“Just scan this area with the scope, “ Karine says as I try to stabilize myself with the highly expensive birding scope and look over a stretch of levee covered in small, black and grey rocks for a similarly-sized black and grey bird. I’m helping with a Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) survey at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, where the federally threatened bird likes to nest in old salt ponds. Suddenly something moves. One of these small grey mounds has moved. In my first few moments of surveying I’ve spotted one of the small, camouflaged birds. “Karine,” I say sheepishly, “I think I found one.” Karine steps over to my scope which is locked in place and peers through. “Nope, that’s just a rock.” I laugh nervously and step back to my spotting scope, more skeptical of each greyish-black mound I see in the distance.
Karine Tokatlian is the Plover Program Director at the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) and conducts surveys at Eden Landing nearly every morning for the Western Snowy Plover. I was fortunate enough to ride along with Karine for one of these surveys and learn more about the work SFBBO does at Eden landing and around the San Francisco Bay. The SFBBO works at this site to monitor birds that use old salt ponds for nesting and foraging grounds and is part of a larger collaboration between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, East Bay Regional Parks, Save The Bay, and other organizations to promote the ecological health and recovery at Eden Landing.
While I was unsuccessful at finding a Snowy Plover at our first location, Karine spotted a pair at our next site. We watched as the two plovers ran around the dried-up, barren former salt pond. At first glance this area looks like a wasteland — wood piles from old salt pond processing infrastructure sticks out of the crusted soil, there are some pieces of brick left from what I assume is the same structure, and no vegetation nearby. Not quite what most would picture as good habitat, but plovers love it. The plovers and their relatives find dry, sandy areas like this to be good nesting grounds as they are camouflaged from predators, or at least in theory. Despite their greyish plumage blending in with their sandy surroundings, these threatened birds are greatly impacted by predation during nesting season. Gulls, hawks, foxes, and even a species of sand piper have been shown to prey on snowy plover eggs and chicks at Eden Landing. That’s why it’s important that biologists like Karine monitor snowy plovers and their nests to track how many chicks fledge and determine if further measures are needed to support their population.
By the end of the day Karine and I had spotted three pairs of plovers and two nests, one of which was filled with three eggs. The eggs have since hatched and will hopefully make it to become breeding adults themselves. Having run restoration events at Eden Landing for over a year, and as a Bay Area resident, I feel so fortunate to have these wild areas right in my backyard that supporting rare, threatened, and endangered species that call the Bay home. Thanks to concerned citizens, scientists, and volunteers we’re working together to support our Bay for this wildlife as well as future generations.
To join us for one of our restoration events at Eden Landing or other sites around the Bay, click here to sign up!