2016 International Piping Plover Census

Amanda Pachomski, Audubon New York’s Long Island Bird Conservation Manager, recently traveled to Grand Bahama with Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, the IBA Coordiator of Audubon Connecticut. They were charged with surveying the newly created East Grand Bahama National Park by boat and on foot, with the help of a Deep Water Cay Resort fishing guide. The following week, Cris Luttazi and Edie Ray would survey the rest of Grand Bahama by land. The main focus of these surveys was to find foraging and roosting Piping Plovers for the International Piping Plover Census. This census, led by USGS, USFWS, Bahamas National Trust, and the National Audubon Society, is a widespread effort to count plovers every five years. From January 18th to February 1st, 2016, staff and volunteers from various organizations surveyed for Piping Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, and Snowy Plovers throughout their winter ranges. As this survey period overlaps with BirdsCaribbean’s Caribbean Waterbird Census, which is conducted annually from January 14th to February 3rd, surveyors were asked to also record all observed shorebirds and waterbirds. These censuses provide a snapshot of bird populations and document important wintering habitat. Data collected in previous surveys have resulted in significant conservation outcomes, such as the designation of this site and the Joulter Cays as National Parks.

Grand Bahama Island sits approximately 100 miles to the east of West Palm Beach, Florida.  At the east end of the Island, large cays stretch out to the southeast, with creeks flowing between them.  The shoreline along the southwestern side of the cays includes stretches of sandy beaches and bars, vegetated flats, and limestone formations, while most of the northeastern shoreline of the cays is dominated by mangroves. As Corrie had surveyed this area in 2014, she knew that the best way to find large flocks of shorebirds is to survey sandflats that become exposed at low tide and provide excellent foraging habitat. This year, they also discovered that scanning the shoreline while boating very slowly along the shore was an effective method for finding roosting plovers.Corrie Folsom-O'Keefe at Rumer Flats 2Amanda at Red Shank

Amanda and Corrie surveyed the eastern cays of Grand Bahama on January 19th, 20th, and 21st, 2016 on foot and by boat, with the help of a Deep Water Cay resort guide. They detected between 17 and 18 Piping Plovers and 7 Wilson’s Plovers, none of which had bands. Plovers use some areas of the southwestern side of the cays for foraging at low tide, while other areas are high tide roosting spots.  At high tide, both Piping and Wilson’s Plovers will use spots with just several meters of sandy beach. Wilson’s Plovers seem to have a greater preference for rocky shoreline than do Piping Plovers. They also observed six different types of long-legged waders as well as 11 species of shorebirds, including large mixed-species flocks of Short-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plovers.

Piping Plover (4) and Sanderling (1) at Sweetings Cay FlatsThis experience highlighted the importance of international partnerships for life cycle conservation of Piping Plovers. Amanda and Corrie enjoyed talking with local birders, Bahamas National Trust staff, and Deep Water Cay Resort staff about our conservation work on plover breeding grounds. When they first met their local guide, he wasn’t very familiar with the Piping Plover. But, by the end of the surveys, he became really skilled at spotting and identifying plovers and other shorebird and long-legged wader species. They were thrilled that Deep Water Cay Resort staff had taken such an interest in Piping Plover conservation. Also, they were thankful to gain local knowledge on the rest of the island’s plover habitat, which they shared with the next pair of surveyors. Thank you to the Bahamas National Trust staff for helping to coordinate their travel and accommodations, and to Deep Water Cay staff for being so kind and helpful. Thank you to Audubon’s International Alliances Program, Audubon Connecticut, and Audubon New York for supporting this important and exciting survey effort.

American Oystercatchers 3_NEW

Short-billed Dowitchers at Big Creek Inlet

This article includes text and photos from Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Audubon Connecticut’s Important Bird Area Coordinator.

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