Every January, volunteers and biologists conduct surveys on beaches along the West Coast in an effort to estimate how many snowy plovers are wintering on the coast. The Pacific population of the Western Snowy Plover is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the plover count is an important step in assessing trends in the population and evaluating efforts to protect it.
On Tuesday this week, 19 California State Park volunteers surveyed beaches from Año Nuevo to Pacifica for the plovers. There were 98 plovers found in all—exactly the number found on the beaches in the . The plover numbers for different beaches varied from the previous year, however.
As usual, Half Moon Bay State Beach had the most plovers, but fewer were found there than last year—only 28, as compared to 40 in 2011. More plovers were found at some other beaches, particularly at Tunitas Creek beach, where plover numbers rose from 10 in 2011 to 25 this year.
For the third year in a row, plovers (5 of them) were found at . In recent prior years snowy plovers were rarely found there. The survey covers all beaches where plovers could potentially winter or are known to have wintered in the past, even if they have not been seen in recent years.
Also, for the second year in a row, one plover was found feeding on the beach at Pillar Point Harbor, just inside the jetty south of Mavericks Beach.
There were 11 plovers found on Pacifica State Beach—one more than last year.
One of the benefits of joining the State Park plover volunteers—if you like walking on the beach and observing birds—is that you get to see a lot of other cool birds while you are out on the beach. There are even other kinds of plovers, some of which may challenge a beginning birder to distinguish from snowy plovers. (Check the photos and see if you can identify the differences between them and figure out why they are all plovers.)
If you would like to see the snowy plovers, you are most likely to find them at Francis Beach, off Kelly Avenue at the southern end of . They are often gathered in a scattered flock on the sand on the beach north of the Francis Beach campground.
Although you will sometimes see the snowy plovers running along the beach searching for small insects and crustaceans to eat, for much of the day they roost motionless in indentions in the sand, where they are easy to overlook.
We are lucky to have these fascinating birds on our coast.