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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Coastal Plovers of SW Florida

Last month, it was no small fortune to have observed American Golden Plover, Black Bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover and "Meadow Plover" (killdeer) at Lake St. Clair Metropark (the "other" great lake). These large plovers are quite distinctive and, excepting, the black-bellied not frequently seen coastally.

In coastal Southwest Florida, however, a different mix of plovers can be found.  Resident plovers such as Wilson's and Snowy's are joined by Piping and Semipalmated in the winter. All four small plovers (perhaps the Wilson's is more medium than small) can be seen well from Fall to Spring on the Florida Gulf Coast (the photographs here were taken at Little Estero Lagoon and Bunche Beach).

Each of the four small plovers is readily distinguished by leg color, bill size, and plumage coloration as follows.

First -- Wilson's Plover [picture above taken at Little Estero, Florida]: this plover is medium sized with dull pinkish legs, a large bill, and a single neck band (more prominent in the male). Brown upper parts contrast with white elsewhere. The large bill comes in handy for larger prey like fiddler crabs. In the breeding season, they will nest on the beach and rear their young very attentively. The female does a credible job of the broken wing display (see below in collage) when luring away threats to her brood.

Unlike the Wilson's, Semipalmated Plover breeds in the Northern regions of the American continent. It is a widespread migrant and a common over-winterer in Florida. It has orange legs and, in breeding plumage, shows both a black band and a mask [see collage below]. It is classified as "Least Concern".

The Snowy Plover [above] has silvery legs, a broken neck band and a small forehead arc [in breeding plumage, like the Piping]. It has grey upper parts and blends perfectly in the sand.

The Piping Plover's plumage is pale like the Snowy's but has legs and bill like the semipalmated. it is perhaps the most distinctive of the four. It is classified as "Near Threatened" due to pressures related to lakeshore disturbance in the summer where it breeds.

This quartet of delightful plovers add color and variety to the drab greys of wintering peeps on the mudflats and will enthrall the discerning observer every time!

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