Rare piping plovers checked out protected areas in Twin Ports, but didn't nest
Piping plovers were tourists in the Twin Ports again this season, but once again decided not to stay. The St. Louis River Alliance reports four confirmed plover sightings on Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point sand beaches on Lake Superior, inclu...
Piping plovers were tourists in the Twin Ports again this season, but once again decided not to stay.
The St. Louis River Alliance reports four confirmed plover sightings on Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point sand beaches on Lake Superior, including one bird that even explored the designated plover nesting area on Superior's Shaffer Beach.
That's where the Alliance had overseen construction this spring of a "predator exclosure" to keep out gulls, crows and other critters so plovers that decide to nest have a chance to see their eggs and chicks survive.
Alliance staff and volunteer plover monitors even got an ID on one of the birds that had been banded, learning that the female had nested last year in Manistee, Mich.
Despite efforts to keep people and predators away from the site, the plovers that visited in May didn't stay. But program officials say the fact that they saw plovers close by is heartening.
"I'm encouraged," Julene Boe, executive director of the St. Louis River Alliance, told the News Tribune on Thursday. "We were told not to expect anything, so this gives us some real hope what we're trying to do might work down the road."
The exclosure and plover monitoring effort is part of a five-year, $250,000 effort funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and aimed at restoring plovers to their natural habitat along the sand and gravel beaches in the area.
While the birds are occasionally spotted here, it's been three decades or more since plovers actually nested in the Twin Ports area. The Alliance had four part-time staff members and 15 volunteers out watching for plovers this year and letting people know what was going on.
Program officials had to rebuild the exclosure after a big Memorial Day weekend storm that sent waves crashing high on the beach.
"It was a learning experience," Boe said. "One thing we hope to do more of next year is public outreach, just to let people know what we are doing and how they can help."
Plovers favor broad sand beaches with no trees. They nest where the sand near shore mixes with small rocks and driftwood, just outside areas of dune grass. Shaffer Beach appears to have what they like, and it's less visited by people, unleashed dogs and predators than other Twin Ports waterfronts.
On Long Island in the Apostle Islands, four plover pairs are battling summer storms in their effort to nest. Only one pair has successfully hatched chicks, while the others' nests have been destroyed.
"They've re-nested, and another storm hits and wipes out the nest, and they try again," said Julie Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management at Apostle Island National Lakeshore. "Sometimes they build their nests pretty close to the water's edge, and they are vulnerable to any big wave action. The nests get buried or just washed out."
She said at least two pair currently have eggs in their nests. But the late-nesting birds had better hurry. Plovers are early migrators; they usually leave the area and head south, most to Florida, by early August.
"I'm sure this will be their last try. If these eggs don't make it, the pairs will say the heck with it and head south soon," Van Stappen said.
The four pair on Long Island are Wisconsin's only nesting plovers. The Great Lakes population of plovers is officially considered endangered, with fewer than 70 pair across the region, most in Michigan. There are no nesting plovers on Minnesota's shores of Lake Superior.
Plovers began nesting on Long Island in 1998 after a 20-year absence. But recovery has been slow because piping plovers are what wildlife experts call "maladaptive." That's biologist talk for dense, unable or unwilling to change habits that keep their own population down.
Plovers look a lot like their cousin, the killdeer, which is fairly common in the region.