Monday, October 26, 2020

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Plovers in Peril

[Glen Arbor, Lake Michigan. July 2020]

This blogger has been fortunate in the many occasions that have afforded observation of wintering plovers at several remarkable shorebird sites in Southwest Florida such as Bunche Beach, Carlos Pointe, Little Estero Lagoon and Tigertail Beach resulting in previous posts such as this one

Invariably, a sighting of the Piping Plover among the shorebirds has always been deemed rather special given the multitude of perils they face earning them the unfortunate distinction of being the most endangered among our plover species. Naturally, seeing the Piping Plover at its wintering grounds has inevitably raised the question -- where do these prettiest of American plovers spend their summers?

Research reveals that Piping Plovers have 3 breeding populations in the US: the Atlantic coast, Great Plains and Great Lakes. Of these, the Great Lakes population is the smallest and the most fragile. Accordingly, a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to see breeding Great Lakes Piping Plover was planned and what ensues is a photographic essay of the area species thus encountered with the centerpiece, of course, belonging deservedly to the Piping Plover.


An unbroken collar and headband mark this dainty plover in its breeding prime. Pale underparts and sandy upperparts work in tandem to make it virtually invisible against the sandy shore. 


Flying long distance on their migration route is only one of the the many hazards these plovers face in Spring. Once they arrive at their nesting grounds on the pristine beaches of the Great Lakes, it unfortunately marks the beginning of warmer weather, and with it, commences a relentless plague of further disturbance and harassment. Mindless recreationists, boisterous beachgoers, marauding dogs; charging children -- all vying to inflict the maximum physical and psychological damage on the nesting shorebirds as they seek to outdo each other in the crudity and severity of their antics while the plovers work desperately to secure the safety of the next generation.


And, here is the fruit of their tender love and care: adorable Piping chicks that look like cottonwool balls on matchsticks. 


Farther away from the shore, forested areas were productive for songbirds such as warblers and others.

First, Canada Warbler: A specialty warbler known for its unparalleled "necklace" of streaks radiating from a black collar.



The male's song is loud and consists of sweetly jumbled warbles of joy:



Chestnut-sided:




Black-and-white:



Other species observed included: Eastern Kingbird:


This is a familiar tyrant flycatcher known for its bold, aggressive behavior in defending its territory.



White-throated Sparrow:


This sparrow was singing the new version of its song as profiled in this article

On the drive back from Lake Michigan, we passed through the fabled nesting territory of Kirtland's Warbler:



Coincidentally, one of the things the Kirtland's shares with Piping Plover is the choice of wintering grounds -- the Bahamas. While the latter also overwinters on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the entire global population of Kirtland's warbler is found in the Bahamas in winter.


The male was seen in close vicinity of the female as well.


The Great Lakes are deserving of the epithet "Great" not because of their enormity but because of the critical habitats they provide to iconic species that are nourished under their protection. And, nothing personifies the unique ecology of the region than the American crown jewel of plovers: the Piping Plover.

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