Winding down…Part 1.
By: Sabrina Cobb
Over the past few days Olivia and I have started to notice a decline in nesting and courtship behavior among our beach-nesting birds. We have not documented any new snowy plover nests since June. However, one pair with a chick was reported on the far west end of Dauphin Island by volunteer, Andrew Haffeden, on July 16th. So far this season that brings our total known snowy plover nest count for Mobile and Baldwin counties to four nests (although there were more nesting at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge that our partners at American Bird Conservancy monitor). Most of our recent sightings of the snowy plovers have been on Dauphin Island, where they have been foraging along the shore.
Unlike some of our other beach-nesting birds, snowy plovers are found here year-round which means we will continue to see them during our upcoming 2020 fall and winter Audubon Coastal Bird surveys (ACBS). One of the most exciting pieces of data that comes from our surveys is re-sightings. This week we documented three banded snowy plovers on Dauphin Island. Some re-sighted snowy plovers were banded here in Alabama, but we often see others that were banded in Mississippi and Florida. Banding these birds allows conservationists and scientists to monitor and track movements of individuals. Other types of valuable information we can collect from these encounters include breeding territories, nest success and failure, and even age if we know when the bird was banded.
The piping plover is another species of plover that will visit our coast during the non-breeding season. On July 27th, we had the pleasure of seeing this banded and flagged (F19) piping plover on Dauphin Island! This bird was banded as a chick near Bismarck, ND, in July of 2014. F19 was first seen here in Alabama in November of 2015. Piping plovers breed along parts of the Atlantic coast as well as the mid-western region of the U.S. and Canada. Their nest habitat preference is sandy or gravel covered beaches. Like snowy plovers their diet consists mostly of invertebrates such as marine worms or insects. These plovers look very similar to snowy plovers but can be distinguished by their short bi-colored beak which is orange at the base with a black tip. They also have bright orange legs and an almost complete black ring around their neck.
Another exciting find we had this week was a rare visitor from Antarctica! Olivia and I were on a beach-nesting bird survey at Gulf State Park on July 30th when we came across a south polar skua feeding on a dead bird. South polar skuas are large birds with a short stocky body. They have an overall dark brown body with a slightly lighter neck and chest. The most distinguishing feature of this bird is the white wing patches on the top and underneath of the wings. These birds breed in Antarctica where their diet consists of penguin chicks and eggs. Not a lot of data has been collected on the habits of these birds during non-breeding season as they are pelagic, meaning they spend most of their time at sea. There have been rare and infrequent sightings of south polar skuas offshore of North America, however this is the first documented sighting of one here in Alabama! One of the most exciting parts of conducting these bird surveys is not knowing what you are going to see next!
Our ACBS fall surveys are starting August 20th, 2020. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer and participating in the surveys you can contact a staff member via email, found at alaudubon.org/staff.
If you find a banded snowy plover or piping plover and would like to submit your sighting please email Olivia or Sabrina the date, time, and location of the bird and submit any photos.