Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My new job - Great Lakes Piping Plovers!

I was hired this summer to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ecological Services Office in East Lansing, MI.  One of my primary duties is to act as the field coordinator for the endangered Great Lakes population of the Piping Plover.

Many people are unaware that there are three distinct Piping Plover breeding populations, one along the Atlantic Coast, one along the rivers and prairie potholes of the northern Great Plains, and the one that nests along pristine sandy beaches in the Great Lakes.

Both the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains populations are listed as threated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and number less than 2000 pairs.  By far the most imperiled is the Great Lakes population which is listed as endangered (on the wintering grounds on the Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts, the whole of the population is considered threatened).

Historically, Great Lakes Piping Plovers were estimated to number perhaps 600-800 pairs and breed across most of the Great Lakes basin.  However, habitat loss and nest disturbance and predation on the breeding grounds had reduced the Great Lakes Piping Plover population to under 20 pairs by the 1980s; almost all on isolated beaches in northern Michigan.

Since then a mix of intense conservation efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies and countless volunteers, as well as lowering Great Lakes water levels (which provides more beach habitat for the birds) has resulted in a slow but steady increase in the Piping Plover population.  Last year a high of 71 pairs was reported across the Great Lakes basin, breeding in areas where breeding hadn't occurred in decades such as parts of Canada, Wisconsin and even Illinois.

However the Great Lakes Piping Plover continues its precarious life on the endangered species list and only intense monitoring, nest protection and other conservation activities have likely allowed it to persist at all.  Now the Gulf oil spill presents new hazards for the Piping Plover on its wintering ground (luckily the bulk of the Great Lakes population seems to winter along the atlantic coasts of Georgia and Florida). 

Much work remains to be done but I am sure I and the many other members of the Great Lakes Piping Plover conservation team will try our best to help make sure the ringing cry of PEEP-LOH!! continues to ring out from beautiful Great Lakes beaches!

A Great Lakes Piping Plover broods its nest inside a nest enclusure in Michigan.

Hummingbirds of Southeast Arizona

As the leaves begin to fall here in Michigan and cold and cloudy weather starts to set in, I thought it was time for a bit of warmth, energy and color!  So without further build-up here are a collection of hummingbird photos from last spring's trip to southeast Arizona; mostly from Miller Canyon in the Huachucas and various spots in the Chiracahuas.

Probably my favorite of the Arizona Hummingbirds is the Magnificent (formerly Rivoli's).  A beautiful hummingbird that makes its home in the sky islands of Arizona and the Sierras in Mexico.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds were common at all the different areas of southeast Arizona that we visited.

A rare treat was this Berylline Hummingbird, one of the rarest of the regular Mexican hummingbird strays in Arizona.

It was even collecting nesting material!

Anna's Hummingbirds are always a beautiful feast for the eyes.

White-eared Hummingbirds are amongst the most wanted species for birders visiting southeast Arizona.

A regular behemoth by hummingbird standards, the Blue-throated Hummingbird is the largest species of hummingbird that occurs north of Mexico.

Another southwestern beauty is the broad-billed hummingbird.

... and we finish off our hummingbird party with this cool shot of a tiny broad-billed hummingbird in front of a massive Giant Saguaro!