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Snowy Plovers of Malibu Lagoon – The End and towards the Future

May 20, 2017

Click HERE for a slideshow of banded Snowy Plovers, then scroll down
to the slideshow located below the photo of the banded chick.
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Use the arrows to advance and reverse.

We continue with our reprint of this August, 2012 series to reacquaint
our readers with the local history of these birds.
For the first time in over
seventy years,

Snowy Plovers have again nested on Los Angeles County beaches.

Part VI:  The Plover Watchers
Over the years, many people have labored to study and save Western Snowy Plovers (WSP). Nest sites have been protected for decades; winter roosts are now known and their protection grows.

RR:BB, Malibu; 1 of 2 chicks banded at Oceano Dunes Spring’16
(G. Murayama 2-26-17)

It began in the 1970’s when John and Ricky Warriner, long-term residents of Pajaro Dunes area in coastal Santa Cruz County, noticed “those little black and white creatures in the sand,” wondered about them, then became concerned for their future. They introduced Gary Page (Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) employee since 1971) to them; he too became intrigued and alarmed.  [Ed. – PRBO has been renamed Point Blue.] In 1977 Page began – and still heads – PRBO’s Snowy Plover Project; they produced the first scientific study of WSPs in 1980. [Ed. Page retired in early 2017.]

In 1979, Frances Bidstrup answered a PRBO ad for WSP monitors, joined Gary and never left. Over the decades she has been: statewide volunteer recruiter, Field Biologist, WSP bander, Research Associate in charge of all WSP banding and winter sighting records. SMBAS volunteers have reported their WSP data to her for over 20 years. She loves her job and the wonderful WSP enthusiasts she meets. [Ed. – Bidstrup retired in 2016.]

When Tom Ryan arrived in 2005, the LA County WSP study and protection effort really became organized.  He produced two major reports with a third coming out soon. Hundreds of local volunteers were recruited, information is continually gathered, reports are regularly issued, and winter roosts are increasingly receiving protection.

Stacey hangs a plover information sign
(C. Almdale 3/15/12)

With Tom as consulting biologist,
Los Angeles Audubon Society took the WSP project under its wing in 2007, and Stacey Vigallon became the project’s Director of Interpretation. She wears many hats: biologist, educator, illustrator & designer, volunteer coordinator. She is always happy to welcome new monitoring volunteers! She says: “Plover conservation begins with public awareness. We love our beaches for summer fun, but in the off-season they are tremendous for watching wildlife. Family winter beach hikes are as enthralling as any hike in the Angeles National Forest.”

Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society (SMBAS) members have censused and searched for banded WSPs for over 20 years. In 2001, they organized the first Winter Window Census in L.A. County and kept it running until Tom Ryan arrived in 2005. Many SMBAS members work both within and outside the L.A. County WSP project, primarily at Zuma, Surfrider and Santa Monica roosts.

When Lucien (Lu) Plauzoles of SMBAS censused northern Santa Monica beaches for the first Winter Window Census in 2001, he found 14 Snowies huddled together on the sand. He has been intimately involved in this roost site ever since: censusing it regularly, doing volunteer training at the site, fending off creation of a dog park nearby, getting the City of Santa Monica to erect a fence around the roost and cease beach grooming in its vicinity. He yearly attends numerous WSP local coordinating committee and range-wide (Pacific Coast) meetings. In recent years he has also helped with the censusing at Malibu and Zuma.

Snowy Plover roost, cryptic in the sand (Grace Murayama 12-5-15)

Locally, most important and probably least known, is Mary Prismon, long-term Malibu resident and SMBAS member. Frances at PRBO recruited Mary when fellow SMBAS member Lee Oetzel needed to retire from the Zuma Beach census. On Mary’s first census in October 1992, she found 77 Snowies in the roost location they’ve used ever since. Flock size gradually increased but banded birds did not appear until 10/2/99, when PA:VO (banded Spring’99 near Moss Landing), and YB:YG (banded Spring’97 at Camp Pendleton) showed up. Banded birds have appeared regularly since then, the longest lasting being BB:OG (Oct’02 – Oct’07).  In March 1994, Mary took over the Surfrider Beach/Malibu Lagoon census after Barbara Elliott had to quit. Surfrider’s first banded bird was RY:RB, appearing 1/21/05 and wintering for three years. Mary kept these censuses going for almost two decades before having to quit. Mary’s fascination and love for the little birds attracted other SMBAS members, including myself, out of which developed the significant and ongoing efforts we see today throughout the county. Mary never sought recognition of any sort for herself, only help for the Western Snowy Plovers. In that she succeeded greatly.

Snowy Plovers at sea’s edge for a change (R. Ehler 11/22/15)

More recently, SMBAS members and volunteers Grace Murayama, Larry Loeher, Laurel Hoctor Jones have become important contributors to our local Snowy Plover censusing, documentation and recovery effort. Grace and Larry monitor WSPs and Least Terns primarily at Malibu, but also help with efforts at Zuma and Santa Monica. Laurel censused birds at Zuma and Malibu, but Bill Crowe has recently taken over the Zuma censusing. Grace and Larry are the major contributors of photos of banded WSPs in Los Angeles County to Santa Monica Bay Audubon, Point Blue (PRBO) and the Snowy Plover Conservation Project of Los Angeles Audubon Society, but we have received WSP photos from many other people as well, especially Bill Crowe and Joyce Waterman.

In Los Angeles County alone, WSP volunteers number well into the hundreds; for the entire U.S. Pacific coast range, it’s in the thousands.

Kids make beautiful signs for the virtual fence (C. Almdale 3/15/12)

Part VII – The Future
In summer 2007, for unknown reasons, the breeding population of Western Snowy Plovers (WSPs) crashed 21% from the prior year high of 1719 birds. By four years later they had almost fully recovered to 1715 birds. Barring additional collapses, continued population recovery is promising. So far, Summer 2012 is looking to be even better than last year.

Taken without context, simply recovering back to the level attained five years earlier does not sound like great success. But compared to the Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory 1995 study, which found a 20% decrease from the 1980 level, simply treading water is a major success; rebounding 26% (from 1362 birds in 2007 to 1715 birds in 2011) is sufficient for exultation, with mugs of beer all around.

Western Snowy Plover adult pair on Surfrider Beach
(J. Kenney 3/26/10)

PRBO (Point Blue) is currently monitoring the breeding colonies and banding nestlings at Ocean Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area in San Luis Obispo County, Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, and the shores of Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. They work with government agencies in each area to promote the conservation of the plover and its habitat.

In Los Angeles County, protection at winter roosts is in place in three locations: Surfrider Beach, Santa Monica Beach and northern Dockweiler Beach. The fences have signs informing the public about the Snowies. As yet, we have not been able to establish winter roost protection at the Zuma, southern Dockweiler, Hermosa Beach or Cabrillo sites.

Six Snowy Plovers surround beach wrack (C. Almdale 12/23/12)

Gary Page, founder and head of PRBO’s WSP Project, puts his hopes for the future of the Western Snowy Plovers succinctly: “The Snowy Plover population recovers and no longer needs to be listed.”

For that to happen, the birds need the cooperation of the human population with whom they share the beach. We need to back off from them, just a little bit, and give them room to carry on their lives, to nest and raise their young, to forage for food, to rest and to sleep without the threat of being trampled at any moment. We need to stop removing the wrack (sea vegetation) lying on the beach near their nesting and roosting areas. We need to stop beach grooming in the vicinity of their winter roosts, and allow vegetation to reappear; from experience, such self-revegetation begins within a few months. We need to keep our dogs, our boisterous children, our vehicles and our trash away from them.  If we can do that, most likely they’ll be able to bring off their own recovery without additional interference from us.

NO:PW, banded at Vandenberg AFB 2013; found on Zuma Beach, dead in a tire track, presumably run over by a beach vehicle (8-19-13)

These are the known nestings that have taken place this spring, 2017, in Los Angeles County.
Malibu Lagoon: Nest #1 failed, nest #2 has three eggs still in incubation.
Santa Monica Beach: Nest failed due to sandstorm.
Dockweiler Beach: Nest #1 three chicks hatched, but a gull ate them three days later. Nest #2 has eggs still in incubation.

Our fourth and final report will cover – with photos – these recent nestings in greater detail.

We hope that now that you know the Snowies are there, and why they’re there, you too will come to appreciate them and watch out for them. They need your concern.

Many thanks to the following people who answered questions and supplied background information: Gary Page and Frances Bidstrup, PRBO; Tom Ryan & Stacey Vigallon of Los Angeles Audubon Society Western Snowy Plover Project, Lu Plauzoles & Mary Prismon, Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society.

Sources and recommended sites for additional information
Western Snowy Plover – Tools and Resources for Recovery

Western Snowy Plover Natural History and Population Trends

Appendix B. Birds of Malibu Lagoon.
Dan Cooper, Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc.

Los Angeles Audubon Society – Western Snowy Plover Conservation Page.

The Western Snowy Plover in Los Angeles County, California.
Ryan Ecological Consulting

The Western Snowy Plover in Los Angeles County, California: January to August 2010. Ryan Ecological Consulting

Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory (Excel Spreadsheets)
2010-11 California Winter Snowy Plover Survey.
2012 Summer Window Survey for Snowy Plovers on U.S. Pacific Coast with 2005-2011 Results for Comparison.

[Chuck Almdale]

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