Piping Plovers are small, endangered shorebirds in Manitoba. Its call is described as a "plaintive peep-lo" which made it the perfect name for this blog as it too is a plaintive call, a Call to Action.

30 July 2010


The three channel chicks took their maiden flights on Friday, July 23. They continued to practise their new found freedom for the rest of the day. Later in the evening, I witnessed an amazing scene not once, but twice and recorded it in my notes this way; "Dad left the fenced enclosure and gradually made his way to the slight rise of beach-ridge in front of the water. One by one the chicks slipped between the slats of the snowfence and with a running start got airborne and flew to papa." As if to reward his charges, dad let the young ones feed for about 20 minutes before taking them back to the enclosure to do the test flights all over again.

With the channel chicks fledged, that brought our total to seven at Grand Beach this year. That is up two from last year, but down one over-all. Last year five chicks fledged at Grand Beach from two nests while a nest across the lake at Gimli fledged three birds for a total of eight.

The question now, is, how will they fair on their flight south to their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and how will the oil spill effect them? We won't find out the answer to that question until their return nine months from now in May 2011. We're keeping our fingers crossed.


28 July 2010

SWAT Team Moves In

Last Wednesday, July 21, Paul Goossen of the Canadian Wildlife Service arrived to band the three channel chicks. As the chicks were three weeks old and nearly ready to fly, it became quite the operation. With the precision of a SWAT team, armed only with butterfly nets, Paul, Morgan, Matt and I slowly herded the chicks towards the beach shoreline. Paul instructed us that once they attempted to break through our defence, the idea was to get the net in front of them and have them run into it; easier said then done. Paul, Morgan and Matt successfully captured two while I chased my target like a cheetah on a gazelle. Okay, maybe it was more like an out-of-shape old guy running after a puppy, but just when I thought I had him or her, she took off, as in flying, low to the ground and down the beach. I hiked back to my team, out of breath, where they took a few cheap shots at my unsuccessful effort.

On our next attempt, the chick again attempted to take flight, but this time landed in the water where we quickly scooped it up.

The chicks were each fitted with three bands. An aluminum one with a number on it would identify all the particulars of the who, when and where the bird was banded. The other two bands are coloured plastic. They can be seen with the naked eye if close enough or with the aid of binoculars or a spotting scope. This way information about the bird can be gathered without having to recapture it. One band is coloured, red over black. This identifies the bird as one banded at Grand Beach. The second is an individual colour. This identifies from which nest at Grand Beach the chick hatched. After 26 minutes Mr. Red, Mr. Orange and Mr. Light Green, or is that Ms, were back to what chicks do, feeding, resting and preening, although dad did take them for a bath as if he wanted to make sure they didn't catch any 'human cooties.'


21 July 2010

My Error!

In my morning post, I informed everyone that one of our chicks, banded last year, had been observed and identified at Grand Marais, Minnesota. In fact, this bird was identified at Grand Marais, Michigan, on the south shore of Lake Superior. According to Google Maps this is a 15-hour - 1,262.6 km drive from Grand Beach, Manitoba. Grand Marais, Michigan is about a 2-hour drive from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Does this mean more of our chicks ended up in the Great Lakes population this year, perhaps reaching as far north as Ontario? Stay tuned.


Missing Chick Found

Back on June 2, I wrote a post about how the eight chicks we banded last year had not been seen anywhere from the Great Lakes to Alberta. Well, I am pleased to announce that one of the Grand Beach banded chicks has been spotted and identified at Grand Marais. Now I know most of you who have been following the blog and know the Grand Beach area are asking yourselves, why we didn't see it earlier, considering Grand Marais is a stones-throw from Grand Beach. The reason is this, wait for it, this Grand Marais is 800 km by vehicle (sorry, Google doesn't have a button labelled 'as the crow flies' I could click on) southeast of Grand Beach in Minnesota along the shores of Lake Superior about a two hour drive north of Duluth, Minnesota.

For Grand Beach 'Plover Lovers' this is terrific news!

...to be continued

photo - Jean Carpenter


18 July 2010

Parking Lot Plovers Take Flight

At 11:47 AM, Saturday, July 17, I observed the four chicks, hatched from the enclosure in parking lot #5 at Grand Beach Provincial Park, take to the air and cross the water channel that separates West Beach from East Beach, a distance of about 50 metres. During the week, my colleagues and I had watched them take some short hops along the shoreline, even venturing out over the water a short distance before swinging back and landing. However, the channel crossing was momentous because there was no turning back. It was either make it to the other side or tumble into the strong current of the channel and be swept out into the big lake. They made it!


How are the birds along the Gulf Coast fairing?

Our plovers winter along the Gulf Coast. As you are aware, this is where the worst oil spill ever has occurred. Barring any unforeseen problems our seven Grand Beach chicks will leave on their long journey south around mid-August. I thought you might want to know how the current birdlife along the Gulf Coast is fairing. This is the best blog I have found to date. It is administered by the American Birding Association. Go to http://birding.typepad.com/gulf/


Mommy, Mommy, what's that little birdie saying?

This is a question I have heard often over the course of my guardian work at Grand Beach. I am by no means an expert in plover-speak, but this is what I have observed over the past month. Adult plovers with chicks on the run have two basic calls. There are variations in how many times the call is made and how quickly they are delivered, but the two calls are consistent. One is 'peep,' the other, 'peep-lo' from which this blog gets its name.

When the adult plover delivers the 'peep' call that appears to mean 'stand still, don't move.' It is delivered whenever a threat approaches, whether that's a jogger invading their space on the beach or a raven flying overhead. Once 'peep' is delivered, the chicks stop what they are doing and freeze.

'Peep-lo' translates into 'follow me' or 'come to me' depending on where the adult is in relation to the chicks or whether the adult is on the move. If the chicks heed these two calls, they have a very good chance of avoiding any kind of mammal, bird or human trouble.


11 July 2010

A Day in the Life

Have you ever wondered what a Piping Plover Guardian Naturalist job is like. It boils down to a lot of walking, waiting, watching, observing with short spurts of action. On my iPhone, I open a new note for every 8-hour shift and type in every significant and not-so-significant event that occurs during a shift. This way I have a complete record of the day's activities. Here's what happened during my early morning 4:30 AM - 12:30 PM shift Friday, July 9, 2010.

Weather @ 4:00 AM
20C and mainly cloudy
Wind W 31 km/h
Humidity 78%

4:33 open gate, start shift

4:38 drove into parking lot #5 and was greeted by my first raccoon of the season, quickly sent him on his way

4:44 noticed footprints inside the flagged off feeding area

4:48 parking lot 5 chicks found on beach hiding in willows of designated feeding area, all present and accounted for, as I approached they all scurried down the roadway and into the parking lot, we'll never catch these speeding bullets to band them

5:08 male channel plover greets me, quite agitated, after some time, I only find one chick and it nestles under dad

5:25 the male flies back to check me out still agitated, there is a brisk cool wind coming off the lake so I'm hesitant to keep him away much longer, I'll take one more walk to see if the whole family is huddled together somewhere, then I'll back off

5:44 a sigh of relief, it took me a while to finally observe the channel chicks, I walked in behind the dunes to the top of one and found the male huddled close to the snow-fence of the enclosure, he eventually 'released the hounds' and revealed the three chicks much to my relieve, all present and accounted for on day 10

6:07 forgot to mention yesterday, I found a yellow warbler nest with two eggs and two freshly hatched chicks, no cowbird egg(s), located in small willow behind dunes close to where the plovers nested the last couple of years

7:12 John, Dianne and their grand-daughter Jayne paid me a visit so they could show Jayne the chicks, and the chicks put on quite a show scurrying all about

7:36 greater yellowlegs wading along west shore of channel

8:38 a huge herring gull landed on shore and was wolfing down something, I was sure I knew where the three chicks were, but the male plover didn't like his company, but couldn't scare him off so I went over to investigate, sure enough a nice size pickerel had washed up on shore and the herring gull was trying to make short work of it before any others moved in

9:18 my colleague Shauna, checked in for an update

10:03 chicks resting, good time for a bathroom break

10:38 Matt dropped by for a visit, dad decides to lead the chicks down for a drink of water, one runs so fast it does a header in a footprint, hysterical

10:53 have a nice chat with a fellow from Vancouver, he's just on his way home after traveling across the breadth of the country all the way to St. John's, Newfoundland, he has a load of questions about the plovers and program, I give him the full spiel

11:12 an osprey makes his morning cruise along the lake in search of a fat fish for family

11:18 seven male Sanderlings, a small sandpiper-like shorebird in breeding plumage, make an unexpected appearance along the east shore of the channel in the flagged off area for the plovers, as they nest in the high Arctic the obvious question would be, are they still headed north?

11:30 Shauna drops by after watching the parking lot birds and takes over from me for the afternoon shift

12:05 dad and the chicks come close for a visit, dad takes a bath in a back pool of the channel, all are content

12:30 shift ends

...to be continued


07 July 2010

So how many Piping Plovers are there in Manitoba?

This spring in Manitoba we counted seven birds, you heard that right, 7 adult birds. Two pairs at Grand Beach, one pair at Grand Marais and I saw a single male on Gimli Beach, probably the same bird that nested there successfully last year. However, it takes two to tango and so with no female, there was no nest at Gimli this year.

Manitoba has a very good birding community and between their birding forays and my surveys those were the only birds identified. And believe me, I searched all their historical haunts up and down the west side of Lake Winnipeg and the east side of Lake Manitoba; Delta, Stoney Beach, Clandeboye Bay Special Conservation Area, Twin Lakes Beach, Lundar Beach, Watchorn Beach, Chalet Beach, Winnipeg Beach, Willow Point, Gimli Beach, Riverton Sandy Bar, Hecla Sand Spit and the North Bar of Gull Bay south of Grand Rapids; and visited some of these sites two and three times.

My colleagues Shauna and Morgan did the same on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

The last International Census conducted in 2006, counted about 7000 birds across North America. That number was made up of the Atlantic population, Great Lakes population and the Northern Great Plains population of which Manitoba is a part. Although the numbers were up from 2001, in terms of bird numbers, 7000 is still a very small population. As the Census is conducted every five years, next year will be the fifth one conducted since the inaugural Census in 1991. And as the majority of birds from the Northern Great Plains population winter along the Gulf of Mexico coast, which is currently under siege from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill catastrophe, it will be very interesting to see what next spring's census numbers will be. Stay tuned.


06 July 2010

Ancient Plover Found - ALIVE!

Back in mid-June, I received an email with some amazing news.

On June 14, 1997 a piping plover egg was collected off of Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota. It was transported to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' captive rearing facility at the Gavins Point Project. It hatched out on June 22. After fledging, the chick and 15 other captive reared plovers were released on July 26 at the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Montana.

Now the good part. On June 4, 2010, a month ago, the Corps of Engineers' Bismarck crew observed a light blue flagged piping plover that they were able to associate with a nest on a sandbar at River Mile 1304.1 on the Missouri River. This site is about 13 km (8 miles) downriver from Bismarck ND. The crew returned on June 9 and captured the plover on the nest and read its band number. The band revealed it to be the plover hatched at the Gavins Point Project 13, yes, your math is correct, 13 years ago.

As a plover in the wild lives about 4-6 years, maybe 7, this discovery is truly remarkable. It would be like finding a 150-year-old human being - ALIVE!


02 July 2010

Grand Beach Update

As of 5:00 PM today, Friday, July 2, we have seven chicks scurrying along the sands of Grand. The 'parking lot #5' nest began its hatch on Saturday, June 19. The first three chicks were on the move by the following day. It would take egg number four until sometime early Tuesday morning to produce the last chick, much to our relief. They are now 12-14 days old and mainly self-sufficient. They won't take their first short flights for at least another 10 days.

On the morning of Wednesday, June 30, I discovered three chicks in the 'channel' nest, right on schedule. Yesterday, the final egg hatched, but unfortunately one chick was lost. We don't know what happened and the chick was not found. No known predators were seen at the time so whether the chick died of some natural cause or perhaps exposure, we will never know. Although we have lost one chick, we are still very pleased to have three young ones on the move. As you may recall, we nearly lost this nest due to flooding. Only the quick response of Morgan and Matt in moving the nest to higher ground saved this nest from certain disaster.


22 June 2010

Surprise! Surprise!

I started my shift at 4:30 AM today, did I mention I started at 4:30, with a quick check of the parking lot 5 nest. No bird to be found. I then walked over to the beach and feeding area. In the pre-dawn light I saw one chick near the water's edge and dad nestled on the beach keeping the other kids warm. When dad arose you could have knocked me over with a feather. There they were, not one, not two, but three chicks. Yes, your math is correct. That made four chicks. After scanning the beach and counting and recounting four chicks about a hundred times, I went back to the nest to confirm that the last egg had indeed hatched and that we hadn't somehow inherited an orphan during the night. At shift's end all four babies were doing well scurrying along the beach as fast as their little toothpick legs would take them. Stay tuned.


21 June 2010


I am pleased to announce that the first nest at Grand Beach has produced a set of triplets. Hatching began Saturday, June 19 and by Sunday afternoon three cotton balls on toothpicks were scurrying around parking lot #5. Unfortunately, one egg has not hatched although both adult birds continue to take turns incubating and attending to the three chicks. By Sunday evening they had crossed the 'Lawrence of Arabia' sand dunes and settled nicely on the beach. When I returned for my morning shift at 4:30 AM, yes you read that correctly 4:30, just me and a gazillion mosquitoes, mom was on the nest and I found dad on the beach with the wee ones nestled under him. This parking lot in Grand Beach Provincial Park has been a mainstay of the program for over a decade and although in recent years not all eggs have hatched successfully, two or three birds have reached the fledgling stage. We are hopeful another three chicks will make the long trek south in August to their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast.


10 June 2010

Eggs on the Move

I am pleased to announce that the first ever attempt in Manitoba at moving a nest with a full clutch of four eggs was successfully accomplished yesterday (June 9). Here is how it happened.
I was informed last Friday (June 4) that a move was eminent as last year's Channel birds at Grand Beach had decided to nest on the beach, rather than on the raised dune that had been so successful for them the last two seasons. If a storm rose up, they would surely be flooded out. However, knowing the lake levels were down this year and as it was one of only three nests found across the province, I was hesitant to see any action taken based on speculation that the waters might rise. I asked my boss to hold off so that I might see the situation for myself. She agreed to hold off a few days.

On Tuesday (June 8) I drove up to the Beach with Paul Goossen of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Paul has a great deal of experience with nest moving, having had to perform the task on numerous occasions at Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan. We assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that the nest was well out of reach from any flooding unless it was an exceptional circumstance. Better to leave well enough alone. However, we did select a location where the nest could be moved if need be and Paul showed me, Morgan our STEP student plover guardian and Matt, one of our dedicated volunteer plover guardians, exactly how to move the nest as a last resort. We drove back to Winnipeg secure in our belief that we had made the right decision.

So much for assessments, plans and decisions. By the time we reached Winnipeg a doozy of a storm was rumbling across the Interlake and Lake Winnipeg headed for Grand Beach. I received an urgent text the following morning (June 9) that the water was but three feet away from flooding the nest. Morgan and Matt jumped into action and proceeded with the risky business of attempting to move the nest in less than ideal conditions. I'll save the description of how a move is conducted for another blog, but suffice it to say that Morgan and Matt were able to save the day and nest with a move of about 20 metres to a slight rise on the beach close to the dunes. The plovers accepted the move and new location and were last seen incubating their clutch of eggs in their new surroundings.

Congratulations Morgan and Matt! A job well done in every way. A Manitoba first!


02 June 2010

Where are the Chicks?

No, not those kind of chicks, I'm talking piping plovers. Last summer eight chicks were fitted with leg bands. This would allow us to identify them on their wintering grounds along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico or upon their return this spring. We banded five chicks at Grand Beach and three at Gimli Beach. I had the privilege of assisting Canadian Wildlife Service staff with this task. All eight of these chicks eventually fledged. That means the birds were able to fly on their own and migrate south for the winter. So after six weeks of surveying every beach on the west side of Lake Winnipeg and the east side of Lake Manitoba, where are they? Research has shown that first year adults do not normally return to the place where they hatched. However, they do return to the general area. That is, birds that hatched at Grand Beach may not return there in their first year, but they could be expected to show up at a nearby location like Hillside Beach or Elk Island. But so far, we have not received a report of these birds showing up anywhere from the Great Lakes west to Alberta. So where are they? What happened to our chicks?


29 May 2010

A Bright Spot on an Ugly Day

The wind is howling. The rain is coming down sideways. I'm wet, I'm cold, I'm down. We haven't seen a piping plover on the west side of Lake Winnipeg in a week. I follow the tracks of a 4x4 half-ton truck that someone the previous night had decided to take on a joy-ride down Gimli beach. Then, when I least expect it, there it is, like a spotlight on a movie star in Hollywood, a plover. The colours vibrant, the orange bill and legs shining like the chrome on a classic car. I watch, transfixed, as it scurries along the sand, nestles down in a scrape, jumps up, runs some more, nestles down, eyes me and then ignores me. I am elated. Suddenly, I'm no longer cold, the rain feels like a light sprinkling. But where is the female? After all, it takes two to tango.


26 May 2010

Rewarded with a Whimbrel

No plovers. I visited the Clandeboye Bay Special Conservation Area on Lake Manitoba for the third time this spring. Only a decade ago, it was a nesting area where you were nearly guaranteed to see two or three pair of piping plover. Today I was shutout yet again. Killdeers feigned broken wings, spotted sandpipers teetered along the shore and sanderlings raced along the beach trying not to get their feet wet. Pelicans glided overhead, western grebes danced on the water and a nighthawk and Franklin's gulls twisted and turned as they gobbled up newly hatched insects, but the sweet, plaintive 'peep-lo' call of the piping plover was missing. The beach was not complete without it. However, not all was despair. As I scoured the SCA for plovers, I noticed a large sandpiper standing on a piece of washed up driftwood. When I placed my binos on it, I was startled to see the long downcurved bill, diagnostic of the Whimbrel. This was only my second sighting of this tundra nester, ever. As I left the SCA, I could not help think what of the Whimbrel? Is it the next shorebird to be placed on our list of threatened and endangered bird species? I hope not.

Ken Porteous
2010 Piping Plover Guardian

25 May 2010

Piping Plover Season has Begun!

The plovers have returned to Grand Beach and we have had a sighting of a lone bird near Gimli! We have found our first nest at Grand Beach which means that by this time next month we will have our first piping plover chicks running on the beach.

If you are interested in volunteering, please call us at 204-945-6817!

Ken Porteous
2010 Piping Plover Guardian

01 January 2010

Welcome for 2010

Piping Plovers return in April/May to nest along the beaches on Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba and every year, the Manitoba Piping Plover Guardian Program kicks into high gear to protect the plovers, their nests, eggs and chicks from a variety of threats including human activity, off-leash dogs, all-terrain vehicles, predation by gulls, crows and a variety of smaller mammals. If you wish to help, the Program's contact information is on the left.