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Adverse weather and desertion

posted May 30, 2012, 11:58 PM by Clemens Kuepper   [ updated May 31, 2012, 12:00 AM ]
Last week I got excited about the progress of the Ceuta Snowy Plovers during an otherwise dreadful breeding season. We had found many new nests and even better, many Snowy Plovers did the sensible thing during a drought and decided to build their nest close to the retreating water to give their chicks the best possible conditions once they would hatch. However, also Snowy Plovers can't foresee the future and now a few days later the decision to nest in the lagoon looks like a bad one.

What happened? The weather changed. The first hurricane of the season hit the Mexican Pacific coast a few hundred kilometers South of us and led to a few rain showers but more importantly it also changed the amplitude of the tides. This resulted in more water entering the Bahía. This is great when chicks are around because the water brings the food right to them. But it is fatal for nests, especially those close to the shore because eggs can't move and the parents can't protect them from water. As a consequence the situation has become critical for most lagoon breeders. The chicks of one nest managed to hatch before the water reached their nest. These should be the winners of the rising tide. And three more nests are close to hatching but they will race against the time and the chicks need to hatch before the water reaches the nests. All the rest of the lagoon nests looks certain to be flooded because over the next days the tide is expected to increase in strength and is expected to raise by more than half a meter. The water started already to filter through from the ground in the main nesting area of the lagoon and therefore our hopes for these nests are low.

The bad luck for the lagoon breeders could mean that the conservative salt flat breeders got their decision spot on although it looked pretty bad to me a week ago. Currently there are four families with small chicks in this area. However, at the moment the water has not yet reached the salt flats. These families are dependent on this water because the chicks can't cross the mangroves to get to the lagoon and without the water they will start to death.

It is hard for us to plan things and even worse for the Snowy Plovers.
The next five days of high tide will be critical for the Ceuta plovers. Flooding will definitely hit a large number nests this season. But the worst case scenario would be if the water stops rising further once it flooded the nests at the lagoon and does not enter the salt flats. This could forfeit the entire breeding success of the Ceuta population this year. The situation  again cries out for our conservation and restauration advice to be finally implemented. We need to do something about the water levels and restore the old dyke and channel system to make conditions more predictable and plannable for the ground nesting birds. But we still have to strike an agreement with the land- and concession owners. Let's hope this can be done soon and the Snowy Plovers can endure a bit longer.

There are once again so many twists in the story you couldn't make all this up. This is what makes field work so exciting but ultimately unpredictable. I wonder whether some of these Hollywood authors get their inspiration from studying nature. If you ever run out of ideas just come and watch plovers for a few months with us! They will entertain you and you can be certain to get enough material for several blockbusters.

On a different note, I had to 'desert' the project team last week for family reasons. Much earlier than I had planned but  I had been close to cancel my entire field season 5 weeks ago because of severe health problems of my mother. My family made it possible to leave for five weeks but now it is time to do my share. Medardo and Wendy keep things running smoothly at Bahía de Ceuta, they are the real fighters of the cause. Alejandro will return to support them soon.