Conserve Wildlife Blog

Plovers in Paradise

November 10th, 2013

The Bahamas Blog – Trip 1, Day 6

By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager and Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Piping Plovers on exposed limestone shore in the Bahamas

Piping Plovers on exposed limestone shore in the Bahamas.

Today was a down day from a field research perspective, a chance to recharge. That said, our minds were still working – we are already thinking about what’s next for the project and planning our return trip early next year.

As we knew coming in, and now we both know firsthand, logistics are the toughest part of piping plover research here in the Bahamas. With hundreds of islands, cays, flats, and miles of shoreline to survey, many of them inaccessible, just getting to some of the sites is half the battle. Throw in unfavorable weather issues (i.e. wind and rain), a van or boat that doesn’t start, a survey that takes much longer to complete than anticipated…and well you get the picture.

And as we previously mentioned, piping plovers use different types of habitat here in the Bahamas and it is highly tide dependent – it is critical to be at the tidal flats at low tide, otherwise there are no flats or birds to see. Likewise, you need to be at roost locations at mid or high tide or all you’ll see are tracks in the sand to tease you.

Stephanie Egger navigating the "iron shore" to reach plover beach

Stephanie Egger navigating the “iron shore” to reach plover beach.

Even those sites that are more accessible via driving or on foot, and may look promising on aerial maps, often turn out to be more complicated. Most people picture the beaches here in the Bahamas as postcard perfect white sand beaches, but in truth many shorelines have long stretches of craggy limestone ledges (the so-called “iron shore”), and traversing them can be tricky. Although piping plovers rarely use the high cliff ledges, they can be seen on the smoother tidal ledges at low tide. Other researchers have also seen them scurrying on the edge of mangroves.

We know for sure that tidal sand flats are one of the most critical habitats for piping plovers wintering in the Bahamas. And since they are equally important for bonefish, conch, and other species, much of our survey and conservation efforts are rightfully focusing on that habitat type. Figuring out the rest of the story is proving a little more difficult.

We did our best to get it right this time with some promising results, but we also had to settle on some surveys just for recon purposes for future visits. We hope to bring along some other researchers and also spend more time training local volunteers when we return next time. With connections we made this trip it looks as if we will finally get into the vast Marls in January as well. And when we return next time we will take our first steps in expanding the project to other islands, with a planned presentation on piping plovers at the Cape Eleuthera Institute/Island School on neighboring Eleuthera and also a possible stop on Grand Bahama.

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