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.

25 May 2011

Plovers Banded as part of Gulf Oil Spill Study

Plover banded on Gulf Coast winter range
photo credit: Sidney Maddock
As part of a study into the effects of last year's Gulf Oil Spill, some piping plovers were marked on their winter range. One of the key bands was a green flag or tab band located on the left leg high as shown in the photo above.

Two of the three banded birds identified at Grand Beach have the green flags. This leads us to believe that they may be part of the Gulf Oil Spill study. Plover #1 was marked like this: left high - green flag, left low - black, right high - yellow, right low - black. Plover #2 was marked: left high - green flag, left low - red, right high - yellow, right low - black. We have sent this information to the study co-ordinator and hope to receive some feedback in due course. As soon as information becomes available I will let you know. Stay tuned.

23 May 2011

What have the bands told us so far?

In my last post, I had good news, bad news. The bad news was that we had identified only five piping plovers province-wide. The good news was four of the five had been banded.

Let's look at two of them in this post. The bands on the plover identified at Hillside Beach were read like this: left high - neon green, left low - no band, right high - metal, right low - red. The metal band is the key to where and when this plover chick was banded. However, you would need to either capture this bird, a risky undertaking, or have the bird observed closely through a powerful spotting scope so the band number could be read. As neither was done, we have to use the colour combinations in an effort to determine where and when these birds were banded.

Back in 2009, we banded five chicks at Grand Beach and three at Gimli. Last year, we banded three chicks at Grand Beach. Now back to the Hillside bird. Birds banded at Grand Beach were given a bicolour band, red over black, right low and the Gimli birds were black over red, right low. The tricky thing about the Hillside bird is that to make the bicolour bands we wrapped half a red band with special black tape used in pin-striping automobiles. That tape over a two year period may have worked itself free and now the band only shows red. Confused? Stay with me. Of the 11 plovers we banded, two were given neon (light) green bands, left high; one at Grand Beach, the other at Gimli.

So to summarize, we are fairly certain the Hillside bird was one of ours, but it could have been banded either in 2009 at Gimli or last year at Grand Beach. The only way we will no for sure is if we see it again and have an opportunity to read its metal band.

The bands on one of the plovers identified at Grand Beach were read like this: left high - no band, left low - no band, right high - metal, right low - red over black (bicolour). What does this tell us? Almost assuredly, this is one of the birds we banded at Grand Beach in either 2009 or 2010. Because it appears the band, left high has been lost, we have no way of telling if this plover was one of the chicks banded from a nest by the channel at Grand Beach or is the one chick we banded in 2009 from a nest in parking lot #5 at Grand Beach.

Our top sleuths are on the case and the investigation continues. I'll discuss the other two banded birds in my next post.


18 May 2011

East-side 5 West-side 0

No, this is not the score in some obscure hockey league play-off game. Unfortunately, it paints a rather bleak picture of the number of piping plovers identified so far around the province. On the East-side of Lake Winnipeg my colleagues have seen four plovers at Grand Beach and one at Hillside Beach. On the other side of the 'Big" lake I have been skunked and that goes for the East-side of Lake Manitoba too. I have surveyed Gimli Beach on several occasions, Willow Island a couple of times and Dunnottar Beach, Winnipeg Beach and the Riverton Sandy Bar once each. On Lake Manitoba, I have visited north to south, Watchorn Beach, Lundar Beach, Twin Lakes Beach, St. Ambroise Beach and I was stymied trying to reach the Clandeboye Bay Special Conservation Area due to high water. Of course high water on Manitoba's 'Great Lakes' has plagued us for a number of years now. It shrinks the available habitat for plovers and they either move on or nest unsuccessfully. However, the numbers are not all doom and gloom. Of the five plovers identified on the East-side, four of them were banded birds. We are still determining where and when they were banded. More on that subject to come.


08 May 2011

First Plovers Spotted

Grand Beach Channel looking west from East Beach
The first piping plovers have arrived. My colleagues Shauna and Maha identified two near the channel that separates west and east beaches at Grand Beach Provincial Park. They were seen Thursday, May 5. Interestingly, the first plovers sighted last year was on May 4 and yet the weather last year was completely different from this year. Last year, the ice on the lake was gone by mid-April, while this year large portions of the lake still have drifting ice. However, for the plovers, this is when they arrive, first week of May, no matter what the weather or ice conditions. Here's hoping I'll have similar luck on the west side of the 'Big' lake this coming week. Stay tuned.


07 May 2011

The Eagle Has Landed

"Eagle" on the beach in Gimli
 I began my plover surveys this week. On Tuesday, May 3, I visited Gimli Beach and was surprised to see a Bald Eagle sitting on a post in the middle of the beach. As I approached closer and closer it did not move. Very strange. Finally, I walked right up to it and realized it was not real. It was plastic and nailed to its perch. As if there were not enough problems for piping plovers trying to nest at Gimli Beach, now they had to contend with a menacing looking Bald Eagle. I needed to investigate what was going on.

As it turned out, the eagle had been placed on the beach last fall by staff of the RM of Gimli. It is an attempt to scare off gulls as a measure intended to reduce the incidence of e-coli in the lake adjacent to the beach. It would be hard to argue against this measure, but will it also scare away our plovers? After discussions with two bird biologists my mind was set at ease. Apparently, these types of attempts work initially, but as one biologist put it, "Birds learn pretty quickly what is real & what is not." So the mystery of the plastic eagle nailed to its perch has been solved. Hopefully, it will not deter any of our endangered piping plovers from making a nesting attempt on Gimli Beach as they did in 2009.