A few weeks ago, on July 17, Ed and I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, where the Great Lakes race of the Piping Plovers nest. We were so excited to see where these special little birds that visit us at Seabrook come from. We also had the pleasure of meeting up with Alice Van Zoeren, who has been monitoring the plovers for the University of Minnesota since 2004. We have been corresponding with Alice through the years, sending her pictures of banded Piping Plovers that we see in winter migration at Seabrook, and she reports back to us where the PIPL have been banded. This information is so important to researchers, to know where the birds are moving.
The Piping Plovers have 3 different “races”…the Great Lakes, the Northern Great Plains and the Atlantic Coast. The Great Lakes group breeds on the beaches of the Great Lakes region from May to early Aug. They lay 4 eggs in a small depression in the dry sand and these eggs are incubated for about a month. The Great Lakes population was once at nearly 800 pairs and has now declined to about 70 pairs that breed in the area. In 1986, the Piping Plovers were placed on the Federal Endangered Species list.
We met up with Alice on the plover breeding grounds on the edge of Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful day and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the US! Alice had counted over 16 plovers that day, including one very tiny young bird that we were lucky enough to see. He was probably 2 weeks old and had so much spunk! Alice said they are independent very quickly. They can run and feed themselves within hours of hatching. By 28 days they have a complete set of flight feathers and are accomplished fliers.
Most of the female adults had already begun migration when we were there, and Alice estimated that they could be in Seabrook well before us. The males will be the next and after that, the chicks. Ed photographed many of the banded birds so we would have a record of them so we can be on the lookout for them when they pass through Seabrook!
We arrived back at Seabrook this past Thursday night, and spotted 3 Piping Plovers on Friday AM, and 4 on Saturday, on our beach!!! Two were banded, one was a Great Lakes bird. We are waiting to hear from Alice in Michigan about it’s origin.
What a thrill it was to see where it all begins!!! Keep an eye out for Piping Plovers at our beaches, beginning now!
Article by Aija Konrad
Photos by Ed Konrad