Beyond the BackyardMatanzas Tern Colony

Wilson’s Plover Chicks

There were more than just Least Terns this year up at the colony in St. Augustine.  Wilson’s Plovers also find that habitat ideal for nesting.  A Wilson’s Plover pleased many photographers by nesting very close to the ropes that surround the colony.  As we lay in the sand photographing the terns, we mentally willed the plover eggs to hatch.  Unfortunately, birds tend to work on their own schedules and not on mine. :)  But even though I didn’t get to see this plover’s babies, I got to see another family on my last visit to the colony.

Wilson's Plover Nest
Wilson’s Plover Nest

You might glance at the above photo and say, “What nest?”  Like almost all the shorebirds that nest on the beach, the Wilson’s Plovers make a nest scrape by kicking back a little sand and then laying their eggs right there in the sand.  The eggs blend in so well that it’s often easy to walk right past them without noticing.  I think Nature designed it that way. :)  If you look closely, there are three buff-colored eggs with black spots nestled next to the left-most grass clump.  The grass provided some shelter for Mama Plover as she sat on them for her 23-25 day incubation period.

Wilson's Plover on Nest
Wilson’s Plover on Nest

See, there is Mama as she returns to her nest.  She rarely left it during the times that I observed her.  This was taken as she settled back down on her eggs.  Once she settles as the way down, you really can’t see the eggs.

Count the Legs
Count the Legs

Thanks to my friend Michael, I had a pretty good idea of when Mama’s nest would hatch.  But when the time came, my job interfered and prevented me from getting to the beach.  Work has a nasty habit of interfering with photography!  Disappointed that I didn’t get to meet “my” babies, I was ecstatic when I returned a few weeks later and spotted a plover in the back of the colony that seemed to have too many legs.  As tiny as these birds are, they have plenty of room under their wings for a chick or two…and all you can see of the chicks are the feet!  Nature’s camouflage never ceases to amaze me.

Surprise!  Mama introduces me to her two chicks
Surprise! Mama introduces me to her two chicks

A few minutes later, Mama let her little ones loose to run – and run they did!  If you’ve ever watched plovers running on the beach, you may be amazed at how fast they move.  They are the little Energizer Bunnies of the beach world.  Left, right, to the ocean, and back, they run all over the place as they hunt for food.  Well, these tiny chicks may have only been a few days old, but there’s no doubt that the instinct to run and hunt was already well engrained into them.  Focusing on  them was a challenge as they moved all over!

Wilson's Plover Chick
Wilson’s Plover Chick

Finally!  One of the chicks stopped long enough to give me time to focus.  He even gave me a nice head angle. :)  Like the Least Terns, the little Wilson’s Plovers blend in well to their beach environment.  It was a joy to lie in the sand and watch these little monkeys.

Busy Beach Explorer
Busy Beach Explorer

I loved this last image for the “bird in environment” feel.  The beach must seem like such a huge place to the tiny babies!  And yet they meet it fearlessly, already feeding themselves.  Mom stood by on watch, protecting her chicks from the overhead predators like gulls that can swoop down and grab a chick.  But I have no doubt that these little guys will survive.  Their determination was admirable.

Is it next year yet?  I’m already ready to return to the beach! :-)