By Rachel Brown Hackney
After a batch of bad news in early May, subsequent reports on the Key’s snowy plovers have achieved highs and more lows.
On May 17, Kylie Wilson, program coordinator of Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in Sarasota County, wrote in her weekly update, “[W]e have another nest on Siesta! … [I]t is likely a re-nest (second attempt after a failed nest) of the banded female,” whom Wilson and her volunteers call Green/White, or Ms. Sanibel.
“Using my camera I was able to see two eggs just barely poking up out of the nest bowl,” Wilson continued. “The third egg will hopefully be laid by the weekend and the female will begin incubating.”
In her May 23 update, Wilson wrote, “First off I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has volunteered so far this season.” Thanks to all of their help, she continued, more than 1,200 people have been “educated about the beach-nesting birds since April!! The work you all do has a huge impact and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Truly I am so grateful to know all of you amazing people!”
Then Wilson reported, “Ms. Sanibel is still dutifully incubating her eggs … The nest is kind of out in the open, which makes it really easy to show people while stewarding.”
If a steward has a spotting scope or binoculars, she added, the steward should try to use that equipment to show people the nest.
“I took out the scope last weekend and it was amazing to see people light up when they realized there really is a bird nesting in there!!” Wilson continued. “This also lets people get a closer look without having to get too close.”
Then, in her May 30 update, Wilson noted that she had sad news about the snowy plovers.
“Ms. Sanibel’s second nest was predated over the weekend,” Wilson wrote. “Again, the culprit was likely Ghost Crabs. Snowy Plovers are such a vulnerable bird with so many predators.”
“[A]lthough it is disheartening to hear that another nest failed we shouldn’t give up hope!” she continued. “I saw Ms. Sanibel and her mate copulating on Tuesday morning [May 28] so they are still trying! The other pair of unbanded plovers has also been seen scraping in the same area so that will hopefully turn into our next nest.”
“Scraping” is exactly what the word implies, Wilson has explained. Since the birds nest right on the beach, they scrape the sand to create an indentation for eggs.
In her June 6 update, Wilson reported that the snowy plover known as Ms. Sanibel “laid a third nest over the [previous] weekend …” Volunteers discovered it on the morning of Saturday, June 1.
“Sadly, the one-egg nest was gone the following morning and there was a large ghost crab hole a few feet away,” Wilson continued.
Because Ms. Sanibel laid only one egg, Wilson pointed out, the plover “was likely to re-nest again and soon.”
Then Wilson pointed out, “Today another nest was discovered! This time … the plover is VERY well hidden. It is unclear if this nest is Ms. Sanibel’s,” Wilson continued, or if it belongs to the other female plover Wilson and volunteers have spotted on Siesta.
“The area where the nest is located is fortunately not used often by beachgoers since it is surrounded by thick grass,” she added. “Still, it will be the ideal spot for stewarding at this time.”
By June 13, though, the news had taken another bad turn: “Unfortunately there are no active nests on Siesta at this time,” Wilson wrote.