Shorebird Recovery Program
Ventura County is fortunate to have beaches that a couple of charismatic threatened and endangered birds call home. Western Snowy Plovers (WSP) occur on our beaches year-round. At this time of the year they can be found roosting in loose flocks just above the tideline. In March they begin to establish breeding territories on the beach and soon after they lay clutches of 2 to 3 speckled eggs.
California Least Terns (CLT) arrive a little later in the spring and nest in colonies on beaches near lagoons, estuaries or harbors. Both species place their nests right on the sand in a shallow depression called a scrape. Their cryptically colored eggs blend in with the sand to avoid being seen by predators, hence they are very difficult for people to see. Chicks hatch covered in downy feathers and are flightless for several weeks, relying on their parents for protection and warmth. Soon after the chicks hatch they leave the nest and began to wander about the beach.
Snowy plover chicks instinctively start foraging for kelp flies and other invertebrates in the beach wrack (seaweed and other natural debris washed ashore) under the watchful eye of their parents. Least terns forage tirelessly for small bait fish that they bring back to feed their hungry growing chicks waiting in the colony. At this stage, young chicks are the most vulnerable to predators and disturbance by beachgoers and their dogs, which are often seen as canine predators. WSP and CLT are especially sensitive to human activity near nesting areas and too much disturbance can result in loss of nests or young. Fencing and signs are installed to protect nesting areas and some beaches have rules and regulations in place to restrict certain incompatible activities or prohibit dogs on the beach.
The long nesting season continues through September, coinciding with the busiest time of the year for beach recreation. Many people are not aware that beaches are sensitive habitats and that the survival and recovery of the species that rely on them depends on us learning to share the beach by finding a balance between recreation and preservation.
Public outreach is an important component of WSP and CLT recovery. Through a collaborative program between California State Parks and the Ventura Audubon Society (VAS), trained Volunteer Naturalists engage with beachgoers to educate them about the species, explain why certain rules and regulations are in place to protect the nesting birds, and what they can do to share the beach.
The Volunteer Naturalist program will continue with training sessions starting in the spring for those who would like to participate in the next season. VAS would like to thank all of the volunteers who attended our Naturalist trainings this year as well as all of those who returned from previous years and spent time on the beaches helping to protect our nesting birds. Volunteers also assisted monitors with surveys, fence and sign installation and repair throughout the season. If you would like to participate in this program visit the VAS website at www.venturaaudubon.org and the Volunteer page to do so.
VAS would also like to thank the members for supporting our conservation and recovery efforts. Your donations and contributions help VAS purchase items like fencing, signs and educational materials that allow us to protect these threatened and endangered species and their habitats. VAS has a long and proud history of involvement with WSP and CLT protection, monitoring, and outreach on Ventura County beaches.
If you would like to support our program, we welcome your donation via the “Donation” link on our website. Specify “Shorebird Recovery Program” if you would like to directly support our CLT and WSP efforts on Ventura County Beaches.
December 2018 Shorebird Recovery Program Report
State Parks: 2018 Nesting Season Outcome - Alexis Frangis
Western Snowy Plovers nest along the entire length of McGrath State Beach, but the Santa Clara River Estuary sandbar was the hotspot this year for several different nesting birds including snowy plovers, least terns, American avocets, killdeer and even a few horned larks.
California Least Terns initiated 24 nests of which 14 hatched and an estimated minimum of 8 chicks reached fledging age. The nesting colony was hit hard by a coyote early in the season and then was raided by skunks later in the season. Many of the WSP nests at McGrath get a little extra protection with the use of small wire cages called exclosures that are placed over the nests; 14 out of 16 WSP nests hatched this year.
Plovers are able to move freely through the exclosures while predators like crows, ravens, and most mammals cannot get in. Exclosures can also protect nests from trampling by humans who trespass through the nesting area fences.
Deliberate human disturbance is unfortunately an issue that is prevalent on all of our public nesting beaches and one that we can only hope to correct with education and awareness. In one instance the trail cameras caught a person placing very large sticks next to nests in the colony.
Mandalay State Beach only had one WSP nest this year which hatched, but the chicks did not survive to reach fledging age. Low nest numbers and low chick survival rates are unfortunately typical of this heavily disturbed beach. Frequent trespass into the fenced nesting area, off-leash dogs, and crows are the primary reasons WSP struggle with success on this beach.
San Buenaventura State Beach historically only supported a winter flock of WSP, but they began nesting there in 2012. Winter storms and heavy surf in 2015-16 caused significant erosion and stripped the beach of sand, resulting in a loss of suitable nesting habitat. The beach is starting to recover and after a several year hiatus the plovers returned to nest at San Buenaventura State Beach this year. One nesting pair raised 3 chicks on the busy beach.
Hollywood Beach: 2018 Nesting Season Outcome - Debra Barringer
There were 5 WSP nest attempts on Hollywood Beach in 2018. The average on this beach over the 16 years that VAS has been monitoring is 7 nests for WSP, not counting the atypical years of 2013 and 2014 when 30 and 29 WSP nests were initiated, respectively. Those two exceptional nesting years (when CLT attempted as many as 209 nests) remind us that these species sometimes have difficulties at their usual nesting sites and need alternative beaches if they are to survive and adapt to disturbances, significant predation events or changes in food availability.
At Hollywood Beach 14 chicks hatched this year, however, chicks were not seen after 6 days except one chick that was observed until 23 days old and potentially went on to fledge.
American crows were observed daily and are once again suspected as the primary chick predators, often gaining opportunities to find chicks when humans and dogs disturb plover family groups from hiding places. Hollywood Beach has posted regulations on when dogs can be present and that leashes are always required, but rules are not enforced and are often ignored.
This year the nesting season ended unusually early at Hollywood beach and by late June the adults that lost chicks likely moved to other beaches for re-nest attempts. Although least terns were seen flying over the beach on 14 survey days, there were no nest attempts on Hollywood Beach this year.
VAS extends a big thanks to Oxnard City Corps, USFWS staff, and Channel Island Harbor Department who all helped with fencing this year. We also send much appreciation to National and Pasadena Audubon for grant funding.
Ormond Beach: 2018 Nesting Season Outcome - Cynthia Hartley
Summary- CLT nests: 84 total, 65 hatched WSP nests: 35 total, 23 hatched
Ormond Beach had a banner year for CLT with 84 nests, all of which were located in the north habitat just south of Ormond Lagoon. This is the most CLT nests that have been recorded since VAS started collecting detailed nest location data in 2003 at this beach. Despite ongoing problems with a variety of trespassers in the fenced nesting area, including someone crossing with a bike on a weekly basis, regular removal of our nest markers, and even a man caught jogging among the nests, 77% of the nests succeeded. Out of the 115 eggs that hatched, 44 CLT reached fledgling age.
Most of the failed nests were predated by ground squirrels which had many active burrows in the north habitat. WSP also had a good year at Ormond Beach. Biologists located 35 nests, just one less than last year. Both years represent near record WSP nest numbers compared to the last 16 years. Ravens were a significant problem in the beginning of the year and accounted for the majority of the 11 failed WSP nests (31%). One of our field cameras even caught a raven eating a plover chick. We also suspect that a loggerhead shrike predated an entire clutch of day-old plover chicks.
In keeping with past years, WSP placed their nests over the entire length of Ormond Beach, including several nests outside of the habitat fences. Thank you to the many CSUCI students and Volunteer Naturalists for help putting up emergency symbolic fences and guarding nests.
Sadly, we must report about an incident Ormond Beach. On July 8th and 15th motorcycles trespassed on The Nature Conservancy property to access the beach and illegally rode in nesting habitat. The damage was severe, and multiple ordinances and regulations were violated. Monitors believe several CLT chicks may have been killed. The landowners, local police, USFWS and CDFW were all involved, but there was not enough evidence to link the perpetrators to the crime. If anyone has photos or information linking individuals, to these incidences please contact Oxnard Police at 805-385-7600 and 1 888 334-CALTIP (888 334-2258). Thank you!
Thank you to everyone who has made our work possible at Ormond Beach in 2018! This includes our summer CSUCI student fellows Kat O'Dea, Cassie Rogers, Jason Suddith and Matt Wells, summer interns Melissa Marovitz and Tyler Campbell, all of the ESRM 200 class, Volunteer Naturalists Leigh, Richard and Billy Busse, Katie Daniels, Alecia Smith, Bruna Valentine, David Watts, and last but never least, the Steward of Ormond Beach Walter Fuller!
Much gratitude to the Santa Barbara Zoo for taking in and nurturing abandoned snowy plover eggs and lost chicks.
Finally thank you to our sponsors and supporters:
Action Grant, National Audubon Society
Apple Inc. Matching Gift Program
California Wildlands Grant, the Rosewood Foundation
Explore the Coast grant, the California Coastal Conservancy
The City of Oxnard, donation of trash bins for beach cleanups
The Nature Conservancy for access to the nesting area via their property
The Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, CSUCI
USFWS: Signs, fencing material, and help putting up symbolic fencing