It’s already late summer and nesting season is winding down. Most beach-nesting bird chicks are no longer a ball of downy fluff with legs, instead, they are now awkward fledglings testing out their wings. We photographed some adorable “beach babies” shortly after they hatched during our surveys, so sit back and soak up the cuteness!
This spring BTNEP continued its coastal breeding bird census effort throughout the months of May and June. The large-scale census along Louisiana’s coast is conducted every five years to monitor species of concern, such as Wilson’s Plover, Snowy Plover, American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Common Nighthawk, Least Tern and other coastal breeding bird species. The purpose of the program is to identify and prioritize threatened coastal bird species; census and map populations of priority species; monitor and protect important nesting and foraging sites; and establish long-term protection programs for these birds and their critical habitats.
This project differs from our annual breeding bird surveys simply because of the increase in geography and effort required to complete the endeavor. The BTNEP survey team trekked over 97 miles during a total of 15 survey days throughout the months of May-June, 2015 across the southeast region of the state.
Beginning in 2005, The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program worked in collaboration with other partners to initiate the first ever ground-based survey across the entire Louisiana coast. The surveys were conducted again in 2010 shortly after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill occurred. Ongoing monitoring of coastal breeding birds is vital for these critical species as the majority of their populations are declining over time, some quicker than others.
Habitat loss due to human encroachment, development and recreation, coastal erosion and subsidence, predation, and inclement weather events are some of the main factors contributing to reproductive failure and overall population declines for many coastal species. According to The State of the Birds 2014 Report, “long-term migration counts for 19 shorebird species show an alarming 50% decline since 1974.” Snowy Plover populations are one example of the steep decline many coastal breeding birds are facing. “An estimated 18,000 Snowy Plovers breed in North America,” as reported by Birds of North America.
While surveying the Chaland Headland on May 20th, 2015 we were thrilled to find a breeding pair of Snowy Plovers! “The Snowy Plover is listed as a species of concern throughout its breeding range with the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean population estimated to be approximately 2,500 birds (The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species).” We had previously documented a nesting pair with a chick on Chaland in 2013, a very pleasant surprise as the only previous nesting records were along the western portion of the state in Cameron Parish. During our 2005 survey’s, two pair’s of nesting Snowy Plover were located within Cameron Parish. Needless to say, you don’t stumble across too many breeding pairs of Snowy Plovers in Louisiana!
Although the process of gathering coastal breeding bird data can be difficult at times- long and bumpy boat rides, trekking many miles on foot in the hot sun, battling mosquitoes and horse flies- the reward is well worth the effort. The data we collect gives us further insight in understanding and developing the best management practices and conservation plans for beach-nesting birds.
A day in the field is always a rewarding one, just when you think your field day is ruined by a heavy rain shower…. mother nature gives you this!
Thank you to all the people and organizations that helped make this year’s surveys possible!