For several weeks now, I've been spending a chunk of my Wednesdays monitoring Silver Sands State Park as a volunteer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, looking for many species of birds, but especially Piping Plovers. So far, all of my searches have turned up negative for that one focus species -- which is fine, really, since negative data is just as useful as positive data for the people I report to, and I have lots of fun wandering the beach regardless. But that changed this morning, because look who decided to show up!
Piping Plovers are federally threatened -- which is to say, they're protected by the Endangered Species Act, but they're not quite at the "endangered" level (yet). These little birds nest along the Atlantic coast on sandy beaches (right where people want to be, too, which is the problem), and I believe I learned that only something like 50 pairs of Piping Plovers were recorded as successfully nesting in Connecticut last year. That's not very many.
So the point of the program that I'm volunteering for is to find out where these birds are making nests, so that we can then try to protect them better. The little creature I met this morning didn't appear to have a mate, let alone a nest, but I was enormously pleased to see him or her nonetheless!
Have I mentioned that Piping Plovers are probably one of the cutest birds ever? This little guy was about the size of a sparrow, just basically a big puffball running around on toothpick legs:
The weather was gray and chilly (and windy!) this morning, so no other people were on the beach, and the plover had plenty of room to run around. The pickings must have been pretty good here, because the little creature was snatching food from the sand every few steps, and didn't seem to mind my presence at all. I kept my distance and walked parallel and a little ahead of the bird as he/she enjoyed the beach buffet:
Here's hoping you find a mate and a safe place to raise babies, little one!
The Piping Plover was one of the highlights of the morning, but there were some other awesome creatures around, too. This group of Sanderlings (with a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the mix) was huddled by the water's edge -- more tiny toothpick-legged shorebirds!
Don't these creatures look super comfortable, with their long beaks nestled into the feathers on their backs? And I just love the rusty colors on some of these birds' feathers -- the last time I saw Sanderlings was in February, when they were all basically a uniform gray.
And a new wave of migrating birds has hit Connecticut now! Away from the beach, I came across several Yellow Warblers singing at the top of their voices, as well as the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird I've seen this year:
This handsome fellow seemed extremely happy about all the Autumn Olive blossoms surrounding him, and I'm sure he needed the fuel after his long trip north. I still can't believe these tiny birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the rest of the trek all the way up here.
With all these new creatures streaming in, I think I know what this means.... It's back to the woods for me sometime very soon!