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Western Snowy Plovers (Part VI): The Plover Watchers

Some of the volunteers and staff involved in study and protection of the Western Snowy Plovers.

Part VI:  The Plover Watchers

Over the years, countless people have labored to study and save Western Snowy Plovers (WSP). Nest sites have been protected for decades; winter roosts are now known and their protection grows.

It began in the 1970’s when John and Ricky Warriner, long-term residents of Pajaro Dunes area in coastal Santa Cruz County, noticed “those little black and white creatures in the sand,” wondered about them, then became concerned for their future. They introduced Gary Page (Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO employee since 1971) to them; he too became intrigued and alarmed. In 1977 he began – and still heads – PRBO’s Snowy Plover Project; they produced the first scientific study of WSPs in 1980.

In 1979, Frances Bidstrup answered a PRBO ad for WSP monitors, joined Gary and never left. Over the decades she has been: statewide volunteer recruiter, Field Biologist, WSP bander, Research Associate in charge of all WSP banding and winter sighting records. SMBAS volunteers have reported their WSP data to her for over 20 years. She loves her job and the wonderful WSP enthusiasts she meets.

When Tom Ryan arrived in 2005, the LA County WSP study and protection effort really became organized.  He produced two major reports with a third coming out soon. Hundreds of local volunteers were recruited, information is continually gathered, and winter roosts are increasingly receiving protection.

With Tom as consulting biologist, Los Angeles Audubon Society took the WSP Project under its wing in 2007, and Stacey Vigellon became the project’s Director of Interpretation. She wears many hats: biologist, educator, illustrator & designer, volunteer coordinator. She is always happy to welcome new monitoring volunteers! She says: “Plover conservation begins with public awareness. We love our beaches for summer fun, but in the off-season they are tremendous for watching wildlife. Family winter beach hikes are as enthralling as any hike in the Angeles National Forest.”

Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society (SMBAS) members have censused and searched for banded WSPs for over 20 years. In 2001, they organized the first Winter Window Census in L.A. County and kept it running until Tom Ryan arrived in 2005. Many SMBAS members work both within and outside the L.A. County WSP project, primarily at Zuma, Surfrider and Santa Monica roosts.

When Lucien Plauzoles of SMBAS censused northern Santa Monica beaches for the first Winter Window Census in 2001, he found 14 Snowies huddled together on the sand. He has been intimately involved in this roost site ever since: censusing it regularly, doing volunteer training at the site, fending off creation of a dog park nearby, getting the City of Santa Monica to erect a fence around the roost and cease beach grooming in its vicinity. He yearly attends numerous WSP local coordinating committee and range-wide (Pacific Coast) meetings.

Locally, most important and probably least known, is Mary Prismon, long-term Malibu resident and SMBAS member. Frances at PRBO recruited Mary when fellow SMBAS member Lee Oetzel needed to retire from the Zuma Beach census. On her first census in October 1992, she found 77 Snowies in the roost location they’ve used ever since. Flock size gradually increased but banded birds did not appear until 10/2/99, when PA:VO (banded Spring’99 near Moss Landing), and YB:YG (banded Spring’97 at Camp Pendleton) showed up. Banded birds have appeared regularly since then, the longest lasting being BB:OG (Oct’02 – Oct’07).  In March 1994, Mary took over the Surfrider census after Barbara Elliott had to quit. Surfrider’s first banded bird was RY:RB, appearing 1/21/05 and wintering for three years. Mary kept these censuses going for almost two decades before having to quit. Mary’s fascination and love for the little birds attracted other SMBAS members, including myself, out of which developed the significant and ongoing efforts we see today throughout the county. Mary never sought recognition of any sort for herself, only help for the Western Snowy Plovers. In that she succeeded greatly.

In Los Angeles County alone, WSP volunteers number well into the hundreds; for the entire U.S. Pacific coast range, it’s in the thousands.

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