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  • Writer's pictureEdward Leonard

Snowy Plover at Griffiths-Priday State Park on 21 April 2024



A Serendipitous Encounter: My First Glimpse of an Endangered Snowy Plover

Nestled on the rugged coastline of Washington State lies Griffiths-Priday State Park, a haven for nature enthusiasts and bird lovers alike. As a novice birder, I embarked on a journey to this picturesque sanctuary, hoping to catch a glimpse of its famed avian residents. Little did I know that I was about to encounter one of the park's most enchanting inhabitants - the elusive and endangered Snowy Plover.


The day began with a sense of eager anticipation as I set foot on the sandy shores of Griffiths-Priday State Park. The rhythmic sound of crashing waves accompanied my every step, while the salty breeze carried whispers of avian life awaiting discovery. Armed with a pair of binoculars and a field guide, I wandered along the coastline, my eyes scanning the vast expanse of sand dunes and shoreline.


As I ventured deeper into the heart of the park, my attention was suddenly captivated by a flurry of movement at the water's edge. There, amidst the undulating waves and golden sands, stood a petite shorebird adorned in delicate hues of white and gray. With bated breath, I trained my binoculars upon the enchanting creature, scarcely daring to believe what lay before my eyes - a Snowy Plover.


The Snowy Plover, a diminutive yet charismatic bird, exuded an air of tranquility as it gracefully foraged along the shoreline. Its soft, sandy plumage blended seamlessly with the coastal landscape, rendering it nearly invisible to the untrained eye. However, to me, its presence was nothing short of mesmerizing.


Drawing upon my newfound knowledge of avian behavior, I marveled at the Snowy Plover's agile movements as it darted across the sand in pursuit of its next meal. With each delicate step, it left behind tiny footprints etched in the soft substrate, a testament to its fleeting presence upon the shore.


As I observed the Snowy Plover from a respectful distance, a pang of concern stirred within me. Despite its serene demeanor, this enchanting bird faced a perilous plight - it was classified as endangered, its population dwindling due to habitat loss, human disturbance, and predation. Snowy Plovers prefer nesting on sandy beaches and dunes near the coast, making them particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction and disturbance from recreational activities.


In that fleeting moment of connection with nature, I realized the profound urgency of conservation efforts aimed at protecting vulnerable species such as the Snowy Plover. As a novice birder, I had embarked on this journey in search of mere sightings, yet I emerged with a newfound sense of responsibility to advocate for the preservation of our planet's precious biodiversity.


As the sun began its descent beyond the horizon, casting hues of crimson and gold upon the tranquil waters, I reluctantly tore my gaze away from the Snowy Plover and bid farewell to Griffiths-Priday State Park. However, its memory would remain etched in my mind forever, serving as a poignant reminder of the fragile beauty of our natural world and the urgent need to safeguard its most precious inhabitants.


 

The Snowy Plover was a nemesis bird. I had attempted to see a Snowy Plover on at least 7 previous attempts across different locations in Washington and Oregon. From the Washington Fish and Wildlife Website (https://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01518):


"Washington harbors a small population of the snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) , an inhabitant of sandy shores and barren flats. Since at least 1899, small numbers of this cryptic shorebird have nested on the shifting sand spits and peninsulas of the Washington coast, which constitutes the northern limit of the species' range...the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife indicates the state population has declined within the past decade, with a current population of about seven breeding pairs."


On prior attempts, I had always searched along the shoreline as you might with Sanderlings who are so fun to watch as they scurry back and forth as the tide goes in and out. On this day, we arrived early, but not too early. This time we stuck closer to grassy edge to the beach. That is when I noticed movement even though the Snowy Plover blended in from a color perspective perfectly to the damp sand under cloudy skies. I asked Andy to pause walking so we could get a better look. To our delight, we finally found the Snowy Plover my 373rd life bird. What a beautiful bird.


In my experience, luck plays a big factor in whether you see a bird or not, but some level of skill helps improve your luck. As my understanding of birds improves I feel my luck improving.






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