Weekly Shorebird Update

August 23, 2020  —

I have lots of good news to share this week!
For starters, a personal update. I have been offered a short-term job in Panama City and it starts at the end of this week! So, this will be my last update to you all for the season. I plan to be back in the area in October and hope to be the shorebird coordinator next spring so I’m sure I will see you all again 🙂 That being said, we do still have 17 flightless skimmer chicks and they will need stewardship the next two weekends! Please continue to sign up on the schedule and reach out to Holley if you have any questions. 
In anticipation for the TS that will be blowing by us in the Gulf this week I have taken down the main skimmer posting and all the twine. I left up the chick crossing signs so beachgoers will continue to be alerted about the flightless chicks. I think, with the most recent track, we will hopefully only see minimal impacts but best to err on the side of caution.
Now, for the biggest and best news I have to share with you guys! We have a Snowy Plover chick that is nearly fledged!! Here is the story:
Remember Ms. Shady? She was the last Snowy Plover to nest on Lido and she made her nest under a chick shelter. I thought her nest was predated. She was not observed on the nest and the eggs were gone – it was the same day that a juvenile Herring Gull was seen predating some of our last Least Tern chicks. But, the following week when I was removing the Least Tern posting, these 2 little Snowy Plover chicks ran out in front of me!!
I was completely stunned! I thought surely, they had to have hatched from the last nest but that means I had missed them for 5 whole days! Clearly, these chicks were very good hiders. The two chicks were being raised by Dad; mom left after they hatched. This is a common thing with Snowy Plovers, sometimes mom does all the incubating and dad does the chick rearing.
So, I watched as these chicks grew. By 3 weeks I had a really good feeling both were going to make it. But, one chick was getting to be more adventurous than the other and would wander far from Papa plover and his sibling. One day, the adventurous chick was missing.
There were Great Blue Herons and a Herring Gull that were seen stalking around in the vegetated area where the chicks were normally found. I suspect one of them predated the chick. Just goes to show, even once they hatch, Snowy Plovers have a lot to contend with to be successful.
Fortunately, the other chick never strayed too far from dad. Today the chick is 30 days old. It is about the size of an adult and can run very fast but I have not actually seen the chick fly so I am holding off on officially labeling it as a fledge. I have seen it do a big flap and hop! I expect it will be fledged within another couple days.
These Snowy Plover chicks are the first to hatch in Sarasota County since 2017. As some of you may recall, we had Snowy Plover chicks on Whitney Beach in 2018 but that is technically Manatee County. We also only fledged one chick that season.
After seeing these birds nest repeatedly (and fail repeatedly) on Siesta for the past three years, it is encouraging to see that they were more successful on Lido. Maybe they will try on Lido earlier next year. The main issues that hinder these birds success, in our area, is predation from crows and disturbance from people (particularly disturbance related to dogs).
Some data/stats for you:
  • The southwest region has 17% of the states nesting Snowy Plover population (source: Florida Shorebird Alliance 2020 Annual Report).
  • In our area we consistently have around 12 breeding adults during nesting season.
  • Since 2018, there have been 33 failed Snowy Plover nests in our area:
    • 25 of 25 on Siesta (10 in 2018, 6 in 2019, 9 in 2020)
    • 5 of 6 on Lido (1 in 2019, 5 in 2020)
    • 3 of 9 on Longboat (all from 2018)
  • We have only fledged two chicks from our area since 2018 (assuming our current chick will fledge)
These small, well-camouflaged, sneaky, sassy birds are the most vulnerable of our nesting species in Sarasota. They need our help. Hopefully, we can work on getting predation management approved for next season and hopefully we can enhance protections for our beach-nesting species and enhance the enforcement of those protections. These are my main goals moving forward.
Best wishes to you all, stay safe and see you next season!

Kylie Wilson

Program Coordinator
Bird Monitoring & Stewardship
(941) 266 – 5407

Audubon Florida
Sarasota, FL