Western snow plovers are Federally endangered and they are specifically protected along the Pacific coast. Thus, each bird in this particular monitoring area has it's own special color and number of leg bands. Populations are tracked meticulously in this manner.
Now is where you are supposed to say Aawwww!
Don't let him fool you, this snowy plover chick is perfectly capable of fleeing the scene at a dead run. On the dried mud flats these chicks are virtually invisible when they stop moving. And once you step away from them, they become one with the earth and are almost impossible to see. Thus, during the breeding season humans are NOT aloud in the nesting territories for fear the eggs or hatchings could be crushed. Only staff members of this preserve area have access to this sensitive location.
The babies are rounded up in a soft cap which serves as a holding cell for them during the brief banding and inspection process. They mostly lie still feigning they are pieces of rock or dirt. I also thought they kept their eyes closed tightly since it is appears to be a protective strategy to avoid being seen. Their eyes are really huge so it's easier to spot them when they are not squinting.
These speckled little fuzz balls are tiny!! They were actually running around foraging for food before their capture for banding. They look weak but are totally functional in finding food for themselves.
This little guy above will grow and turn into this:
During the breeding season these birds exhibit a subtle sexual dimorphism (the sexes looking different). This bird is an adult male plover in breeding plumage. Females have less black accenting on their head, eye and neck. After July, the males and females look almost identical.
This barren looking habitat is perfect for the snow plover. They camouflage effortlessly with the salty white crust and brown earth in this wildlife area. The lands are managed to promote shorebird use, especially snowy plovers.
Just outside the management area, tidally influenced pickleweed marsh occurs. This native halophyte forms a low growing mat up to 18 inches in height and pretty much covers the ground surface, but it is no good for plover nesting.
And finally, a brown pelican roosting site occurs nearby and groups of these big beaked pelagic birds flew over head during my site visit.
Seeing these heavy looking seabirds flying in loose v-shaped strings was a great finishing touch to my field work. Their giant wings, spread lazily across the sky, flapped against the onshore wind as they made the short trip to the ocean from their inland resting place.
The steady flow of salt infused air, courtesy of the vast Pacific Ocean located just a sand dune away, made my eyes water somewhat annoyingly; but the excitement of seeing the snowy plovers and other bird species was ample mitigation. And when my watch said I had to go, I was sad to leave this little slice of amazing coastal wildlife.