Joining Forces to Save the Snowy Plover

Joining Forces to Save the Snowy Plover

Two determined Southern California biologists are on a mission to save one of our cutest, and most besieged, birds. Joggers, surfers, and dogs had better watch out.

By David Seideman
Published: November-December 2010

Vigallon has the energy of a whirling dervish. She has launched a volunteer program of her own, part of which is modeled after Sandoval's, through a joint effort between Los Angeles Audubon, Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon, and Santa Monica Audubon. "We want to be making people feel included," says Vigallon, "instead of making them feel wrong." Since the summer craziness subsided, she has begun a series of two-hour "plover-centric" walks for various school groups at Dockweiler Beach, exploring watershed ecology. "In the fall, winter, and spring, L.A. County beaches are a great place to view wildlife and find some solitude," she says. "I hope that L.A. Audubon's program at Dockweiler can introduce the public to viewing their beaches in a new way. Providing opportunities for people to connect with nature in the place where they live, especially in a city like Los Angeles, is extremely important in getting people to understand and support conservation. Yes, nature is in faraway places like Alaska and the Amazon, but it's also right here in Los Angeles! We just have to take the time to look and teach others how to look."


Back in Santa Barbara, Sandoval takes a brief pause from plover watching to ponder the harsh realities intruding on her paradise. Looming just a mile offshore is a massive oil rig, a constant reminder of the 1969 blowout in Santa Barbara that helped usher in an era of environmental reform. Off these same shores, Goleta, the world's second-biggest natural oil seep, gives Coal Oil Point its name and coats many plovers, grebes, cormorants, and loons with tar--keeping a wildlife care network busy. So far fierce local resistance has kept the oil industry's expansion efforts at bay. Then there's the matter of global warming, a threat to all shorebirds as rising sea levels flood their territory.

Nevertheless she derives immense pride from the way that nature, if given half a chance, can restore itself. "I look at the big picture," she says. "We've gone from no nesting to regular nesting in nine years. The dunes have grown back. The plovers have responded so well that I think this is a model."

Both she and Vigallon harbor high hopes about the tide shifting from recreation to wildlife enjoyment as the ranks of birders to their sites swell. "Where else can you see beach-nesting birds in their nests?" Sandoval asks. "Whenever you show the snowy plovers you get the same reaction: 'They're easy to watch. How cute!' "

"They do not fly away like condors," adds Vigallon, who would be the first to tell you that the snowies' star power is saving the day, at least for now. As humans encroach ever further into shorebird habitat across the world, conflicts will only intensify. Central casting could not have come up with a more adorable creature on which to base a peaceful coexistence than the snowy plover.

State of the Bird
(Western) Snowy Plover 
By Kenn Kaufman

[img:67241|align:left|caption:A western snowy plover.]

Scientific name: Charadrius alexandrinus
Looks: A sparrow-sized waif, as pale as dry sand, with darker marks on face and neck.
Range and habitat: Sandy beaches of the Pacific Coast, from Washington to Baja. Other populations in interior of western U.S. and Mexico, Gulf Coast and Caribbean, and western South America, with closely related forms widespread in the Old World. 
Behavior: Forages on open flats, alone or in small flocks. Nest is a simple scrape on the ground, lined with bits of debris.
Status: Pacific Coast population is probably fewer than 4,000, representing a decline from earlier decades. 
Threats: Its limited nesting habitat is being degraded by increasing beach use by humans (with their vehicles, pets, and intensive beach-cleaning methods). Invasive plants and increasing predator populations also have an impact, and oil spills and other pollutants pose a potential threat.
Outlook: In the near term, its survival depends on the protection of essential nesting habitats.

This story originally ran in the November-December 2010 issue as "Snow Patrol."

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David Seideman

David Seideman is the editor-in-chief of Audubon.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

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