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Snowy Plover Symbolic Fence Enclosure Erected at Malibu Lagoon

March 18, 2012

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On Wednesday, March 15, Stacey Vigallon (Los Angeles Audubon & Snowy Plover Coordinator), Eleanor Osgood (LA Audubon & Snowy Plover Volunteer), Jamie King (California State Parks), Jamie’s mom, and I (Chuck Almdale) met to erect a Snowy Plover “virtual enclosure” on Malibu Beach, adjacent to the lagoon.  [Jamie’s mom, whose name I didn’t catch, was in town on a visit and came along both to help and to see the lagoon and beach.]  We spent a couple of hours driving a lot of metal poles into the sand, running a rope through the poles and hanging plenty of signs on the poles and rope.  Stacey had been out a few days earlier to see where the plovers were currently roosting.  But it’s impossible to be certain about these little birds: their preferred roosting site changes with the tides, lagoon outlet location, human beach use,  and – one can only suppose – their mood of the day.

Snowy Plover information sign created by local artist. (C.Almdale (3/15/12)

Making the location even more a matter of guesswork was the fact that n0t one of the birds was roosting: all were running around down by the water’s edge and “nosing” around in the numerous clumps of wrack dotting the beach.

Snowy Plover contemplates beach wrack clump. (C.Almdale)

This is a “symbolic fence” because it consists of only a line of  fence posts connected by a rope.  Signs are hung are regular intervals, but it’s far from an impenetrable barrier. However, in my experience, it adequately serves to eliminate the vast majority of beach traffic. I’d guesstimate that 95% of people stay out. The plovers are so small and cryptically plumaged that people simply don’t see them, especially if they are walking along deep in thought or conversation and unaware of tiny birds at their feet.  The Snowies also look a lot like the far more numerous and definitely not-threatened Sanderlings: with what seems like hundreds or thousands of the same tiny bird running all over, the uninformed person is far less likely to be concerned.

Chuck handles the tall posts. Some people pay health club dues to get this kind of exercise. (C.Almdale (3/15/12)

But they are quite threatened.  Total west coast population in 2011 was under 2300 birds, breeding at only 28 sites. The Los Angeles County winter population had fluctuated in recent years from 200 to about 350 birds, concentrated exclusively in only seven roosting locations, of which Malibu Lagoon is one. So chances are that the roosting flock of Snowies which people perpetually saunter through comprises about 20% of their total LA County population, and about 3% of the total west coast population. Compare that to the millions of humans populating the same area and you’ll see what these tiny birds are up against. People need to be more careful and – when informed – are more careful.

Stacey: professional sign hanger. (C.Almdale (3/15/12)

So the fence and the signs inform the public while setting aside a small area for the birds, a place where we hope they can get a bit of shut-eye. The current plan is to leave the enclosure up until October 1 and see what happens. Keep an eye on the enclosure: in the past, quite a bit of vegetation began reappearing within a few weeks, demonstrating that without foot traffic and beach cleaning, it could actually be a real habitat.   [Chuck Almdale]

Completed fence, pier in background. Note lack of vegetation. (C.Almdale (3/15/12)

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5 Comments
  1. June 18, 2012 2:26 am

    There are multiple security guards that the lagoon and are stationed in the Plover area. Is this OK? It seems as though they think the plover area is part of tthe lagoon project and are pacing back and forth through the area. It seems kinda wierd as none else is allowed in the area and the security guards are not informed on the matter of the plover site. They think it is part of the lagoon project.

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    • Chukar permalink
      June 19, 2012 7:02 pm

      Kevin: Thanks for the heads up. There aren’t any Snowy Plovers currently on the beach as they’re all off nesting up north. However, they start returning within about a month, so we’ll have to see about keeping the guards out of the enclosure. I’ll pass this info on.

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  2. March 21, 2012 8:05 pm

    I was there today, and saw probably 20 or so Snowy Plovers, but nowhere near the cordoned -off section of the beach. In fact, I’ve seen the same thing every year that a fence has been put up. They seem to prefer to nestle in a bumpier section of the sand on top of a slight sand ridge farther east. They were sleeping peacefully, and we shooed off several people who wanted to tromp through the area. But, of course, we were only there for a few minutes. I wish I had permission to move the fence to the area where they really do like to sleep.

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    • Chukar permalink
      March 24, 2012 3:14 pm

      Monica,
      Supposedly we should be able to move the enclosure if we find that the Snowies are roosting mostly outside it. Physically doing it is a different matter. We need this pile-driver pipe-like thing-a-ma-jig to drive in the poles, and I wouldn’t want to be the one to try and drive them in any other way. I’m only human! However, I will enquire. Maybe we can get one on permanent loan from State Parks. [This seems improbable to me.] Thanks for inquiring and point out the current situation. We need eyes “on the ground” like yours. — Chuck Almdale.

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  3. March 18, 2012 3:19 pm

    Wonderful accomplishment!!!

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