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.

17 June 2012

And Then There Were Seven

I drove to Southwestern Manitoba on Friday, June 15, to check on the plover nest I had exclosed 15 days earlier. And this story just gets more bizarre. Yesterday morning, June 16, a friend helped me to the island in his canoe. It had rained all night and the morning was cool and blustery. Once on the island, both adult piping plovers greeted me immediately. Judging from the picture below you'd think I was on one of the 'Big' lakes where they have traditionally nested.

Female & male piping plover - photo by K. Porteous

However, that's not the case here. These birds have nested on an island created in a farmer's flooded field. The day before was idyllic with a 'Simpsons' sky.

Plover Island in Southwestern Manitoba - photo by K. Porteous

Once on the island I made a beeline to the nest so as not to disturb them and their shorebird neighbours, the American avocets, for any longer then required. Once again, I was slack-jawed when I saw the nest. It now had seven eggs in it! And the nest is like no other piping plover nest I have ever seen. It is surrounded by vegetation and the scrape is not lined with pebbles. For that matter, there is no sand/gravel substrate at all, just wet ground.

A friend and colleague of mine in Saskatchewan and an expert on shorebirds provided me with a couple of plausible explanations for why seven eggs and not the normal clutch of four. It is possible that two females are laying in the same scrape. Although I was only on the island for five minutes, I did make a thorough check of the shoreline looking for a second female, but only saw the pair. A second possibility is that the female laid a complete clutch, but one or two were predated and then she laid another lot of four in the same nest. However, as my friend said in her email, "It would have to be an awfully stupid bird!" But as I said earlier, this whole situation has been bizarre from the outset. We haven't had a nest reported in this area in years, the nest is not your typical piping plover nest and it has seven eggs in it. Crazy!

By my calculations, the nest should hatch out some time during the last week of June. Stay tuned.

Exclosure over nest, note veg - photo by K. Porteous

Count them, seven eggs!
Note, no scrape, wet ground - photo by K. Porteous