Monday, March 28, 2011

Piping Plover Monitoring Program begins soon!

In spite of the unseasonably cold weather in recent days, the first Piping Plovers have already reached our shores and their breeding season will start shortly. These state and federally listed shorebirds have been the subject of a very successful volunteer monitoring program for many years. Due to the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Environmental Protection's Wildlife Division and many volunteers, Piping Plover numbers have increased greatly in past years. Breeding pairs are now reliably found in areas where they never nested before historically. However, the future nesting success of these threatened birds hinges entirely on the continuation of the volunteer monitoring program.

Piping Plover monitors work with USFWS and DEP to observe and collect data on nesting plovers and chicks on several beaches in Fairfield and New Haven counties. Piping Plover monitors also provide an important educational function when they interact with the public on the nesting beaches. Often people are unaware of the presence of these at-risk species on their favorite beach, which is not entirely surprising since these birds are generally relatively rare and also because they are extremely adept at making themselves hard to notice. Can you spot the nesting Piping Plover in the picture below?

This past Saturday, the USFWS and DEP provided the first training session for this year's Piping Plover Monitors at the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center in Milford Point, one of the premier nesting areas for these birds.

In the picture above, USFWS Refuge Manager Rick Potvin is explaining some of the logistics of working on Milford Point to his audience. Meanwhile, USFWS staff had placed two plastic eggs on the beach nearby to simulate a Piping Plover nest with its well-camouflaged eggs.

Ironically, DEP Wildlife Biologist Julie Victoria, who has been the driving force behind the successful protection of Piping Plovers in our state, was unaware of this and almost stepped on the eggs.

Luckily USFWS staff quickly deployed a wire screen exclosure to protect the eggs from further harm.

These exclosures are used during the breeding season to protect the nests encountered and reported by Plover Monitors.

This year, additional emphasis will be put on reporting, protecting and monitoring Least Tern nests as well. This state-listed species has had a poor track record for breeding success in the state lately and their nest site selection process is still poorly understood. Since least Terns often breed on the same beaches as Piping Plovers it is relatively easy to include them in the monitoring program as well.

If you are interested in participating in this citizen science program and becoming a Piping Plover monitor, please contact USFWS Refuge Biologist Kris Vagos ( or Park Ranger Shaun Roche ( for more information or for an enrollment form. You can also call the administrative office of the Stewart B. McKinney Wildife Refuge (860-399 2513) or contact Connecticut Audubon Society staff at Milford Point or Stratford Point.

All photos copyright Twan Leenders

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