This last Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a Western Snowy Plover breeding window survey. What is a breeding window survey? According to Appendix J of the “Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) Pacific Coast Population Draft Recovery Plan” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
“The primary purpose of the breeding survey is to obtain a minimum estimate of the number of breeding plovers at current, historic, and potential breeding sites over time. An auxiliary purpose is to re-sight banded individuals. The breeding window survey provides information on the regional distribution and abundance of Snowy Plovers. Surveys are conducted during non-migratory periods, over a narrow time frame to minimize the chance of recounting birds moving between sites… The survey window is one week long and specific dates are chosen each year by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), to fall sometime between May 24 and June 7.”
Alison Cebula and Adam Hutchins of California State Parks picked me up near the Little River Store on the way south to Manchester SP. It was decided that Adam would survey from Alder Creek to Kinney Road and Alison and I would survey from Kinney Road to the Garcia River mouth. After dropping Adam off, Alison had to make one short stop to place a “No Dogs” sign at one of the SP gates. Locals may be seeing these sign springing up at many places along the coast. Dogs are a serious problem on Snowy Plover sites.
Since I was consulted on sign placement and held the sign so that she could load it into the contraption used to drive the sign into the ground and then watched her do it, I guess you could say that I helped.
The weather was sunny but it was cold and windy on the beach. Luckily the survey was mostly conducted walking with the wind. Manchester SP beach is an isolated beach and the few times I’ve been on it I’ve seen few people. You do get great views of the Port Arena Lighthouse.
Alison and I were amazed at the amount of kelp all along the beach. The cause? Probably rough seas and heavy winds.
After a slow start we started seeing some shorebirds. There was a Greater Yellowlegs at Brush Creek. Around 80 Sanderlings with 12 Dunlin mixed in were found along the beach. At the river mouth there was a large group of 21 Whimbrels. There were 2 Brant bathing with a flock of gulls that was broken up by a Peregrine Falcon. There were no Snowy Plovers found.
We had walked over 5.3 miles on dry and wet sand (a requirement for a Snowy Plover surveyor), collected a large bag of trash on the beach and deconstructed 4 driftwood structures. Not only are these structures illegal on SP property, there are safety concerns because they can fall in and hurt someone. Many of the structures had nails and screws in the wood. They also provide elevated places for raptors and Ravens to observe Snowy Plovers which obviously is something SP’s doesn’t want.
We hooked up with Adam at the Stoneboro Road access and discussed what he had found. His best sighting was a River Otter at Alder Creek. He found no Snowy Plovers. While this was expected, Snowy Plovers have nested here in the past.