Beyond the BackyardMatanzas Tern Colony

Wilson’s Plover Nest

On the morning that I photographed sunrise at Washington Oaks, I also made a stop at the Matanzas Tern Colony. In previous years, I’ve spent some very special mornings lying on the sand, watching the Least Terns and their tiny chicks. I was a little worried that the birds would find a new nesting site after their colony was devastated by Tropical Storm Beryl last year. But they came back! This year the birds seem to have nested higher in the dunes (which is good, as I write this in the wake of Tropical Storm Andrea). The Audubon Society has also roped off a much bigger stretch of the beach this year, probably partially because they were irritated that photographers kept getting too close to the birds last year. I was glad to see that the birds have a bigger space this year, even if it means I don’t get as many good shots. Very few Least Terns nest in Florida, and I think it’s important to protect their beach.

Luckily for me, there was a very photographable Wilson’s Plover nest on the beach that morning. I’ve never had the opportunity to photograph nesting Wilson’s Plovers before, so I was ecstatic to plop down in the sand and belly-crawl my way up to the nest without disturbing the bird. (Peter, I’m continuing to make good use of my ground pod!) By stacking teleconverters on my Beast, I got some fun close-up shots of life at the nest scape.

Wilson's Plover on Eggs
This little bird sat so patiently on her eggs.

Mommy Plover incubated the eggs most of the time that I was there. Her nest is just a scrape in the sand. Her eggs blend in to the beach so well that you could walk by the eggs and never notice them if you weren’t watching out. She sat there so patiently, only occasionally getting up to stretch her legs or change her position slightly. Just as I was starting to wonder if Papa Plover was ever going to help, he strutted up to the nest and changed places with her. She didn’t go far, though. She stood up for a couple of minutes, then she made a noise at Dad and made him get up. I guess he wasn’t sitting right! He didn’t seem to mind relinquishing the nest back to her.

Wilson's Plover
After Mom had sat on the eggs for a while, Dad came in and took a turn.

I took a quick shot of the eggs in the sand during one brief moment while the birds were off the nest. It’s fun to think that there will soon be three more little plovers running around on the beach! They look like little cottonballs on legs. I had hoped to get back to the nest and perhaps get some images of the babies after they hatched, but the nest hatched before the next weekend. Oh well. Maybe next year I’ll get my dream shot of a plover sitting on her remaining eggs while her first little chick nuzzles up to her chin! :)

Wilson's Plover Eggs
The Wilson’s Plover nest is a small scrape in the sand with eggs. The Audubon Society ropes off nests like this one to keep people from inadvertently stepping on the eggs.