Piping plover numbers down on P.E.I. so far in 2020

The annual index count of the endangered Piping Plover took place this year on P.E.I., unlike neighbouring provinces, but in a limited fashion, resulting in a decrease of found birds.

Public health restrictions limited some of the annual index counts across the Atlantic provinces

Both plover parents take their turn keeping the nest warm. The Island Nature Trust says there have been 49 adults found on P.E.I so far in 2020. (Submitted by Vicki Johnson)

The annual index count for adult piping plovers has taken place on P.E.I. and so far the numbers are down compared to last year.

The piping plover has been listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada since 1985.

Last year, 71 plovers were identified on P.E.I., but this year that number is down to 49. Roughly one third of those birds were found on beaches inside the P.E.I. National Park, while the others were found on other North Shore beaches. 

The plovers pick their nesting location on the beach well above the water line where it is drier with a few larger rocks in the area.

"So those areas can shift a bit from year to year just depending on, you know, after a winter with storms and different flooding events, some of the local areas can change a bit in what they look like," said Kim Gamble, resource management officer with P.E.I. National Park. 

Some of the piping plovers have been banded so researchers can track their progress. (Submitted by Vicki Johnson)

The index count was done in early June by Parks Canada along beaches of the P.E.I. National Park. A separate count was done by Island Nature Trust in areas outside of the park.

"The birds don't see the lines on the map so we do see many of our piping plover nesting on provincial beaches and not within the park," Gamble said. 

"Our numbers just play into the overall provincial and regional numbers for piping plover."

Dorian effect?

Post-tropical storm Dorian affected many P.E.I. beaches, but it also may have had a larger impact along the piping plover migration route when it struck the Caribbean, before being downgraded from a hurricane.

"They come here to breed and nest and produce chicks," Gamble said. 

"However, a lot of what happens throughout the year happens outside of the region and in areas in the Caribbean and along their migration route that we're not sure if that impacts the number of birds that will return."

Piping plovers nest in loose sand above the high tide line, which is why researchers suggest staying on wet sand when walking on the beach. (Submitted by Vicki Johnson)

The public health restrictions put in place due to COVID-19 are another challenge for researchers this year.

In an email to CBC, officials with Island Nature Trust said researchers had to omit a few beaches they would usually check during the census window. They focused instead on beaches where plovers have historically been observed.

Researchers in the other three Atlantic provinces were also limited in their counts of the plover this year. So P.E.I. numbers will not be able to be compared with the other provinces to see if the birds are landing elsewhere.

The statement also said the season for piping plovers is not over and more birds may still arrive.

Dogs are prohibited at P.E.I. National Park beaches from April 1 until Oct. 15 to protect all the natural animals, including the endangered piping plover. (John Robertson/CBC)

Both the Island Nature Trust and Parks Canada are asking beachgoers to keep an eye out and respect the birds' habitat and to collect any garbage that may attract predators.

Dogs are prohibited on all beaches in the P.E.I. National Park to protect all shorebirds and the fragile habitat of the piping plovers.

If an area has been discovered to have a plover nest, it is usually marked off with ropes to ensure people keep away from it. 

If someone discovers a nest, they are asked to report it to national park staff to ensure it can be protected.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Nicola MacLeod


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