How many people, particularly in New Jersey, can ever make that claim, especially during this most beach-worthy season?
Piping Plovers return to their nesting areas along the coast in late March and early April. Heidi's survey involves walking from the north boundary of the Refuge beach (at the southern end of Wildwood Crest), down the Coast Guard beach and all the way to the Cape May inlet jetty. See plovers, watch plovers, count plovers. Try to make them feel at home!
The problem with Plover counting is finding them. They have this uncanny ability to become invisible. You can be looking right at one and not see it unless it decides to move. They tend to hang out near large flocks of sanderlings on the wet sand at the water's edge, but generally a bit further away from the water. The ratio of Sanderling to Plover on the Two Mile beach recently has been about 500 to 1. But just when I would about give up finding a Plover, one would appear, as if my magic.
Here are summaries of my plover surveys so far:
March 26: five Plovers observed feeding in the wet sand in front of the north observation platform. This is a good start! It's still hasn't started to warm up and the plovers are back.
March 30: No Plovers observed. Pooh. It's rainy and windy and I chalk it up to bad weather. I'm sure there are Plovers here; they just chose to go unobserved today.
April 2: Jackpot. 18 Plovers observed! 15 were on the FWS beach; the remaining 3 were on the Coast Guard beach. And there was evidence of "scrapes" (false or trial nests) being made in the dry sand where plovers like to nest. The temp has risen to the low 50's. Things are looking great for a nest somewhere on the beach.
April 5: A warm, sunny day. Lots of Plover tracks in the dry sand high on the beach, where Plovers like to nest. No Plovers on the FWS beach, but 9 were hanging out at the Coast Guard beach, feeding, wandering around, maybe house-hunting?
April 6: No Plovers observed. :( However, a pair of Oystercatchers was hanging around the FWS beach, looking nest-ish, making scrapes up on the dune about where they nested last year. They are amazing birds and fun to watch.
April 8: Today the southwest wind was blowing almost 30mph, so it was a struggle even walking on the beach. And for the first hour, all I could see were Sanderlings, and even they were difficult. Hard to hold the binocs steady, sand blowing into my eyes, my ears, my boots, everywhere. But finally, the Plovers appeared: three pairs and one single, all on the FWS beach, close to the "overwash area" that has been built for them by Heidi and Jack. Seven Plovers, hiding behind any patch of dune grass or wrack they could find to get out of the howling wind. I'm glad I decided to stick it out today, even though I'm still digging sand out of my ears.
Heidi returns today, so I'll be off duty for a couple of weeks. But she has another trip planned later in the month so I'll be back, hopefully monitoring nests and chicks!
Here are some other birds I saw while doing the surveys:
-Glossy Ibis (flyover)
-Long-tailed Ducks (Oldsquaws)
BACK BAY/OCEAN DRIVE PONDS: