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The Easter Bunny and plover eggs

posted Apr 26, 2011, 8:03 AM by Clemens Kuepper   [ updated Apr 26, 2011, 8:21 AM ]

According to the popular belief among many children in continental Europe  a mysterious bunny hides colored eggs in the garden on Easter Morning. When I was a child searching for the nests filled with sweets and eggs was one of the highlights of the early spring. To find as many hidden nests as quick as possible was important because I feared that my older siblings would otherwise eat the sweets in front of me.

Nowadays I like to think of our Easter nest search sessions as an important part of the training to become a shorebird biologist. To find the well camouflaged plover nests in a vast salt marsh is one of the main tasks during the first weeks of field work. To find all nests is nearly impossible. Some nests are well hidden in the vegetation. Often the incubating plovers are aware of us and try to fool us with distraction display or they leave the vicinity of the nest when we approach. We have to be faster than predators or the nests will disappear without a trace. Once we have found the nests we can catch and identify the parents and estimate the age of the clutch to figure out when the chicks will hatch.

This year the breeding season has started late. But right in time for Easter, the water finally has started to retreat. Over the weekend we have finally found the first nests and there is sudden surge of breeding activity with many males displaying and courting females. Large parts of the area are still flooded which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand late Snowy Plovers breeding usually means low chick survival because much of the prey that is eaten by the chicks is associated with water and the water will disappear rapidly in May. One the other hand the Easter Holidays can be a stressful time for the plovers. Semana Santa (the week before Easter) is a very popular vacation time in Mexico and large crowds flock to the beaches. At Bahía de Ceuta ome visitors always try their latest off-road gear in the adjacent wetland where the plovers and terns are gathering to breed. Fortunately this year the flooding prevented many Ceuta visitors to use the breeding site as a race track for their 4x4 or ATVs so nest survival will be hopefully high.

Good or bad - what impact does the flooding have on the Snowy Plover reproduction this year?

In a few weeks we'll know more...