Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where Did The Plovers go?

Much ado is made about the Piping Plover (charadrius melodus) and its nesting here at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. For years this bird has been the "poster child" of those who would wish us removed from these beaches.

For years we have pointed to the fact that not once since the plover first showed up at CHNSRA (1960) has there ever been an incident causing injury or death as a result of ORV use on the Seashore. We have long pointed out that 100% of plover mortality that has occurred here is a result of either storms or predation.

Plover like low lying areas to breed in, especially areas that have easy access to ephemeral ponds. They prefer mud flats, wash outs, and what are called "fans and blow outs" which is structure created by heavy seas that pound the beaches and carve out these "flats" as the ocean recedes.

Hatteras Island is a low sandbar that averages about 8' above mean seal level. And living here I am constantly reminded of this fact as several times a year we are "awash". I lost track of how many times my yard went under in the last half year or so and not by inches boys and girls, but by feet. The last good flood came with so much water it deposited a four foot section of 8x10 about five feet off the ground in the branches of the juniper tree beside my deck.

Now imagine what would happen if you were standing on the beach when such an event was under way.

This sort of flooding does not require a major storm, just a decent blow from one direction for a few days will push water up to the toe of the dunes and in many cases, right over them or through them which is wont to happen. Generally speaking, this can be a rather harrowing time to be on the beach.

Here's a picture taken by a friend, Don Bowers, of what I'm talking about. This happened last year.

Now imagine if you were a golf ball sized bird nesting on the beach.

Here's a picture of Cape Point. On the Western side, you'll notice how the beach curves to the left (west) and continues on. This is the area of the Seashore we refer to as "The Hook" and is where the plovers like to nest and are encouraged to do so.,-75.518818&spn=0.050205,0.13175&t=f&z=14&ecpose=35.2201495,-75.51881822,8574.41,8.198,0,0

Two weeks ago, NPS was all in a tizzy because they found a nest with an egg and were all excited about it being the earliest recorded plover nest in the Seashores history. Last week, they found another and in both cases the nests were enclosed with cages to keep predators from disturbing them.

Enter Mother Nature aka the Hand of God and see what happens.

We had a blow. Nothing special, just a few days of 20+ knot winds which kicked up a good ground swell. This combined with our bi-monthly "spring" tide, the highest tides of the month, and you have beach over-wash. In this case, the Hook was and still is almost entirely under water and waves were crashing  all the way up and into the interior dunes. It will happen again tonight as the wind turns back SW and stays that way for the next few days, assuming the forecast is correct.

So where did the plovers go? Actually, where did the NPS plover monitors go? With nests on the ground NPS is supposed to be monitoring them from sun up to sundown. Well, the monitors were nowhere to be seen yesterday. Did the birds fly north to the more productive breeding grounds there?

Does this lend credence to the USGS thought that encouraging plovers to nest here might be doing them more harm than good? I'm still trying to find out which biologist stated during the negotiated rule-making process that the best approach would be to shoo them away rather than let them nest in this historically poor nesting area.

While I don't wish the birds any harm and so hope they did in fact fly north, I do cringe at the thought of loosing access to Cape Point, the ruination of many vacations and the repeat of the economic catastrophe that has accompanied the loss of this important area for the last two years.

Remember, plovers are doing quite well elsewhere and last year hit the 1889 breeding pair mark which puts them ever closer to being eligible for delisting under the Endangered Species Act. (2000 pair is the magic number)

Tomorrows "weekly resource management report" should be an interesting read and will eventually be available at:

You can also have this and the weekly access report sent directly to your inbox by writing to Cyndy Holda at
(underscore between cyndy_holda)

For my friends in Hampton, Va. I hope you'll attend the DEIS meeting tonight and speak your mind. Remember, NPS is required to address your questions about the DEIS so keep them germain and remember this has nothing to do with DOW, Audubon or SELC or the consent decree. Ask them questions they MUST respond to.

Well I'm shortly off to the beach to watch for "the watchers", find an invisible pair of American Oystercatchers  and hopefully put some more fish in the cooler. Dinner last night, fresh bluefish and puppy drum, wet my appetite for another.

Tight Lines,



  1. And then there's the Catch 22 scenario that if the plover program is highly successful at CHNSRA and the 1K m. buffers are retained, absolutely every square inch of the beach would be shut down.

    Fun food for thought: Someone commented last evening that you can get closer to Obama in the Oval office by standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue than you can get to a plover chick. . .

  2. According to Resource report there are now 6 nests on Cape Point and 2 nests on South Point.

  3. Yea bernie, I heard and saw for myself that they had survived. I have no idea how but they shurely did. The water is so close its not funny.
    Oh well at least they're ok.