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The World: Young plovers returned to the wild
Author: Thomas Moriarty
Posted: August 12, 2013

Read the original article in The World here.

BANDON — Twenty years after the western snowy plover was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, state and federal wildlife officials say the species is doing great, but predation and habitat management are still at a critical stage.

Standing on a stretch of New River south of Bandon Friday morning, Dan Elbert, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the government had established a goal of 250 breeding adults for the region.

“We reached that last year for the first time,” Elbert said.

The western snowy plover was first listed under the ESA in 1993. Since then, state and federal officials have developed a carefully developed system of beach access restrictions to reduce conflict with humans during the tiny shorebirds’ nesting season.

Elbert, who’s based at the agency’s Newport field office, was on the South Coast to supervise the release of three orphaned snowy plover chicks that had been discovered on the beach last year.

The chicks had since been raised at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Erin Paxton, the aquarium’s public affairs coordinator, said that the agency.

“We work very closely with Fish and Wildlife Services because we are one of the few facilities permitted to work with threatened bird species,” Paxton said.

Elbert said limiting predation is a challenge for wildlife managers.

“By far our biggest problems are from the corvids,” he said, referring to the avian family that includes crows and ravens. Coyotes and rodents are also common threats.

Pointing to a high wall of sand at the edge of the beach, Elbert said invasive European beach grass build-up of dunes that are too steep for plover chicks to navigate.

“Every year, we aim to remove beach grass from nesting areas,” Elbert said. “But it’s an expensive and intensive effort.”

Keeping track of just how many of the birds are out there is too expansive a task for just the agency’s staff biologists. To keep track of the birds, they rely on a network of monitors who scour the beaches keeping tabs on plover numbers.

Kathy Castelein, a Bandon-based researcher with Portland State University’s Biodiversity Information Center, has worked with the monitoring program for almost 17 years.

Castelein said that the stretch of dry sand south of China Creek along New River is currently home to between 40 and 45 birds.

“It’s a fairly large wintering area,” Castelein said.

Despite their uptick in numbers, the tiny shorebirds are still in a precarious position. Paxton said that even though aquarium staff were only releasing a few birds at the South Coast beach, that number is far from insignificant.

“Just these three little guys — that’s over 1 percent of the population,” she said.