OSWEGO, NY – Something rare happened at Sandy Pond recently.
A SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry student spotted a piping plover. It was the first sighting of the endangered bird at Sandy Pond since 1984!
Bird enthusiasts say it is now more important than ever to keep dogs on leash if on the beach at all times.
According to Robyn A. Niver, endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service New York Field Office in Cortland, they are going to be looking for it June 17 along the stretch of barrier dunes that goes into Jefferson County.
“The piping plover was sighted by two SUNY ESF grad students on May 10 between the Sandy Pond inlet and Sandy Island Beach State Park,” said Janet Clerkin, Oswego County Tourism and Public Information coordinator. “It is a small shore bird. The bird is on the endangered species list and this is the first time it’s been sighted at Sandy Pond since 1984.”
This was briefly discussed at the May 12 meeting of the county’s Tourism Advisory Council.
“I put it on the agenda, but then was told by the student that the Fish & Wildlife Agency didn’t want us to publicize it,” Clerkin said. “They were worried about disturbing the habitat.”
At the May meeting, when Clerkin mentioned that, Ed Lighthall, committee chairman, looked out in the audience toward the Oswego County Today representative, placed his index finger against his lips and playfully said, “Shush.” We agreed not to invade the bird’s privacy.
Earlier this week, however, Clerkin spoke with Niver and was told it is OK to put the word out now.
The piping plover is a small shorebird that nests in the Great Plains states, on the shores of Lakes Michigan and Superior and along the Atlantic coast – all populations winter along the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts in the US, according to Niver.
The Great Lakes population is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Lewis Grove, a PhD student (Wildlife Ecology) and the president of the Graduate Student Association at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, was one of the two that spotted the elusive creature.
He and Scott Warsen were birding in Sandy Pond that morning, walking north from Sandy Island Beach State Park the whole way to the inlet and back.
Neither had been there before, “but the older state bird-finding guide gushed about it, so we had high expectations,” Grove said.
Unfortunately, their expectations were largely unmet as they recorded only 50 species total for the trip.
Highlights on the trip out (besides the beautiful setting) were mostly limited to the numerous Caspian Terns and expected songbirds, including a singing Northern Waterthrush, in the forested sections, he said.
“Upon reaching the inlet, we found large numbers of Caspians, with two common Terns mixed in, a flyby Bank Swallow, and an American Pipit, along with many gulls of the three common species and cormorants,” he added.
“Somewhat disappointed,” they began the long walk back down the beach.
But, about halfway back, they flushed a small single-banded plover from the lakeshore.
“Our immediate default reaction was Semipalmated of course, but the call notes and very pale back quickly indicated that it was a Piping Plover,” he said. “Luckily, the bird didn’t fly far and was very obliging for continued observation and photos.”
He also noticed that there is a single known breeding record from this location from 1984.
“Perhaps this bird will stick around? The breast band was solid black and rather thick, indicating that it was probably a male bird,” he added. “The bird was color-banded as well, so they reported it to the Great Lakes Research Program.”
An active recovery program in Michigan, aided by many volunteers, has helped the plover population to steadily increase there. In 2008, there were 63 breeding pairs (126 individuals). Of these, 53 pairs nested in Michigan, while 10 were found outside the state, including six pairs in Wisconsin and four in Ontario, Canada.
The bird hasn’t been observed in Oswego County in more than 26 years.