Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'm Positve You've Never Seen These Before!!

There are a few perks to my work for which I am grateful beyond words. For example, this week, I went to the coast to do some field surveys and was amazingly fortunate to meet with an expert birder who monitors a breeding population of snowy plovers! I witnessed fresh hatched plovers getting their monitoring bands, which are an integral part of the tracking of this rare species. I had never seen snowy plovers up close and personal like this before!!

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.

29 Comments for OSL:

Pricilla said...

Hmmm, on the barrier island where I grew up off the coast of NJ we had Piping Plovers. Same thing; endangered and they nested on the southern end of the island. They would close that part of the island every year during nesting season so the birds would be safe.

And the pelicans had just started coming that far north when we moved this far west. I love pelicans!

Julia said...

Granted the east coast has the same kind of species BUT have you seen a baby chick sporting yellow and pink bracelet??? Now that's some jewelery.

Olde Dame Penniwig said...

What a precious-looking birdie. I love them. I hope their numbers can grow.

Julia said...

After looking at this post again I feel sometimes I am the only person who gets giddy at new bird stuff. I am strange like that.

the ungourmet said...

They are just beautiful! I love reading about your work.

I was out picking things in the garden yesterday and I heard the prettiest bird "singing". I looked up and it was very close to me. I just stood very still and watched and listened. I was thinking the whole time how I would love to bird watch as a hobby. There is a park near here called Trillium State Park that has a terrific variety of bird species to enjoy. (Did I word that correctly? Bird species?) I'm trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about! Is it working? :0)

blueviolet said...

You are so lucky! I couldn't tell how tiny it was until it was in your hand (someone's hand) and it's an itty bitty!

This is the first year I've taken an interest in birds. Out of the blue, they've become fascinating to me. I'm a little bummed I had to put the A/C on due to the extreme heat because I was so enjoying listening to their songs with the windows open.

Yaya said...

Those tiny birds are SO CUTE!

Sara said...

Great pictures! Beautiful little birds. Looks like it was an amazing experience. You did convey your excitement about it and it made me smile. I'm not a bird fan, but I love your use of words.

Concentrationally Challenged said...

Wow. Thanks for the "National Geographic" moment, Julia. What adorable little birds. I'm going to show this one to my kids tonight. They'll LOVE it.

Drakonis said...

What a treat, you lucky lady! It is wonderful that you've chosen a field that often feels like an exciting vacation more than a job! Gorgeous photography too... I've not yet heard what kind of camera equipment you have (or experience), but this looks like the work of a professional photographer with some nice SLR equipment! I guess it would make sense in your field that you'd be so good at visual documentation, but these are also artistically appealing photos. Ahhh... I love birds, thanks!

Sherri @ Luv a Bargain said...

Wow! That is so neat! They are so tiny and adorable.

Pricilla said...

Oh you are right it is very cool to go out and band the babies. I love birds too.

Right now we have magpies nesting close to us. Never had them on this side of the interstate before. I love them. I know most folks think they are pests but I think they are beautiful. And you should have heard one of them dressing down the neighbor's cat. Oooh, the noise!

The Old Gray Egg said...

My initial degree was in Fisheries Biology, and I dreamed of doing field work. I could never get a job in it, though. You are fortunate to have found that position.
Your plover looks quite a bit like our midwestern Killdeer. They nest out in open flats amongst woodchips or gravel. The speckled eggs are nearly impossible to see. The adults put on quite the injured wing display when you get anywhere near their nest. Do the snowy plovers have similar behavior?
Great post.

Julia said...

CC and Drakonis-Thanks!

I use a digital Nikon D-50 and Picasa to enhance when necessary. It is still hard to get the same quality on the blog that is on my computer. I try though.

OGE-Yep the kildeers are in the same genera both belonging to the geuns Charadrius. The plovers and black-necked stilts were on full display mode like they were injured. It's quite humorous, but to their little lives it means everything. My plovering was purely coincidental to my need to access the site I was surveying. I could not out without this other biologist and he coordinated his banding with our visit. I had no idea I would see bandingt and and the baby plovers yesterday. It was a real treat. I was surveying the plants and habitats for a document I am preparing. Sadly most of the time I am writing instead of going in the field.

Yaya said...

Saw this plant on a blog and they don't know what it is and thought you would know!
http://drahdrahsplace.blogspot.com/2009/06/wordless-wednesday.html

The Mind of a Mom said...

Oh my gosh they are amazing! I don't know if I have ever seen one here. You are right you are lucky!

Life Ramblings said...

what amazing little birds. thank for sharing.

Ratty said...

I like 'em. When I first saw them I didn't know they were so tiny. The grown version is pretty nicelooking too.

Debbie said...

How cool! Great photos and how wonderful that you got to experience that.

Vixen said...

AWWWW, is right! Those babies are freaking ador-a-ble. You have a great job. I need a job that gets me out into the great outdoors.

I changed my mind about being mauled by Mr. D. I think you should have him maul my son in law instead. Ha ha.

Suzi said...

Those are sooooo cool! Great pictures Julia. Thanks for sharing.

Grand Pooba said...

So did I tell you you have the best job ever? Those pics are awesome! That would have been so fun and interesting. I had no idea what plovers were!

Aunt Spicy said...

I am starting to think that you know EVERYTHING! I learn so much from you!

ps. Adore the cute US flag icon you have on your side bar!

Mountain Woman said...

I've definitely never seen a plover before and the babies are adorable. What a beautiful place. Your job is absolutely amazing. I envy you all the various spots you get to visit.

MsSnarkyPants said...

Awwwwwwwwww the cuteness is almost too much for me!!!

Frogs in my formula said...

What a beautiful bird. You are so lucky you have such a connection to the outdoors.

Crochetoholic said...

that is amazing those little fuzzies are so vute.. :)

So Not Mom-a-licious said...

Gorgeous..little and big. And I'm not into birds at. all. Maybe because all I have to enjoy are fricking crows, pigeons and doves. And the occasional hummingbird. I do adore them. a hummingbird always makes me smile!

Sharkbytes said...

Julia! Those are simply great! We have endangered piping plovers here, but these are new to me for sure.