2 - Human Vandalism
This week we found a good number of hatched nests on our survey. We had a total of 6 nests hatch this week, plus 4 last week. This group represents the first wave of snowy plover nesting. The second wave is beginning, with a number of females having completed their first successful nest and ready to pair up with a new male. We saw quire a few pairs scraping and males fighting. While plovers were pairing up, the dads for hatched nests were busy tending their new chicks. We were very excited to be able to resight 9 snowy plover dads shepherding a total of 17 chicks. Re-sighting chicks after hatching is hard to do, but so important to gauge breeding success. Even more exciting is that some chicks have made it past the critical 2-week milestone. This is important because after 2 weeks of age chicks have a much higher chance of surviving to fledge. We are hoping to see new fledglings in a week or two.
One of the nests we found in the process of hatching this week, photo by Kat Whitehouse
Trail cameras are an important tool for nest monitoring. Since we survey once per week and we generally avoid having to approach nests, having a trail camera near nests reveals a lot to us about bird behavior, timing of nest hatching or predation, and what predators are visiting nests. Below is a sequence we captured over the past couple weeks of an encounter between a nesting snowy plover and a much larger whimbrel. Whimbrels, which are shorebirds getting ready to migrate to their nesting areas in the north, are foraging in the dunes. This whimbrel encountered a very protective snowy plover mother who saw it as a threat. We are unaware of whimbrels ever predating a snowy plover nest, but this mom wasn't taking any chances. This nest hatched last week.
Why the fences?
We caught a sequence on trail cameras this week that explains this. A fisherman who evidently ducked the fences walked right past a hatching nest. This is the same nest as the one above with the whimbrel encounter. Just 10 minutes after the fisherman walked by the nest we captured video of the dad plover brooding 2 chicks, so at least those 2 chicks survived the encounter. When the fisherman walked by the dad had run away and the chicks were hiding. It’s hard to know for sure what happened to the 3rd chick, we never found it or saw it on video. There is a chance it was stepped on, but we’ll never know for sure unless we respot all 3 chicks next week. Chicks are small and don’t move when threatened to avoid being seen, so a human walking by could easily step on and kill a chick. This is why the area is fenced and closed to beach goers.
ATV’s in nesting areas: On this week’s survey we discovered that at some point last weekend (May 13 or 14-ish) someone cut the north habitat fence and entered the nesting area on a 3-wheel ATV. They drove all the way across the inside of the restricted area and exited on the other end by ducking under symbolic fencing. In the process they drove close to 4 active snowy plover nests. The edge of one nest was actually run over, but luckily they missed the eggs. The nest was still being aggressively guarded by a frantic female when I checked the nest. After exiting the habitat on to the beach they turned back into the dunes between fences, rode further down the beach and into another fenced area.
Below left are the tracks through the nesting habitat. Below right a nest nearly run over. The tire tracks grazed the outside part of the nest scrape. This is the closest we've ever seen a snowy plover nest come to getting run over, and not have the nests crushed. Bottom left, the ATV visitor made donuts inside the nesting habitat before exiting. We have reported this to authorities.
We are having a volunteer Beach Naturalist workshop on June 3rd 2023. If you would like to help our program please join us! We offer a morning classroom session followed by a couple hours of hands on field training. Visit our Beach Naturalist webpage for more info and to sign up. We ask that attendees volunteer just 4 hours per month during the rest of nesting season, which ends in August. If we had volunteers walking on the beach when this ATV was driving through the nesting habitat, we might have gotten an ID on the driver or been able to stop this from happening.