Plovers in paradise
This post originally appeared on the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey blog. The foundation participated in the Bahamas 2011 surveys that helped establish the importance of the country as the major wintering site for piping plovers. They have returned to Abaco (and Grand Bahama) each year since then to conduct follow-up surveys and continue to build local partnerships. Visit their blog for more posts.
By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project manager and Stephanie Egger, wildlife biologist
Those of us who study and work with piping plovers on the breeding grounds are pretty attached to “our” plovers. In truth, piping plovers spend more than half of their time in migration or on their wintering grounds, so for our Atlantic Coast population they are as much birds of the Bahamas as they are of the U.S. and Canada.
Shorebirds are not necessarily on the radar in the Bahamas, as much as more iconic birds like the flamingo or Bahama Parrot, but the public is slowly becoming more aware of them. A major part of our project is to elevate local awareness of piping plovers and the important role the Bahamas plays in their long-term survival.
To this end, we have developed a number of products and strategies to achieve this goal: a postcard, decal, in-school programs, sister school program, public presentations, and traditional and social media exposure. Lastly, we are producing a short video about the piping plover in the Bahamas that will be shown to students, the public, and visitors.
We are partnering with Matt McCoy of Loggerhead Productions on this video initiative. So, on the last day of this trip we spent time shooting footage on Elbow Cay. Matt doubled as boat captain – we headed out to White Sound first, but unfortunately the tide wasn’t low enough for the cove flats to be exposed. Next was a stop at Tahiti beach, a popular tourist beach, but on this afternoon not a person was in sight. Piping plovers had not been observed at this site on any previous surveys, possibly because of disturbance factors, but with its combination of a sand spit, flats, and tidal limestone, it certainly looked like perfect Bahamas piping plover habitat.
We anchored offshore and as we gazed at the spit through our binos, the silhouette of one solitary resting piping plover could barely be seen. Once we waded onto the beach, we found another plover, and as the tide continued to fall and the sun began to set, several others flew in.
The piping plovers were icing on the cake and a great way to end our trip, although the real reason we ventured to this spot was to shoot footage on-site of us talking about piping plover behavior and conservation. The clouds weren’t cooperating, messing with our light, but we managed to get some good audio on tape. The video is slowly taking form – we will film more with Matt when we return in January. Of course, the real magic and final shape will happen in the editing room, but it felt good to have the video part of the project rolling too.
It is goodbye to the Bahamas for now…mission accomplished for the first phase of the project. If you couldn’t tell, we are already excited about coming back to continue our job as piping plover ambassadors!