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Migration to Nayarit

posted May 8, 2012, 6:35 PM by Clemens Kuepper
Last week we took a time out from our Ceuta misery this year and migrated to Marismas Nacionales, Nayarit, to hold a compact workshop about how to monitor Snowy Plovers during the breeding season. We had initially invited people to come to visit us at Bahía de Ceuta but the lack of breeding this year made it necessary to come up with a Plan B in a very short time and so we decided to move. Of course, this was a logistic nightmare but it worked out fantastically and a big  'Thank You' goes to the people of Nayarit, namely the local Pronatura team and Carlos Villar and his team. Both groups made it possible to conduct the workshop at their Snowy Plover breeding sites and helped us to make it actually happen against all the odds.

I was very impressed what I saw and experienced in Nayarit. Twelve participants joined us for the workshop and turned into plover enthusiasts in the end. They came from Chihuahu, Baja California, Mexico DF and a big fraction from Nayarit. During the first two days we focussed on methods how to find nests and the next days how to trap adults and monitor the nests. 
All participants were very enthusiastic and quick learners. They absorbed the methods we introduced to them. Many had already some experience working with shorebirds or even plovers and therefore our aims were rather to get them working more efficient and standardize data collection in the major plovers research and conservation groups of Mexico. It worked pretty well - we quickly found a number of nests with surprisingly little effort. In total we registered 13 new nests and captured 17 adult plovers and a chick around the La Garza lagoon system adding to the 25 nests that already had been monitored by the local Pronatura team before.

Regarding the situation in Nayarit I have a feeling that we barely scratched the surface of the population. There is a lot more to come. This was the second thing why I got excited about this place. La Garza looks like another stronghold of Western Snowy Plovers. It is hard to admit but it might rival or even surpass Ceuta (certainly this year it will be true!) From a first glance plovers seem to have perfect conditions there. There is always accessible water and there are many elevated plateaus where plovers should be able to put their nests already in March. Many breeding sites are remote and seem to be undisturbed by humans. In contrast to Ceuta the pressure on the population appears to be a lot less. One backdrop is that
the area is huge and we found the plovers nesting in a low density so a lot more effort will be required to monitor the population to the degree that we can do it in Ceuta. I was a bit disappointed because with these conditions I would have expected that we would see a lot of more Snowy Plovers. We didn't run a monitoring programme and it is hard to estimate the real size without having seen all suitable places -  we only visited a few hot spots of breeding activity. Nevertheless, this year with the water shortage problems in other areas in Mexico I think there will be far more than 100 pairs breeding at La Garza.

I had hoped to spot also a few familiar plovers from Ceuta but we didn't. But during our last workshop day back in Ceuta we saw a male with a band combination and bands that we did not use. We strongly suspect that the male was marked in Nayarit last year or in 2010 and will confirm this over the next days/weeks.

There are many questions that remain to me from this visit. First of all I asked myself, why we did not see more plovers there. It really looked like plovers paradise. I wonder whether maybe the local population of Gull Billed Terns is impacting the plover breeding negatively. Gull Billed Terns often eat eggs or chicks but egg predation did not seem to be an issue and I would be surprised if they could eat up all the chicks. Alternatively, it could be also that local conditions vary strongly, the tides seem to affect the breeding areas even stronger than in Ceuta and a substantial number of plover nests might get flooded over the season. But again there is plenty of elevated nesting space, so the plovers should be able to avoid this. The second question is why we did not see any plover families yet. We only banded a single chick on Sunday our last day in Nayarit and did not see a single family. Do the families move to other spots that we did not visit? Or did the Snowy Plovers start breeding there only now? But why would they delay breeding if nesting conditions are apparently so good? There is clearly more work to be done in the future and I hope that the two local Snowy Plover teams can shed some light on this over the next few years.

At the last day we also went to Ceuta to teach people how to follow banded indivduals. We moved to Ceuta because our population is marked a lot better. In Ceuta we also found two fresh nests, one of them north of the salt flats in the Bahía where we suspect that the plovers will eventually breed this year.

The whole workshop was very productive. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. It fed primarily of the enthusiasm of the particpants and as so often was run on a shoestring budget. Everybody helped depending on his/her circumstances and put in a few more pesos each so it could happen against the odds. I hope that we can stay in contact and all teams can establish successful long term plover monitoring projects now themselves. Maybe we can even come up with a follow up in a year or two for the more challenging work on following Snowy Plover families. I'm certainly up for it!