Old Man Plover

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“Old Man Plover” (Image by Alice Van Zoeren via audubon.org)

Meet BO:X,g (pronounced box gee). He’s 15 years old, making him the oldest Piping Plover in the Great Lakes population. But BO:X,g is better known for his endearing nickname, “Old Man Plover”.

There are 3 populations of the Piping Plover in the United States: the Great Plains, the Atlantic Coast, and the Great Lakes. Plovers on the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains regions are considered federally threaten, while the Great Plains population is considered federally endangered. A strategy used to help keep track of threatened bird populations in banding. Each bird in the population has a unique combination of colored bands that researchers can use to identify individuals. Old Man Plover’s real “name”, BO:X,g, are the letters that are found on his leg bands.

Old Man Plover has lead a long and interesting life so far. Many Piping Plovers don’t live much longer than 5-years-old, so the fact that Old Man Plover is 15 an amazing feat. He was born in 2002 in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore in Michigan. Old Man Plover is not the oldest current living Piping Plover (the oldest is 17 and lives in the Atlantic Coast population), but he has played a large role in the revival of his population.

Like many other Piping Plovers, Old Man Plover is loyal to not only his birthplace breeding grounds, but also his wintering grounds in Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina (where our American Oystercatcher friend, M3, from Cape May winters too). He is also very punctual; every year he’s arrives at Sleeping Bear Dunes on exactly April 13 to rendezvous with his current mate. His current mate is actually his 3rd. His first mate (referred to as his childhood sweetheart in the article I read haha!) died in 2002 and his second mate died in 2013.

Over the years, Old Man Plover has successfully fledged 36 chicks, averaging around 3 or 4 chicks per breeding season (as compared to the normal rate of 1.5). The biologists who study him believe he is well represented in his population. The Great Lakes population has been slowly increasing, but there is still a long way to go to get to the goal of 150 breeding pairs. As of last spring (2016), there were 75 breeding pairs in the region and 28 of them nested in Old Man Plover’s Sleeping Bear Dunes area.

There’s been some more great news recently about the Great Lakes Piping Plover population. Last year, Piping Plovers nested in Lower Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the first time in 75 years. It was also announced as of July 24, 2017, that two Piping Plover nests have been found along Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. This is the first time Piping Plovers have nested in Pennsylvania in 60 years.

Old Man Plover is an inspiration, not just to me, but to the people who want to help conserve vulnerable species. This cute little plover doesn’t even know it, but he has made such a positive impact on his population and is a symbol of hope. I firmly believe one of the keys of conservation is to educate yourself and others, so I wanted to share his story with you.

If you’d like to learn more about Old Man Plover, about the Piping Plover populations, or about what you can do to help check out the links below:

Meet Old Man Plover, the Pride of the Great Lakes by Meaghan Lee Callaghan on Audubon.org

Success! Piping Plovers Nested in Pennsylvania for the First Time in 60 Years by Andy McGlashen via Audubon.org

Piping Plover Fact Sheet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Double Day Trip

Sunday tends to be our normal birding day. This week we were having trouble deciding where we wanted to go. The options were: Palmyra Cove or Barnegat Light. Which park did we choose? We actually went to both!

We started our day at Palmyra Cove Nature Park. The weather was lovely. We had a bright blue summer sky punctuated by white puffy clouds. Our main goal for the trip was to explore the Cove Trail. On the way to the cove we listened to the song of an Indigo Bunting, saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watched some Carolina Chickadees chase each other, and got a rare glimpse of a Warbling Vireo (I say rare because they are usually always at the top of the tree, so I tend to hear them frequently instead of see them).

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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Image by BirdNation)

The Cove Trail runs along the Delaware River. Sometimes you can walk on the beach along the river, but it was around high tide so that wasn’t an option. We did see some Double-crested Cormorants, as well as a flock of at least 70 Canada Geese float by.

There’s a wooden platform that extends out into the marshland of the cove. We were pretty close to it when we almost ran right into a Black Rat Snake! It was having a sun-bathing section right in the middle of the trail.

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Black Rat Snake (Image by BirdNation)

There were a lot of birds around once we reached the platform. There were 2 Bald Eagles in a nest, 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons, Mallards, small flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Cedar Waxwing, Orchard Orioles, and juvenile Starlings to name a few. My favorite visitor though was an adorable Spotted Sandpiper. It landed on the platform railing and pumped his little tail. With all their teetering motions, no wonder why people have nicknames these little guys the “teeter-peep” or the “tip-tail”.

After Palmyra we made our way across the state to the Jersey Shore to go back to Long Beach Island. We went to Barnegat Light SP about a month ago, but wanted to spend some time at the ocean. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon. This time we saw 3 Piping Plovers running around the beach. I think one of them was a juvenile, because it lacked the black neck and forehead bands that the breeding adult Piping Plovers exhibit.

 

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Piping Plover (Image by BirdNation)

We also saw American Oystercatcher T2 and its family again. The 2 chicks are still in what is called their prejuvenal (first prebasic) molt. This means that they have some down on the tips of some of their feathers. They are in this stage from June-August and have their full juvenal plumage by week 6. They also still have a larger black tip on their orange bills than the adults do. I was happy to see the T2 family again. The 2 juveniles were banded. We weren’t able to read their bands from the distance we were at, but maybe if they return in the future we’ll get a better glimpse of them. The picture on the left is one of the chicks a month ago in June, and the picture on the right are what they look like now in July. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Double birding days are certainly a special treat! 🙂

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Barnegat Light Beach (Image by BirdNation)

Hey, I Know That Bird!

Every June, Dave and I take a trip out to Long Beach Island to explore Barnegat Light State Park. June 9th was our 3rd annual “late spring” LBI birding trip. It’s nice to have a trip “tradition” so you can compare what species you see around a specific time/season and see how your location list changes from year to year.

This year we didn’t see too many species (16, probably because we went in the late afternoon this time, but that’s ok!). Every year I hope to see Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers. We had a special treat when we it came to the Oystercatchers: an Oystercatcher family! We had the opportunity to watch 2 adults with the 2 chicks walk/forage around the dunes. I’ve seen pictures of Oystercatcher chicks before, but they were even cuter in person.

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American Oystercatcher family (Image by David Horowitz)

I have to admit: I’ve been a little lazy with my birding stuff the past week or two. My job (teacher) just ended for the summer and I’ve been taking a summer class (Biology 1) so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment. I mention this because I didn’t look at any of our June 9th LBI pictures until tonight (June 16). And while zooming in on the Oystercatcher family photo I found a surprise.

I zoomed in on an adult and chick. The adult had 2 yellow bands that said T2. Then it hit me: “Hey, I know that bird!”

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Oystercatcher and chick (Image by David Horowitz)

I don’t think that’s what Dave expected me to say. But it’s true. We know Oystercatcher T2. I quickly opened up my Barnegat Light picture folder and pulled up this picture from last year’s trip:

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American Oystercatcher T2 in 2016 (Image by BirdNation)

Well, well, well, look who it is. T2 from 2016. I wonder how many years this particular Oystercatcher has come back to Barnegat Light. And this time I got to see his/her family!

Once Dave and I made this discovery I went to the American Oystercatcher Working Group website. This organization works with conservation groups throughout the East Coast to band, study, and conserve American Oystercatchers. I reported T2 and all the information that I know about this bird (as well as someone from today, but I’ll tell you about that in the next post). Now I wait to hear back about this particular Oystercatcher’s backstory, which of course I will update you on.

If you happen to see a banded American Oystercatcher, try to take some pictures and send your info to the American Oystercatcher Working Group (click that link to see their site).

Here are a few more pictures from out Barnegat Light trip.

This was the only Piping Plover we saw, and it was the first time we’ve seen one on a nest. It was sitting inside a wire fence to protect it. The Great Egret was looking stunningly beautiful in its breeding plumage.

It’s exciting to go to the same location each year to compare, especially when you rediscover a familiar friend (as in the case with T2)!

Piping Plover: Seashore Saturday

Hello friends! It’s the most hectic time of the year for me: back to school (this year as a teacher and a student). Everyone is one the move again, and birds are no exception: fall migration is underway. There are so many exciting things going on this time of year. Autumn begins on Thursday the 22nd, and right now we are in the midst of warbler and shorebird migration. Yesterday was Plover Appreciation Day, which is a day to raise awareness of ground-nesting plovers around the world and how we can help them. Today there are two personal special things happening: the last Seashore Saturday of the season and my birthday! I decided to combine those last two events by choosing one of my favorite shorebirds to write about: the Piping Plover. Starting next week I’m going to kick off Woodpecker Wednesday for the autumn season. I also have a birding trip post coming soon and a book review, so stay tuned!

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Description:

Piping Plovers are small, stocky plovers. They have pale upperparts, white underparts, and short bills. Their legs are orange-yellow and they have black feathers on the tips of their tails and sides of their wings. During breeding season they have a black, narrow breast band while juvenile and non-breeding birds have a pale band. Their bills are orange with a black tip during breeding.

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Piping Plover on Long Beach Island, NJ (Image by BirdNation)

Range:

Breeding: northern Atlantic Coast, parts of the northern plains (mid-Canada, the Dakotas, Nebraska)/Great Lakes region (although population have dramatically declined there.) Winter: southern Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast

Habitat:

Sandy beaches, sand bars, tidal flats, alkali lakes

Diet:

Insects, crustaceans, marine worms, invertebrates. Piping Plovers are ground foragers who run a few steps then stop to look for food and peck around.

Breeding/Nesting:

Piping Plovers are a threatened and priority bird, partly due to the fact that they breed on the ground. Piping Plovers lay their eggs in a scrape in the sand, usually some distance from water. The problem is that they blend in so well with their surroundings that their nests can easily be destroyed by beachgoers who are not aware the plover eggs are there. Because of this, many Atlantic Coast beaches have blocked off areas were Piping Plovers and other threatened shorebirds, such as terns and Black Skimmers, nest.

Piping Plovers lay on average about 4 eggs. The eggs are incubated by both sexes for 26-28 days. The young are downy and leave the nest a few hours after nesting to look for food. The parents brood the young, but the female usually deserts the chicks after a few days and the male cares for them. The chicks fledge between 21-35 days after hatching. Not much is known about the Piping Plover’s development.

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Piping Plover chick on Long Beach Island (Image by David Horowitz)

Sounds:

peep, peeto! or a series of pehp, pehp, pehp when agitated.

Fun Facts:

  • Sometimes Piping Plovers are seen in small groups, but they are usually solitary and don’t mix with other shorebirds often.
  • Piping Plovers are native to the United States and just barely disperse into Mexico. They also winter in The Bahamas.
  • Male Piping Plovers have thicker breast bands during breeding season, which is one of the only ways to tell the sexes apart.
  • During breeding, males display elaborate courtship ceremonies, such as flights that feature dives and stone tossing. Males create multiple scrapes in the ground for nest sites and female will choose the site she likes best to camouflage it.
  • Like, Semipalmated Plovers and Killdeer, Piping Plovers use the “broken-wing display” to distracted predators from their young.

Please be mindful of your surroundings while visiting beaches. Make sure to obey any signs you see, especially if they are telling you to avoid a shorebird nesting area. Piping Plover populations are under 10,000, so it’s important that we are taking proper precautions to protect their habit.

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Piping Plover parent and chick (Image by Johann Schmacher via audubon.org)

Shore to Please

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Although summer doesn’t start until June 20th, many people consider this weekend to be the start of the summer season. In New Jersey, this means that thousands of people make their way to the Jersey Shore each weekend from now until Labor Day.

I grew up at the Jersey Shore. The strange thing is though, I barely spent any time at the beach until I became an adult. Once I became a birder and moved away from the shore I realized that there were so many birds that I missed out on growing up. So I try to go to the shore a few times a year to enjoy the beach and the shore birds.

Dave and I visited Barnegat Lighthouse State Park on Friday morning. Barnegat Light SP is located on the northern  tip of Long Beach Island in the town of Barnegat Light. It’s a great place to see all different kinds of shore birds as well as waterfowl in the winter. Whatever time of the year, Barnegat Lighthouse SP is shore to please (bad pun, I know haha!). It seems like a crazy idea on Memorial Day weekend but we got there early and beat all the crowds. We started our hike by walking along the short pine trail near the visitor entrance. I finally got to see my first Black and White Warbler. Other birds on the trail were Northern Cardinals, a Mourning Dove, Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, Gray Catbirds, and American Robins.

We continued onto the beach and walked along the jetty towards the end of the beach. The first thing we spotted was a small group of gulls, but there was something else mixed in…a Piping Plover! Piping Plovers are small and blend in perfectly with the sand. They are considered endangered in New Jersey as well as in some of the other states they live in. Human recreation, habitat loss, and predators have all contributed to the decrease in numbers of Piping Plovers over the years. Here in New Jersey we’ve had some good new though. Last year Conserve Wildlife New Jersey reported that the breeding population of Piping Plovers increased from 92 pairs in 2014 to 108 pairs in 2015. On Long Beach Island certain parts of the beach are blocked off to avoid people from interfering with the shorebird’s nests.

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Piping Plover (Image by David Horowitz)

This Piping Plover was putting on a show. It was rapidly flying through the gulls and running around with its tail feathers down while being chased. Then we spotted it…a chick! The other adult and chick were nearby and this adult was trying to distract the gulls. I have seen Piping Plovers before but this was my first chick! It was so adorable.

The Piping Plovers disappeared into the sand, so we continued on our way. There were 5 Semipalmated Plovers resting nearby and 2 Eastern Kingbirds fluttering through the sky. We ran into one of my favorite summer residents: the American Oystercatcher. These birds are so striking to me: medium-sized, black/white/brown bodies, with a long bold orange bill and entrancing red eyes.

 

We saw 3 Oystercatchers, but my favorite was the one towards the end of the jetty. It found an oyster and happily strutted around with it in its bill. It would stop every so often to twist the shell in the sand then continue on its way. We watched it run to a tide pool near the jetty where it finally cracked open the shell to enjoy its snack.

 

Another bird we watched along our walk was the Ruddy Turnstone. A few days after Christmas it was 75 degrees (crazy New Jersey!), so we went to Barnegat Light and saw our first Ruddy Turnstones. There were a handful of them running around on the jetty in non-breeding plumage that December day. We saw many of them on Friday and finally got to see them live up to their names. They walked around in small flocks, turning over any object that was in the way to find food. They were fun to watch.

Towards the end of the jetty we saw some more gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. As we looked out at the ocean a few Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings foraged along the coastline. When we were ready to leave we were in for a surprise: a whole mixed flock arrived! There were a mix of about 30 Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones running out towards the ocean then being chased back by the waves. And suddenly, they were gone as quickly as they arrived.

We saw the same Piping Plover family on our way back towards the lighthouse. There was not one chick though…there were 3! What a wonderful sight! I still can’t believe we were lucky enough to see a whole family of Piping Plovers. I hope through conservation efforts these beautiful plovers and other endangered shorebirds continue to see their populations increase. If you happen to go to the beach this weekend (or know anyone who is) please remember to share the beach with our avian friends. Don’t you want to continue experiencing this cuteness in the years to come? I shore do :-).