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Breeding North

posted May 19, 2012, 5:00 PM by Clemens Kuepper   [ updated May 30, 2012, 11:10 PM ]

The Ceuta Snowy Plovers are back strongly. Actually they were never really gone. Rather they decided to delay their breeding start and have just begun to nest madly because the season has already advanced. Over the last 24 hours we found 11 new nests which means our total nest count for this year is already 17. This is about 70% short of our usual figures around this time. But it looks a lot better than we thought about a week ago. What happened?

The Snowy Plovers moved North. Some are still nesting at the abandoned salt works where all the water is gone. These are the conservatives. They just seem to like the salt works and can’t leave it even if conditions there are catastrophic. About a third of them decided to nest around a tiny puddle of water. We called it Arroyo de Esperanza (Pond of Hope). It dried out on Friday.

I’m afraid all these families will have a hard time. There is no accessible water because between them and the water front is a 500 m stretch of thick mangrove forest. And Snowy Plover families usually don’t pass through mangroves. They could also make it to the beach but again there is mangrove forest between the nests and the beach. In a few weeks we will see what trick they will pull off again.

The other half, the adventurous plovers, decided to leave the salt flats this year and nest around a massive lagoon about 500 m North. This lagoon is slowly drying out and the plovers are quick to put their nests into the dry areas. We found nine nests there alone and haven’t searched the area properly yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we would find 20 more nests in the lagoon. They are currently nesting in high densities and there are a lot of plovers around. The lagoon breeders look like the winners at the moment. Once the chicks hatch in three weeks the families should be able to find water even if it means that they have to walk a few kilometers because the water will retreat further. At least if there are no drastic changes with tide or weather. But they don’t have a mangrove obstacle to cross.

The problem with the lagoon breeders is that their nests are vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately the monthly high tide has just passed and should only come back once their chicks have hatched in 25 days.  Nevertheless, all we know is that  conditions are volatile, so keep your fingers crossed.

Another promising observation of today was that many of the lagoon breeders seem to be Ceuta chicks that hatched here last year. Of the nine nests at least six have one parent who hatched in the salt flats last year. So the population has not disappeared. We will see whether it pays off to be conservative or adventurous as a plover. I would put my money on the adventurous plovers. But then again, I don’t have any money and the plovers continue to surprise me every year…

Now we have some catching up to do. Nests everywhere want to be marked and the parents are waiting for us to take pictures of them and give them new color bands. Lots of work to do over the next few days.  Good that more help will arrive in a few hours.