Piping Plover Stopover in the Midst of 3500 km Flight

Last year, we were so excited to enter banding data on a Piping Plover that was in the middle of a migration to the Great Lakes.  This week, there was a relatively large flock of Piping Plovers on the Beach,  (more than I have ever seen here) and I could catch the numbers on the leg flags of two of them.

The Flags Allow Community Observers to send data to Scientists

When I looked at the photos of these sweet little guys, I could read two of the band numbers.  I googled “how to report a banded Piping Plover” and ended up on this USFW site.  The chart told me that these were part of a research project of Environment and Climate Change Canada, and gave me an email address to send photos to.  So I sent these pics off to them, along with the GPS data.  At 10:30 pm.  

Piping Plover on Dewees Beach
Piping Plover on Dewees Beach
Piping Plover on Dewees Beach

And then, imagine my delight when I heard back at 2:00 am with the story of an incredible journey.  These plovers had spent the winter in Turks and Caicos, and were headed to Canada!  Cheri Gratto-Trevor wrote,

White flag 03 was banded as a chick in July 2017 at Codroy Valley Provincial Park, Newfoundland.  She was initially given black flag 63, but that was replaced in 2019 as the code faded on her first flag.  She has been back to NL each summer.  She winters in the Turks and Caicos, and has been reported previously in spring – 2018 VA, and 2020 and 2022 NC.

That is actually kind of astonishing!  This tiny bird has successfully migrated back and forth from Newfoundland to Turks and Caicos, flying a distance of 2400 miles 12 times!  That is 28,800 miles.  More than the circumference of the GLOBE!!

The second resighted bird, X2, also winters in Turks and Caicos.  Dr. Gratto-Trevor said,

White flag X2 was banded as an adult female at White Point, in Southern Nova Scotia.  She’s been back in S NS each summer.  She ALSO winters in the Turks and Caicos.  Yours is her first resight as a migrant!

Long journeys!

Journey of Piping Plover White Flag 03
Journey of Piping Plover White Flag X2

Disturbances along the Way Affect Nesting Success

The Dewees beach is relatively undisturbed, compared to the more crowded beaches to our south experience more human disruption.  Scientists are studying whether disruption decreases body weight, impacts successful migration, or changes nesting success once they get to their breeding grounds.

Since my resighting of X2 was one of the first pieces of migration data, the researchers don’t know what beaches she has stopped on before.  But maybe this sighting will inform the discussion about her nest success this year.  Researcher Avery Nagy sent more information about her previous nesting success:

Originally banded at White Point, she nested at Red Head Beach in 2022, but unfortunately the nest was predated. In 2021, she bred at nearby Round Bay, successfully fledging 3 chicks, and in 2020, she bred at another nearby beach in Shelburne County, NS, Fox Bar, but did not fledge any chicks. It’s so fascinating to follow the lives of individual plovers!

I’ll be so interested to learn whether this bird nests successfully this year!

Our Beach is a Feeding Station

The more we learn about migration science, the more we are understanding that every stop a bird makes is important. They are using their characteristic step-step-pluck to glean tiny insects and crustaceans from the edges of the waves, and occasionally pull up worms like polychaetes from under the sand.

Give them a Wide Berth

The coastal squeeze effect makes this bird particularly vulnerable to climate change: This November 2022 article from US Fish and Wildlife specifically addresses the South Carolina Coast and the way climate is affecting these migrants., and this modeling from the Audubon Society shows how they will be vulnerable with different levels of sea level change.

I used a long zoom to try to get pictures of the bands, and limited my time on the beach just long enough to snap photos of both banded birds.

The Dewees beaches have signs that connect migratory plovers with some of the other wildlife and food sources on our beach.  Wilsons Plovers nest here, and there are now signs posted on the beach where the protected areas are.  You can also make changes like walking your dogs at low tide, so the birds have more beach available for feeding and resting.  And if you want to get involved in educating others about how to care for birds on the beach, check out Audubon South Carolina’s Shorebird Steward Program.