Cottonwood debris or Snowy Plover babies?
You make think this sounds like an exaggeration, but if plover chicks were to roll across the shoreline rather than scurry, I would have some serious issues with shorebird identification out on the wetlands. Since the day I started working for EFTA, I have been much anticipating my first sighting of a Snowy Plover chick. I had been hearing for months about how cute, how tiny, how fluffy they were. After working on the wetlands for three months, now I can finally take part in that conversation, as I have now seen 4 Snowy Plover chicks!
It all started last Wednesday at 6 am. We were scheduled to do a Snowy Plover survey on Blanca Wetlands in Colorado with Lisa Rowinski and the other members of Team Bug. Because the wetlands are such a unique place – the habitat created on the shoreline of the salt ponds are a very rare place for the Snowy Plovers to nest. However, over the past 5 years the population of nesting plovers on the wetlands has dropped dramatically! Now, every nesting season they conduct Snowy Plover surveys on the wetlands to monitor how many have returned and nest out here on Blanca.
Anjelica and I met up with the crew bright and early and were assigned 3 ponds to survey. Our task was to walk around the three ponds slowly and scan the shoreline for any signs of life, particularly of the plover variety. We had to be especially careful not to step on any nests or overly stress the birds that might have eggs or chicks nearby. We loaded up with our binoculars, bug jackets, and plenty of water.
The very first pond proved to be the most successful one. As Anjelica and I began our walk we reminded ourselves to be on the watch for shorebird nests, especially since we knew how camouflaged they can be. No sooner had the words left my mouth did Anjelica cry out, “like right here!”. Sure enough there was a lonely speckled egg in a shallow depression not 8 inches from where we were walking.
We documented the nest and carried on. It was only a couple hundred feet from the nest where we stopped to scan the shoreline that we saw a couple little plovers scurrying back and forth from the shore to the waters edge.
We were super excited to document that 7 plovers were on the edge of pond 46, and as we continued to look at them through our binoculars I saw a quarter sized ball of white fluff run by. Then another. And another. And another. Their cuteness had not been oversold. They truly did look like little cotton balls propped up on toothpicks.
This was exciting for not only me, but the wetlands as a whole! When we regrouped after our survey we determined that at least 29 Snowy Plovers were present on the wetlands this year, and some had already hatched chicks! While this number is nowhere near what the population of Snowy’s used to be, they have stopped declining! So even though the problem hasn’t been solved quite yet, it appears as if we’re on our way towards a solution: Snowy Plovers are here to stay another season 🙂