Update: October 11, 2020
We certainly don’t see these individual Piping Plovers every day. We had not seen “Big VB” since September 5, but then Ed & Aija Konrad saw him on North Beach on October 7 & 8, 2020.
On October 9, 2020, I reported another of the 2020 Great Lakes captive reared pipers, who I will call “Red/Yellow” (Of,RY/X,YO). Eight of this year’s 39 captive reared birds have now been seen on their wintering grounds.
On Sunday, October 11, 2020, all three of the captive reared birds that have been resighted on Seabrook Island were foraging on North Beach: “Big VB”, “Red/Yellow” and “Joe”, who had not been seen since September 1st! We certainly hope that they stay with us for the winter!
Read more about these special birds, in an article published in The Sierra Club magazine, Sierra including Joe’s sighting on Seabrook Island.Mark Andrews
Piping Plovers have begun returning to Seabrook! As Ed and Aija Konrad’s article in the September The Seabrooker explained, Seabrook Island hosts migratory and winter resident Piping Plovers. These birds are usually from Atlantic or Great Lakes nesting stocks of which the Great Lakes birds are the most endangered with only 75 nesting pairs left. Great Lakes Piping Plovers are intensively managed on their nesting grounds with researchers monitoring the progress of each nest and intervening by saving the eggs when it appears that a nest might be lost to high water or loss of a parent to predators.
Since early August, I have been fortunate to see and photograph eight migratory Piping Plovers with bands. Six of those have been Great Lakes birds.
We report our orange banded Piping Plovers to Alice Van Zoeren, Researcher with The Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team. On August 24th, I reported a bird with a lot of bling, “Orange flag, Green over Violet // metal USGS band and Yellow over Orange” and was certainly surprised to hear back from Alice:
This is the report we’ve all been waiting for! The first of the 39 captive-reared babies from this summer to make it south!
This little plover came from a nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI near Sleeping Bear Point. Its mother was also captive-reared and has had some very bad luck. For the second year in a row her mate was predated, likely by a merlin. She attempted to incubate alone, but it’s ultimately not possible. The eggs were collected, incubated at the Detroit Zoo and the resulting chicks raised in captivity until they could fly well. They were released on North Manitou Island on July 10th. On July 19th I was the monitor on the island and noticed that this chick (Known also as “Joe”) wasn’t able to hold its wings up in the normal position. It was still actively feeding and behaving completely normally so no intervention was planned. By July 19 it had fully recovered. This has happened before with other chicks. Perhaps it overdid flying and got sore muscles? I saw it on North Manitou August 10th, but by the 11th this chick, two adult males and four other fledged chicks had left the area.
It’s so exciting to hear that Joe made it to South Carolina.”Alice Van Zoeren, Researcher with The Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team
I saw Joe four more times from August 24 through September 1st and still look for him each time I head out on North Beach. On September 5, I thought I had spotted him again but when I got a better spotting scope view, I realized it could be another of the 39 captive reared birds from this summer! The new bird with orange flag but violet over blue bands was foraging with three other Piping Plovers without bands.
I sent my pictures to Alice and heard back right away:
You’re hitting the jackpot! I was just out looking for this young bird. It’s sibling is still up here but this one was last seen here on 9/2. It made mighty good time getting to Seabrook. This is another of the chicks that was captive-reared this summer. This one came from a nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, near Sleeping Bear Point…about 1/2 mile from where Joe originated. In this case the adults were both first-time parents and had lost their first clutch to high water/waves. Their second nest was a late one and they just seemed to give up on incubation in favor of heading south. More experienced parents with nests started at the same time stuck it out and hatched chicks. This chick was released near the south boundary of SBDNL on 8/7. It’s only the second of this year’s captive-reared chicks to be reported from wintering territories..”Alice Van Zoeren`
A few thoughts on observing and resighting shorebirds. Resighting is the activity of reporting the bands, tags, and flags that biologists place on birds to identify individuals. Researchers use the these observations to track migration, nesting and other behaviors, to estimate population size and to study habitat needs for these birds. Go to the Facebook link:
for more information on what the Piping Plover researchers do to protect these birds and to get a sense of the excitement we have in reporting our sightings to them.
If you are out on the beach, please remember the steward rules for approaching shorebirds and give them space to feed. They need to rebuild their fat reserves to continue their migration or to survive harsh weather.
Please walk around resting or feeding birds and learn to recognize when birds are getting nervous if you get too close. Piping Plovers run, then fly. If you chase, they will burn calories that they need to survive.
Use binoculars, spotting scope or camera with a long telephoto lens to observe the birds from a distance. While it appears that I am very close in these photos, they were taken with a long telephoto lens and cropped (magnified) on my computer.
North Beach is a federally designated Critical Habitat for wintering Piping Plovers. North Beach can be a harsh environment. All the great work the Great Lakes researchers do can be undone here by carelessness.
If you observe or photograph a banded bird, please report your observation to Seabrook Island Birders. We will send the report to the proper site and enter the sighting into the Seabrook Island registry that Ed Konrad has maintained.
Once we get get beyond the pandemic, come join us for a North Beach bird walk and get to know the shorebirds. They are another fascinating aspect of nature here on Seabrook Island.
Article and photos by Mark Andrews