April 16, 2015, Monterey – Historically, March has marked the start of the Snowy Plover nesting season in Monterey Bay, but this year a pair started nesting in February. This nest is 10 days earlier than any nest recorded in the Monterey Bay area over the last 32 years, according to biologists from Point Blue Conservation Science who have been closely monitoring these small shorebirds since the late 1970’s. Early nesting may be related to climate change, as this year’s mild winter and dry spring are allowing for plovers to get a head start on the breeding season. However, in the long term, the effects of climate change could negatively impact Snowy Plover populations, which nest on sandy, open beaches. Sea level rise, with increasing wave heights and storm surges, may narrow beaches making nests more vulnerable…..
Carleton Eyster walks up a sand dune toward the water at Moss Landing State Beach. He has binoculars around his neck and a scope mounted on a tripod in his hand. “This is our birding scope, which a lot people mistake for a camera, so I’m often taken for a bird photographer,” says Eyster, a biologist with the non-profit Point Blue Conservation Science. Point Blue has research programs in the works from Alaska to Antarctica. On the Monterey Bay, Point Blue has been monitoring the Western Snowy Plover for more than 30 years. The snowy plover has been listed as threatened under the endangered species act since 1993 after its numbers dwindled because its beach nesting habitat was compromised by a number of things including development, non-native plants and predators. “This is the area that is cordoned off seasonally from March through September, and that’s exactly where the snowy plovers are breeding,” says Eyster as he walks along the cable fence the symbolically blocks off the sand dune. It was put up by California State Parks, which manages this beach.
Eyster is one of five Point Blue biologists on the bay whose focus is this tiny shorebird. They monitor the birds at least five days a week during their season. They keep track of things like nest location, number of eggs, how many make it to adulthood and figuring out why so many don’t….