By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Wednesday, April 13, 2016 5:03:09 EDT PM
This is a first.
A piping plover that hatched at Sauble Beach on Father’s Day last year has been spotted by volunteer monitors in Florida at the bird’s wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast, west of Gainesville.
Local plover lovers are thrilled about the discovery, said Norah Toth, chair of Stewardship Grey Bruce.
“It’s exciting. Can you imagine going to Florida and then flying back and you’re such a tiny little guy?” she said Wednesday in an interview.
It also answers the question of where the endangered shorebird, which local volunteers monitored and helped to protect as it grew into a fledgling, ended up after leaving the sands of Sauble.
“Until the last couple of years, people haven’t really connected our Ontario birds or the Michigan birds with their wintering grounds. That is something that is relatively new,” Toth said.
“This is the first bird that I’m aware of, from Ontario, that has been identified in that way. It’s definitely the first one that I’m aware of for Sauble Beach.”
The bird, which was last seen at Sauble on Aug. 3, was linked back to the beach by identification bands on its right leg. Birds are banded as part of a recovery program led in Ontario by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Toth said knowing where the birds end up allows conservation groups to better protect sensitive nesting and wintering areas “and help return their population to sustainable levels.”
It also gives local volunteers a good story to share with beachgoers, she said, which can make people appreciate the birds even more.
“We watched him, we watched him grow. And then one day he’s gone. And you have to wonder, did he leave to fly south? Was he taken by a predator? Did something else happen to him? We never know,” she said.
“So to have confirmation, in the fact he was seen in Florida on the Gulf Coast, really does make a story for us and that’s the kind of thing that we like to be able to tell the public so they can engage with the birds and learn and become hopefully as excited about them as some of the rest of us volunteers are.”
Piping plovers were near extinction on the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s. Their population has since rebounded to about 70 pairs thanks to government-led conservation efforts and the help of numerous volunteers.
The birds returned to Sauble Beach in 2007 after a 30-year absence.
Fifteen piping plover eggs were laid by four adult nesting pairs at sites along Sauble Beach last year. Eight chicks hatched. Five were killed by predators, most by ring-billed gulls.
The local group believes three chicks successfully fledged and headed south.
Toth said she expects piping plovers will return to Sauble Beach later this month. The birds that hatched at the beach last year may or may not be among them.
The Plover Lovers group is looking for people to serve as volunteer monitors for the 2016 season.
Orientation and training sessions are set for April 28 at 2 p.m. and May 31 at 7 p.m. at the Sauble Beach Community Centre.
Monitors typically work shifts of about three to four hours. They observe and record information about the birds’ biology and behaviours and watch for predators and other disturbances.
They also educate beachgoers about piping plovers, which are protected by both the federal Species at Risk Act and provincial Endangered Species Act, and the recovery project.
Toth said high school students could participate in the program as a way to get volunteer hours.