07), but 22 is for my birthday when I mostly seem to be down in Abaco.”

DISCLAIMER RE HEADER IMAGE I don’t suggest making silly photos of all “named” birds as this is an endangered species that we should certainly take very seriously. That said, I do think that names help people connect to the species and it also aids the researchers in ID’ing (my personal opinion)”.

piping-plover

Credits: Stephanie the Egger, The Todd of Pover, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey & co-banding teams, Keith Kemp, USFWS Mountain-Prairie (PIPL in flight), Birdorable, Rowling Harbour, and star of the show Harry Potter Pf 22 UR. Apologies to JKR for feeble pastiche.

A-PIPIN’ & A-PLOVIN’ ON ABACO: PIPL POWER


piping-plover-delphi-beach-Abaco-peter-mantle-11-16

A-PIPIN’ & A-PLOVIN’ ON ABACO: PIPL POWER

Last year someone kindly reported a lone piping plover sighting on ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH. I like to get a few details, so I asked what it was doing (meaning: sleeping / mooching / foraging / flying?). She replied – and I knew exactly what she meant – “Oh, a-pipin’ and a-plovin’ about on the beach”. A very evocative description of how these tiny scuttling birds pass their days!

Green Flag YLO, renamed Coco for short
Piping Plover 2-aug-4-long-beach-Abaco-5-birds-inc-ylo

The A P P Watch is now into its 4th month. The earliest reported arrival for the fall winter / winter season was as early as July 30. The first banded bird was reported on August 4, in a small group of 5. The leg bands (upper right Green Flag coded YLO; upper left Orange Band) at once confirmed the bird as an unnamed returner originating from Fire Island National Seashore NY – to the very same beach where it was sighted last December. That is known as ‘beach fidelity’, and is a most important piece of conservation data, because it is evidence that the beaches of Abaco provide a safe and unspoilt winter habitat for this vulnerable and threatened species. YLO was renamed Coco to reward his contribution to empirical conservation study.

piping-plover

We didn’t have to wait long for the next banded bird, one that had undertaken the longest journey we have yet come across, nearly 2000 miles (direct) from Big Barachois, Newfoundland. Black Flag 58 was soon traced to his origin and details of his adventurous life were uncovered – two summers on the same breeding beach, and a spring sighting on Long Island, NY. 

Piping Plover from Newfoundland: 4-aug-6-winding-bay abaco -keith kemp-jpgnewfoundland-to-abaco-map

The next find was a precious ‘Bahama Pink’ on Long Beach, known simply as… Pink Flag #50. She was banded on the same beach in 2014; resighted there in December 2015; and had returned for her third visit before the end of August 2016. The perfect example of ‘beach fidelity’.

Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas: pink flag 50 (Keith Kemp)

In the same group that day was another exciting find, this time a new bird Green Flag 2AN originating from the same place as Coco above: Fire Island National Seashore, NY. Piping Plover, Abaco, Bahamas, Green Flag 2AN-aug (Keith Kemp)13880178_343177786027819_6547752228912195883_n

There was a bit of a lull with banded bird sightings until October, when ‘Taco’ from the Holgate Unit, Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ showed up. We had two other birds from the same location last season. 

Piping Plover "Taco", Abaco, Bahamas 2016

Soon after, a returner from last season arrived back on his same beach to join Taco. Jonesy was originally ‘Mrs Jones’, as in the song, until he was identified as a male and had to be renamed. He originated from the Ninigret NWR, R.I. He and Taco are still keeping company – they were seen together only yesterday.

Piping Plover Jonesy, Abaco, Bahamas 2016 (Keith Kemp)sandy-point-ri-to-winding-bay

Finally, a warm Abaco welcome please to the aptly named Bahama Mama, a rare Great Lakes bird from Muskegon State Park, MI, resighted in early November.  She was found on the same beach in December last year. Bahama Mama - Great Lakes Piping Plover on Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Kemp)15027859_392958301049767_8409742050501259206_n

So far this season, all the banded birds have been positively identified except one – a tantalising possible sighting of last year’s ‘Bird of the Season’ Tuna on ‘his’ beach.  From a distance shot the bands on one leg looked right… but all-in-all the image is simply not clear enough (and heavily pixellated with onscreen adjustments) to be certain. 

If it is indeed Tuna, then five of the banded birds so far are returners, in each case to the same beach as last year. The chart below is a draft (there’ll no doubt be some tidying up as the season progresses)

Piping Plovers on Abaco-id-chart-2-p-1-jpg

Credits: Peter Mantle (header image); Keith Kemp; Rhonda Pearce – and with thanks to all monitors

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY? YAY! AN ABACO COMPETITION!


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 7

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

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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…

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 1

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)

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

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)

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 8

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

Piping Plover (nb), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

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

Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)6

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.

piping-plover

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*!

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

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.

Piping Plover 1, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

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

Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

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

GOOD LUCK!

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Credits: Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper, Gyorgy Szimuly (WSD logo)

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” (A PIPING PLOVER STORY)


PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” (A PIPING PLOVER STORY)

by ROWLING HARBOUR

It was a bright sunny morning and the sand on the beach was warm under Harry Potter’s bare feet. Although by now a very experienced flyer, his recent adventures during his epic 1000-mile journey had left him very tired. All his friends that had undertaken the same long flight were tired too. Now they were enjoying a quiet, peaceful time away from all the dangers they had somehow survived during their scary expedition (see Harry Potter and the Migration of Fear). It would be a long time, Harry said to himself – maybe as long as 6 months – before he wanted to have another experience like that. He wondered when Ron Piper and Hermione Plover would arrive. He hadn’t even found them yet… 

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

But the little group on a remote shoreline on Abaco were not as safe as they thought. Unknown to the happy, sleepy plovers on the beach, they were already being stalked by two creatures. This determined pair had one sole aim – to find plovers, to catch them and to carry out scientific experiments on them. That’s three aims, in fact. The editor would surely fix that error later (No – ed.). Would Harry and his friends soon find themselves in mortal peril from these formidable adversaries, these beasts with huge brains, armed with the latest technology? What magical powers would be needed to combat the imminent danger creeping stealthily towards them? The male definitely had a spine-chilling look about him; the female appeared less daunting – but might therefore be all the more dangerous…

TOPO & STEG PIC JPG   piping-plover

Suddenly, Harry felt a sense of danger. Fear ruffled his neck feathers and his little left foot started drumming impatiently on the sand. He’d felt like this several times before, like that time the Dark Lord had driven a SUV straight at him on that nesting beach many miles away, the one where he cracked out (see Harry Potter and the Vehicle of Dread). And when the massive dog came and sniffed round the nest when he was a tiny chick (see Harry Potter and the Hound of Horror). Instinctively, he grabbed a magic meat-string from the damp sand, ate it, and took to the air… only to be caught up in some sort of fearsome spider’s web (a mist net – ed.). He was trapped. He struggled bravely, peeping out his anger at this cruel trick. But it was no good – he was caught fast, and wriggling only seemed to make it even worse. The massive creatures were running towards him fast, shouting in triumph – they had got Harry exactly where they wanted him – at their mercy…

A Mist Net (if unsuccessful, A Missed Net)Mist Net jpg

Just as Harry had started to believe that his last moment had arrived, an amazing thing happened. Instead of dispatching him with a swift blow to head, as the Dark Lord might have done, he was gently removed from the net and softly held in the female’s hands. His instant fear that she might crush him to a horrible mangled pulp rapidly lessened. Why, she was even talking to him. And those voices. They sounded not so much fearsome as friendly. But were they lulling him into  false sense of security, only to wreak an evil vengeance upon him? (*Spoiler Alert* No – ed.).

The Steph of Egger with captive Harry Potter, & wearing the cap of the mysterious ‘Delphi Club’1484646_10205144305680789_2528266936610237451_n

Then suddenly things got worse. Much worse. Harry was slowly wrapped in a large white blanket and laid on something that wasn’t sand. Something hard. What were they planning to do with him now. He heard the male – Harry had now concluded that he must be dealing with the Avian Overlord himself, the infamous Todd of Pover, first cousin of Severus Snipe – mutter an incantation: “54 grams. Pretty good. 54 grams. Have you got that”. Yes, they’d taken his dignity and his weight but there had been no pain. Yet. Harry began to relax a little.

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Meanwhile, Steph the Egger was making a strange rattling sound. As Harry was unwound from his shroud he suddenly saw a box filled to the brim with exotic jewels of the most opulent colours glistening in the sunlight. At once, he knew he had to have one of them. A beautiful pink one. One to wear on his leg. One that he could keep for ever. One that would always mean ‘Harry Potter’. That very one on the top. Just there. With the magic number 22 on it in black writing. And Harry started to breathe a special silent Piping Spell: ‘Please pick me up… in your hand… and fit the Magic Two-Two Band…’ 

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And, miraculously, the spell began to work. First, Harry was gently held as the Magic Band was put round his right leg. At the top, just where he wanted it. Harry shut one eye and repeated the spell.18265_10205144276640063_342488571243728001_n

Then despite an awful wound from an earlier battle, the Todd of Pover made sure the band was secure and would never come off. It would be there forever – the Harry Potter ID band. By this time Harry didn’t even mind the indignity of being turned upside down.1688061_10205144276200052_1782966976770605282_n

Finally, it was done. Really, the jewel was more like a flag than a band. But Harry knew instinctively that it would take a massive effort for his story to be rewritten to make this clear from the start, so he decided to let it pass. Band. Flag. What did it matter. It was his prize, gloriously his. 

And then he was passed to Steph the Egger. Harry presumed she got her name for her ability to find nesting birds in that other place he had flown South from. And now, here she was, holding him tenderly, talking to him and telling him how cool he looked. Even her bright red claws did not seem so frightening now. Except… WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?

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Suddenly, Steph the Egger stood up and Harry found himself several feet above the safe warm sand. Steph held him out in front of her and then, in an instant, he was free… Free to fly away with his beautiful pink jewel band, his special number, and an intuition that wherever he might be, and whoever saw him, they would always know that he was Harry Potter for as long as he lived. Against all odds he had gained… THE MAGIC BAND.

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piping-plover

POSTSCRIPT

No one knows when Harry Potter left Abaco last spring, nor where he spent his Summer. All that can be said with certainty is that 12 months later he was found again on the same beach, Long Beach Abaco, in the same place. 5 other PIPL were pink-banded with him last year by the National Audubon, Virginia Tech, BNT, and CWFNJ team (pink being the colour used for Bahamas birds). Of those 6, 5 have been resighted on the same beach in the last few days. They migrated north last Spring, spent the Summer probably in different locations yet found their way back to the same place on Abaco to overwinter together again.

GENDER NOTE In fact it isn’t clear if HP is male or female (see below). He might be Harriet Potter. But I have played safe and stuck with the gender implied by his given name…

Harry Potter Pink 22 UR on Long Beach Abaco, 3 Dec 2015, a year after he was banded therePIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 1 (Stephanie Egger) copy PIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 2 (Stephanie Egger) copy

STEPH THE EGGER EXPLAINS THE NAME, NUMBER & QUIDDITCH PIC

“I helped band this piping plover last winter, and called him “Harry Potter.” I know 22 isn’t Harry’s quidditch number (07), but 22 is for my birthday when I mostly seem to be down in Abaco. We don’t know where Harry Potter bred this year as no reports came in for him (or her). Maybe next season!

DISCLAIMER RE HEADER IMAGE I don’t suggest making silly photos of all “named” birds as this is an endangered species that we should certainly take very seriously. That said, I do think that names help people connect to the species and it also aids the researchers in id’ing (my personal opinion)”.

piping-plover

Credits: Stephanie Egger, Todd Pover, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey & co-banding teams, USFWS Mountain-Prairie (PIPL in flight), Birdorable, Rowling Harbour, and star of the show Harry Potter Pink 22 UR. Apologies to JKR for feeble pastiche.

WELCOME, JONESY: A NEW PIPING PLOVER ID ON ABACO


 Sandy Point R.I. to CS

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.SAM_2228 sm copy SAM_2211 sm copy

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. 

SAM MAG 1  SAM MAG 2

ID COMPLICATIONS

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

PiPl 09C (L leg - Blue R leg) 2 WB 30.10 (1) min copyPiPl 09C (L leg - Blue R leg) 2 WB 30.10 (2) min copy

09C 1 crop copy 09C Mag2 copy 09C 2 crop copy  09C mag1 copy

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 HOMESandy Point R I

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…

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Credits: Ali Ball, Keith Kemp, Todd Pover, mapping things, Jonesy for choosing Abaco