Have you ever seen what appears to be a small, pale puffball on the beach? If so, you may have sighted the western snowy plover. It is the pale brown of the upper parts and the white underparts, plus its shape that suggests that it might even be a little ball of snow. Its legs and feet are gray and its bill is black. It is a handsome little shorebird about the size of a sparrow.
Recent trips to the beach have been very rewarding in terms of shorebird sightings. Snowy plovers are being spotted daily. Look for them away from the water on the upper, drier, sandy areas. Even though the snowy plover is considered uncommon, they are usually seen annually. In fact, 18 western snowy plovers were seen on one day last week. Keep your eyes peeled for that inconspicuous, pale, puffball — they are a beautiful sight to behold.
The snowy plover male builds the nest, but both parents share the job of “nest sitting” or incubation of the eggs. Young snowies are ready to be on their own within hours of hatching, but even so the parents work together to protect them for a few days if help is needed.
Western snowy plovers nest on the tip of the Peninsula “on the outer beach and in the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR) habitat restoration area. They have been declared a threatened species and therefor require an intervention if they are to survive. Human and predator-related disturbances affect the survival of the nestlings and the nests of the adult birds. The WNWR has been restoring the dune habitat at Leadbetter Point in order to provide more protected nesting areas for the plover.
The restoration area itself is now more than 300 acres. Non-native beach grass has been cleared from the beach and dunes with the help of machinery. Crushed oyster shells have been spread over the area in an effort to attract the Snowy plover to the site and to help stabilize the sand. Western Snowy plovers prefer barren to sparsely vegetated beaches and dunes or beach sand covered with dredge spoils. Their nests are natural scrapes on dry ground, lined with pieces of shell, pebbles, mud, bits of vegetation, or invertebrate skeletons. Thus, the WNWR’s restoration project at Leadbetter Point is well designed to help ensure the survival of the plovers. It is estimated that there are 25 nesting pairs in the refuge.
For more information about the western snowy plover habitat restoration project, go to WNWR website at www.fws.gov/refuge/willapa