4th Tues Conservation Lecture
Least Tern Project info
2017 Nesting Season
Snowy Plover Survey
Day at the Beach and the Snowy Plover
from the Endangered Habitats League newsletter, with permission
from the author
invisible. Even when you see them, you scarcely notice their
presence. Just another sandpiper, birds working the fringes
of the sea. Part of the landscape. Hardly significant.
Yet snowy plovers are special. Not
just in the way in which all creatures are special, but in
their particular mode of living. Ever on the beach, they run
in short spurts over the sand. Or fly up the strand, but only
just far enough. Sometimes, undecided about what to do, they
stand on one leg, stretching out the other under an extended
Often, I find them standing beside kelp and other beach wrack,
or hunkered down in the sand above the tide line in a slight
depression left by a passing heel, gull or just the wind.
Like the purloined letter, snowy plovers hide in plain sight,
for they are creatures of the sand, sheltering always under
the open sky.
This morning, I stood at the edge of the outer parking area
by Cabrillo Beach. It was a beautiful morning, cool with a
bright sun still casting long shadows and, far off the beach,
the early fog lifting from a placid sea. From this spot I
knew I could see the snowys, monitor how this one small population
of a federally threatened species was doing.
As usual, it took a few minutes to spot them—all of
forty yards away. Six birds now, up from five a week ago.
I wondered where the new bird had come from. For the last
several years, there has been a core group of five birds on
this beach. Birds that seem at ease (mostly) with one another,
perhaps related by more than just where they spend the non-breeding
For snowy plovers do not nest at Cabrillo. There is far too
much activity for that. Runners, sunbathers, fishermen, dogs
off leash, whatever. The birds can manage here as long as
they are free to move. But a nest, a place in the sand undisturbed
for a period of weeks, will not work here. Nor on so many
other beaches up and down the West Coast. This is why snowy
plovers are listed federally. People use open beaches heavily.
Even isolated ones are not exempt, what with the prevalence
of off-road vehicles.
Populations of snowy plovers have plummeted from the days
when Ralph Hoffman, in his wonderful 1927 “Birds of
the Pacific States” (still one of the finest of all
field guides), called them common. But the ones that remain,
are fascinating in their quiet way. Usually silent, their
light brown and white plumage blends with the flotsam and
sand; camouflages them. They wait motionlessly, expecting
they will not be seen by the casual passerby. Waiting for
you, the next time you go to their beach