Watershead, Spring 2004
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A Corner Turned?
by Reed Smith

They have received a lot of press. They are the cutest bird on the beach. Some beaches are closed to allow them to nest. Most people don't see them. What are they? "Western Snowy Plovers".

Plovers inhabit the upper beach and are very well camouflaged. Their nests are scrapes in the sand where they lay 3 gray, speckled eggs. They breed on beaches that are in a natural condition, but winter on natural, cleaned and groomed beaches.

So, what's the problem? Snowy Plovers like the same beaches that we like, from Oregon through Baja California. The burgeoning human population on our coast has resulted in a big reduction in Snowy Plover numbers on the west coast. The number of breeding birds in California declined from 1593 in 1977 to 976 in 2000, resulting in the listing the Western Snowy Plover as Threatened. Development of beaches and human presence, along with unleashed dogs, results in the loss of nests annually through beach grooming, disturbing birds, and crushing eggs, eating chicks and spreading garbage that attracts predators to the beach.

Ventura Audubon volunteers Jan Lewison and Linda O'Neill have been monitoring Snowy Plover numbers for over 20 years. Reed Smith, Cyndi Hartley, Nancy Schorsch and Paula Odor have expanded the monitoring in recent years. This year an effort was made to monitor nest success and minimize the factors that inhibit nesting success.

Ventura Audubon volunteers erected fencing around several nesting areas and individual nests to exclude predators and people. This year we found 43 Snowy Plover nests of which 23 hatched. Ventura Audubon is applying for grants to fund a docent program on county beaches to educate the public. We are working with agencies that own beaches to seek better management for Snowy Plovers.

Similar efforts to protect Snowy Plovers are occurring on beaches throughout the state. The spring survey of the coast of California this year found 1444 Snowy Plovers; an increase of 48% since 2000. The goal is to have 2750 breeding adults on an average over 10 years in the state. Hopefully the corner has been turned and the population will continue to increase.


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