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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Plover's Plight and Winter Shorebirds of SW Florida

[Winter 2014/2015. SW Florida]

66 species of plovers exist on this planet; of these 8 are regularly found in the US and a further 6 can be located in SW Florida in the winter. This subfamily of Plovers consists of  small to mid-sized shorebirds with short bills that feed by sight as opposed to probing. 

Generally known by their common names as "Plovers" and "Dotterels" these delicate and distinctive shorebirds are found on every continent except Antarctica. Unfortunately, despite their wide distribution, many of these plover species face grave ecological threats; even the prospect of extinction -- consider for example the St. Helena Plover -- found nowhere else other than St. Helena (an island in the Southern Atlantic midway between Brazil and Angola), this remarkable plover is Critically Endangered and close to extinction. A predicament that could very well be in the sinister future of other threatened plover species.

In this post, we will review some plover species found in coastal SW Florida and their kin around the world plus some common shorebirds of the area.

We start with the familiar Piping Plover and the stunning Hooded Plover:

Piping Plover seen at Bunche Beach
Both Piping Plover and Hooded Plover (or Dotterel) are small orange-legged coastal shorebirds. The Hooded Plover is found half a world away -- here observed in the Southern hemisphere at Anglesea in Australia. Looking like a cross between Piping Plover and Hooded Warbler, this fantastic shorebird, although belonging to a different genus, does share the same environmental threats as the Piping Plover: both number less than 10,000 individuals and suffer from persistent beach disturbance during their nesting season by reckless primates and their marauding pets.
Hooded Dotterel seen at Anglesea, Australia
The Hooded Plover is closely related to the Shore Dotterel of New Zealand -- a species which regrettably is even worse off -- down to about only 200 individuals and is justly classified as Endangered.

Semi-palmated Plover seen at Tigertail Beach
The Semipalmated Plover, on the other hand, is an abundant shorebird. And, like other plovers, shows a marked contrast between its basic and alternate plumage coloration. 
Black-fronted Dottrel seen at Serendip Sanctuary, Australia
There are exceptions to this rule, however, and the Black-fronted Dottrel is a a plover that has the same plumage year-round. A condition which is sure to delight birders who get to enjoy its striking black breast band, mask and prominent orange eye-ring in every season.
Common Ringed Plover seen at Chandlai, India
Sharing the genus Charadrius with Semipalamted Plover are the Common Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover of Eurasia -- while the latter is only Accidental in North America, the Common Ringed Plover's breeding range does include the extreme Northeast of Canada.

Little Ringed Plover seen at Sambhar Lake, India
While all of the above Plover species have short, stubby bills -- the next species to be reviewed have much more robust bills:

Wilson's Plover and the Sand Plovers:
Wilson's Plover seen at Little Estero Lagoon CWA
Greater Sand Plover, Marine National Park, India
Lesser Sand Plover, Marine National Park, India
Both Wilson's Plover and Greater Sand Plover are distinguished by their larger size and more robust bills. Lesser Sand Plover, on the other hand, has a smaller bill and has dark legs compared to the Greater's dull yellow legs.

When it comes to small size, however, it is the Snowy Plover that is the smallest Plover in the US (beating the Piping Plover by a hair). Snowy Plover was earlier considered the same species as Kentish Plover of the Old World:

Kentish Plover seen at Goa, India
Snowy Plover seen at Little Estero CWA
These tiny sand-colored plovers are superbly camouflaged at the beach and although classified as "Least Concern" can face many threats during the breeding season. The rangers and volunteers at Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area do a good job of posting signs to raise awareness about the need for the Snowy Plover's protection in the summer and dogs are explicitly barred from entering the area.
Our largest Plover, on the other hand, is Black-bellied Plover:

Black-bellied Plover seen at Tigertail Lagoon
Grey Plover seen at Sambhar Lake
This huge plover is known as the Grey Plover in the Old World (see above) -- both monikers accurately describing the shorebird in either alternate or basic plumage respectively.

Pacific Golden Plover seen in Goa, India
The Black-bellied Plover sits in the genus Pluvialis with the Golden Plovers -- American Golden Plover, European Golden Plover and Pacific Golden Plover (seen above). Southwest Florida hosts the Black-bellied Plover regularly over winter but sighting an American Golden Plover is rare.
We conclude with a photo review of SW Florida shorebirds:
Least Sandpiper seen at Tigertail:

Western Sandpiper seen at Tigertail:

Dunlin seen at Tigertail:

Ruddy Turnstone seen at Little Estero CWA:

Sanderling seen at Little Estero CWA:

Short-billed Dowitcher seen at Bunche Beach:

Marbled Godwit seen at Little Estero CWA:

American Oystercatcher seen at Little Estero CWA:

Shorebirds are fascinating birds and the Plover subfamily offers some of the most distinctive species in this group. While many species are at ecological risk, thoughtful use of shared bird-human areas (esp. beachfronts) can offer protection to nesting species so that future generations can continue to enjoy species such as the Hooded Dotterel.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

"Endangered" simply doesn't seem an appropriate description of a species down to 200 individuals, Hemant. I would consider that number as critical. Another special report.