It was in an early chilly morning at the start of April that a group of fearless volunteers of all ages gathered at the Moss Landing Wildlife Area in order stomp, dig, and yes occasionally throw, and create, mud and white and pink seashell monuments fit for an Egyptian Pharaoh. At the end, these unforgiving mudflats became a work of art that could only be truly appreciated from the sky, but most importantly, it became an ideal nesting ground for one of the coast’s threatened species, the snowy plover.
This adventure is an annual event known as the Snowy Plover Mud Stomp and is one of the Snowy Plover Recovery Projects led by Point Blue Conservation Science. Our bold leader in this event was biologist Carlenton Eyster who explained that deep depressions are the prime nesting grounds for snowy plovers. The story goes that once upon a time a biologist was walking in the sand and noticed that snowy plovers began to settle and nest on his footprints. And much like the apple that hit Newton on the head, this incident gave the biologist an idea. After conducting a series of studies it led to the discovery that deep footprints are the optimal shallow depressions that snowy plovers seek for nesting. Or so the legend goes.
It should be no surprise that snowy plovers are now choosing the Moss Landing Wildlife Area as nesting grounds. The area was once a collection of evaporation pools in saltworks and therefore the tide can be controlled. Though inadequate when it is flat and dry the area becomes a haven for snowy plovers when intrepid volunteers stick their heel in the mud, twirl, and create an immaculate depression. Combined with the spreading of white and pink sea shells the depressions provide the perfect camouflaged for the eggs hiding places for the new born babies that are flightless for the first month.
After two hours the approximate 30 volunteers created hundreds of deep depressions covered by seashells that will hopefully be the home of a snowy plover couple and will provide protection from the weather and raptors. After a job well done we headed out to Phil’s Fish Market Snack Shack where I had a delicious breaded and grilled snapper hot sandwich and some excellent conversations regarding terns, dung beetles, and snowy plovers. The day turned out to be a filled with a muddy good time.