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Drought

posted Apr 29, 2012, 6:41 AM by Clemens Kuepper   [ updated May 8, 2012, 5:11 PM ]
It doesn't look good for the Ceuta Snowy Plovers this year. Usually we struggle with too much water in April/May and the Snowy Plovers can't find dry areas for nesting. This is largely because agriculture in Sinaloa is very intense and a lot of irrigation water flows over from the irrigation channels and ends up in the Bahía de Ceuta. There it becomes brackish water when it mixes with the incoming sea water which enters the Bahía about 35 km of the Ceuta salt flats through a small connection to the Gulf of California. Irrigation stops in the middle of May and then the water levels go down and the salt flats dry out. The second source of water is rain water but the rain season will only start in late June. Before there are months without percipitation  and this is when the plovers gather in the flats and breed and we enjoy our fieldwork.

This year this situation is different. The mountain areas of Northwest Mexico have been hit by a major drought. We have not seen such a drought since we started working with Snowy Plovers at Bahía de Ceuta in 2006. As a consequence water levels in the mountain reservoirs are low and irrigation has been strictly restricted. The situation is so severe that the farmers did not get any water allocation for the latest crop. The drought and the water restriction have a large impact on shorebirds and terns.
The salt flats of the breeding site are absolutely dry now. Usually this happens only in June but apparently there has be no water since March this year. We got first reports about the unusual situation at the end of last week and yesterday during our first visit this was confirmed. Large areas of the salt flats are deserted from plovers and terns. In the end we found one spot in the Northwest of the salt flats were a few plovers were concentrated close to a small pond that will probably dry out over the next two weeks. We barely counted 45 plovers  and there were little signs that the plovers would consider breeding soon. Most of them seemed to be busy feeding. There were also hardly any Least Tern around. To our surprise we found after further searching a single fresh nest with one egg. At least one pair has not given up hope entirely then. We hope the plover couple made the right decision although the signs are not good. The spring high tide seems to be not strong enough to push enough water into the Bahía that it can reach the salt flats anytime soon.

The new and very unusual situation means that we had to make some quick adaptations. First we had to cut the workshop short  to only one week. We will hold it about 200 km South to the National Park Marismas Nacionales where breeding activity is reported to be higher and even a few of our Ceuta plovers have been sighted. Second, we will change our operations during the field season this year. We will keep a close eye on the situation in Ceuta and will especially check the area of the Bahía further north of the salt flats. This area usually is covered completely with water but should dry out within the next few weeks and we hope that the plovers will nest there. And then we will focus on acquiring support and funds for the necessary restoration work. As we experienced again water regulation is crucial for the plovers and terns and we need to take urgent steps to fix this problem as soon as possible.
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