Saturday, March 19, 2011
Snowy Plover nesting season officially began on Feb. 15 and will continue until mid-August. Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) staff and volunteers work diligently to monitor these state-protected birds, finding and marking nests and monitoring the adults and chicks.
There are high hopes for the 2011 nesting season. Last year, Sanibel hosted at least eight pairs of Snowy Plovers. Those pairs laid a total of 15 nests, nine of which hatched, producing 23 chicks. Out of those 23, only seven survived to fledge. These numbers are lower than they have been in recent years.
It is important for beachgoers to keep a few things in mind as they enjoy the beaches:
• Honor the leash law. An unleashed dog can kill an adult bird or chick or trample a nest.
• Respect marked nesting areas. Too much human disturbance can cause birds to abandon their nest. Always remain outside of the staked area.
• Avoid flying kites near nesting areas. Plovers view kites as predators. A kite flying overhead can cause a bird to abandon its nest.
• Never chase birds on the beach. Shorebirds use the beach to nest, rest and feed. Forcing them to fly interferes with all of these activities.
• Fill in holes. Holes on the beach can trap chicks unable to fly. If trapped, chicks can die from predators or exposure.
In addition to the pressures from environmental conditions and people on the beach, Snowy Plovers are a popular subject of wildlife photographers. Anyone interested in photographing Plovers or any shorebirds should keep the following guidelines in mind.
Guidelines for photographing birds on the nest:
• Make a thorough check of the area for avian or mammalian predators nearby that may be attracted to human presence or scent.
• The photographer should remain behind the staked off area. No part of the body, camera or lens should go beyond the string.
• Photographing at the nest should not exceed one hour. After one hour, the photographer should leave the nest area and wait at least three hours before returning.
Guidelines for photographing birds away from the nest or birds with broods:
• Care should be taken not to “push” the birds around the beach. Birds need to be able to forage and rest without disturbance beyond the usual beach traffic. Snowy Plover chicks weigh only 6.5 grams when they hatch. They must constantly forage to gain an average of 1.5g per day to reach their target weight of 45g in only four weeks. Any time taken away from foraging is detrimental to their survival. The photographer should instead approach to a distance of no closer than 30 meters (100 feet) and wait for the birds to approach them for closer shots.
It is very important that these guidelines be strictly followed to ensure the safety and success of the plover nests and chicks. This is the only way to ensure the enjoyment of beautiful photographs as well as the survival of this species for years to come. As threatened species in the State of Florida, any disturbance of nesting or preventable harassment to chicks or adults can lead to prosecution of a misdemeanor crime. Submitted by AMANDA BRYANT and JOEL CAOUETTE, SCCF Biologists