The Perils for a Little Piper

He’s flown 1,500 miles returning the promise that began 9 months earlier.  Migration, the promise to return.  For a tiny Piping Plover, completing that promise is no easy task.  With only 6,200 of your kind, it’s amazing they’re all able to avoid predators, find food, dodge weather systems.  All of which doesn’t acknowledge the countless human caused obstacles that lie in their way.

Of the 160+ records of Piping Plover in the Indiana Dunes area, spring birds are rarer than fall birds 4:1.  The majority of these birds wind up at Miller Beach, just west of the Indiana Dunes State Park.  This most southern tip of Lake Michigan tends to draw many shorebirds, particularly in the fall.  Once here, birds tend to linger a few days.  In the spring, they often do not.  Therefore, with notice that an unbanded Piping Plover is hanging out among the built up wrack at Miller Beach, one is best to hurry over to see it.

Several of us gathered at the Lake St Beach Parking lot after a full work day yesterday.  No Piping Plover was visible in the immediate stretch of beach.  Distant gulls could be seen scavenging farther west down the beach.  Through washed up sticks, bones, plastic, balloons, and other garbage, we waded our way the entire mile west to the USX breakwall and flooded impoundment.  After a full mile all we were able to score were Killdeer.  One breast band too many.  On the way back, with the idea of finding the earlier Piping Plover now fading, we began to take more notice to the details of the beach pickings.  Birds of many kinds were washed up on the shore for the gulls to pick apart.  Many, the mortalities of a dangerous migration, others on the bad side of the coin we called the winter of 2013/2014.  Still others having died mysteriously.  We began to take count of what we saw.  (Please note- what you see below may be gruesome or hard to see for some folks)

One of two dead Common Loons found on Miller Beach.
One of two dead Common Loons found on Miller Beach.

2 dead loons were found today.  Loons on Lake Michigan shorelines are often thought to be botulism victims.

Dead Redhead duck on Miller Beach.
Dead Redhead duck on Miller Beach.
dead Horned Grebe on Miller Beach.
Dead Horned Grebe on Miller Beach.
Dead Herring Gull on Miller Beach.
Dead Herring Gull on Miller Beach.
Dead Red-breasted Merganser on Miller Beach.
Dead Red-breasted Merganser on Miller Beach.
Dead Flicker on Miller Beach
One of two dead Flickers on Miller Beach

All told on this one mile stretch of beach, the gulls were scavenging on:
1 Redhead Duck
1 White-winged Scoter
5 Red-breasted Mergansers
2 Common Loons
1 Horned Grebe
1 Herring Gull
3 Northern Flickers

After trekking the mile back east to Lake St (into a pretty stiff NE wind and 39 degrees), we were just about to the turning point for the parking lot, when a small shorebird left the beach and began flying towards us over the surf.  At close range, you could see a lighter brown, small plover, which was definitely not a Killdeer.  High pitch pips could be heard over the waves as it flew west and landed 50 yards away from us.  With scopes now swung back west you could clearly see the single banded breast and light sand colored back of a Piping Plover.  The walk was worth it, even if he was waiting for us back at the beginning.

Piping Plover at Miller Beach, April 18, 2014.  Photo courtesy Matt Kalwasinski.
Piping Plover at Miller Beach, April 18, 2014. Photo courtesy Matt Kalwasinski.

He’s made it 1,500 miles, perhaps only 300 more to go.  Let’s hope he makes it to the breeding ground to produce more of his kind so that we’ll have more springs and falls for them to complete the promise of migration.

 

 

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