Nesting Shorebird Survey of Selected Species, Spring 2005
Throughout the spring and early summer of 2005, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program worked in collaboration with the National Audubon Society and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to initiate National Audubon's Coastal Bird Conservation Program along the entire Louisiana coast. The initial phases of this program include developing a baseline of information on certain species of beach nesting birds including Wilson's and snowy plovers, American oyster catchers, and least terns. This survey represents the first time that a holistic effort to cover the entire Louisiana coast has ever been undertaken.
The purpose of the Coastal Bird Conservation Program is to: identify and prioritize threatened coastal bird species; census and map populations of priority species; monitor and protect important nesting and foraging sites; and establish long-term protection programs for these birds and sites with the express purpose of maintaining or increasing their populations.
Each of the species mentioned above fit those criteria. The gulf and Caribbean population of snowy plover is estimated at between 2,200 and 2,800 individuals and is listed in the U. S. Shorebird Conservation Plan as "highly imperiled". Wilson's plover estimates suggest that approximately 6,000 individuals nest along the coast of the United States, however, low confidence is placed in this estimate. The U. S. Shorebird Conservation Plan lists Wilson's plover as "species of high concern".
Beginning in April 2005, teams of biologists and research assistants combed the headland and barrier island beaches across the coast from the Chandeleur Islands in the east to the Sabine River in the west locating breeding pairs of these birds and using GPS to identify their locations. Results were rather surprising. Only two pair of snowy plover were identified for the state near Cameron, LA while over 700 pair of Wilson's plover were recorded across the coast. As expected, American oystercatcher numbers were low with some 40+ nesting pair predominantly along the eastern half of the coast. Least tern numbers were surprisingly low when compared to past estimates with over 750 pair identified.
These numbers will be combined with efforts from the other states along the northern gulf and southern Atlantic. Rather than estimates, we will then have real numbers revealing much about the breeding abundance and distribution of these birds, putting us in better shape to manage these "species of concern".
This project, like other BTNEP collaborations, depends on the generosity of the people involved. Too many to thank here, they spent many days afield, walking miles sometimes on very steamy days. Also important are the folks who helped logistically by supporting this effort. Getting to many of the sites along the Louisiana coast required the help and use of equipment from numerous individuals. And lastly, the approval of landowners across the coast and their willingness to help made this project a reality.
For a pdf copy of this report click this link.