How to Make a Plover Biologist’s Day!
By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager
We spend a lot of time on the beach nesting bird project discussing the love/hate relationship the public has with piping plovers. For every person that supports our conservation efforts for this highly vulnerable shorebird, there seems to be at least two people that complain the plovers take up too much of the beach or prevent dogs from being allowed on the beach.
But every once in awhile, you have one of those perfect encounters that makes all the work worthwhile, so I thought I’d share a recent one with you.
Last week I was conducting a piping plover migration and band resighting survey at Stone Harbor Point. The fact that it was an extremely warm and sunny October day – extending the illusion of summer for just a wee bit longer – alone should have been enough to make me content. Then there was the very cooperative flock of 13 piping plovers, including three with color bands that I recognized as our summer breeders. All and all, it was shaping up as a good day in the field!
As I was almost wrapping up my survey I noticed a birdwatching couple a little further down the beach gazing off into the distance through a scope. On the off-chance they had noticed some plovers I had missed I approached them to see what they were looking at.
“Seeing anything interesting?” I inquired.
“A flock of royal and caspian terns, but no, nothing much really,” the man replied. And then out of the blue he added, “No piping plovers.”
This was a surprising comment since I hadn’t prompted him and October isn’t exactly prime time for piping plover viewing in New Jersey (or anywhere on the breeding grounds for that matter). I proceeded to strike up a conversation with the couple. It turned out they were from Holland, this was their first trip to the U.S., and they were on a birding/nature trip that was starting in the Cape May area.
We talked a little about the work I did and then, naturally, I mentioned to them that there actually was a group of piping plovers just 50 yards away from them on the beach. Given their pale sand color, even more so in non-breeding plumage, I wasn’t surprised the couple had walked right past the plovers.
The man’s eyes widened and he said, “Really?”
Of course, I led them back to the plovers. As we approached the plovers and they came into clear view, the man stopped and turned to me and said, “I have been dreaming of seeing a piping plover for years.”
It isn’t too often you get to make someone’s dream come true. And it is nice to know someone else is dreaming of plovers other than me.