Every spring, we take a survey of nesting pairs of Wilson’s Plovers for SCDNR. Often, there are members of the DNR staff counting with us, but they were occupied elsewhere this year. So Judy and Lori and Lisa, one of the new sea turtle interns, walked the North end with the high tide on Tuesday, and Lori and Lisa walked the high tide on the South End on Wednesday. On Tuesday, we saw four pairs of nesting plovers, and, to our delight, three Plover chicks.
Here’s a link to last year’s post about these diminutive shorebirds, which nest near or above the wrack line, right in the sand. The nest is a scrape in the sand, sometimes surrounded by bits of shell. Both birds tend the nest while the eggs are incubating, and engage in behaviors to both warm and cool the eggs. (The females have been observed spending more of the daylight hours on the nest, while the males take the night shift.) They warm AND cool them by sitting on them (incubating), and cooling behavior can involve shading the eggs, or something referred to by Cornell’s Birds of North America site as “belly soaking,” where the adults incubate or crouch near the eggs with wet or muddy breast feathers to lower the temperature around the eggs.
They feed on fiddler and mud crabs, which is what this adult is doing in this photo. The three chicks we found were being tended by two adult males, and the chicks are almost impossible to see. The chicks had probably hatched that morning; they can walk 1-2 hours after hatching. They were also in graduated sizes. When startled, they crouch down into the sand and are almost impossible to see.
If you find yourself near agitated or peeping shorebirds, please watch your feet and back slowly out of the area. Your presence can startle the birds off the nests long enough that the eggs can cook in the sun, or the chicks might crouch down and blend in with the hot sand, creating all sorts of danger for them. It is best if your dogs are not near nesting shorebirds at all– the area between Osprey Walk and Willow Walk is the best place for dogs on the beach.