- Associated Press - Friday, April 24, 2015

WARRENTON, Ore. (AP) - Last year, Oregon park officials designated a half-mile portion of the beach as a “Western Snowy Plover Management Area” in an attempt to entice the endangered seabird to nest at the site.

The dry, open sand beach near the Clatsop Spit is considered ideal nesting grounds for the endangered western snowy plover, a seabird the size of a sparrow.

Last year, Oregon park officials designated a half-mile portion of the beach as a “Western Snowy Plover Management Area” in an attempt to entice the endangered seabird to nest at the site.

No snowy plovers have nested at Clatsop Spit since. However, park officials recently rejoiced after a pair were seen nesting at the Nehalem Spit at Nehalem Bay State Park.

Oregon Parks and Recreation Wildlife Biologist Vanessa Blackstone spotted the pair April 3.

She said the last documented sighting of snowy plover nests at the Nehalem and Clatsop spits was in 1984. Since then, only single snowy plovers have been seen incidentally at Clatsop Spit, and have not stayed to nest.

The vast majority of snowy plovers in Oregon, about 300, are seen along the Southern Coast.

Before the Nehalem Spit sighting, Blackstone said, there was a gap in nesting from Florence up to Washington beaches at Leadbetter Point, Midway Beach and Graveyard Spit.

The Nehalem Spit sighting bodes wells for potential nesting at Clatsop Spit and the Necanicum Spit at the Gearhart Ocean State Recreation Area, another location designed for snowy plover conservation, officials said.

“To this point, Oregon has had the most success in bringing back the population in the south,” Oregon State Parks Ranger Ken Murphy said. “Some of those birds have been coming back and nesting multiple times and visiting other sites.”

What makes the Clatsop Spit beach area appealing to the snowy plovers is the dry sand above the tide line with no vegetation cover other than scattered driftwood, Murphy said.

Snowy plovers, a state and federally protected species, often crouch in depressions in the sand or hide behind driftwood to find shelter from the wind, according to park officials.

To nest successfully, the snowy plovers need the right conditions and to not be distributed by beachgoers.

During their nesting season between March 15 and July 15, park officials restrict access to the half-mile monitoring area. No beachgoers can walk, bicycle, drive or take their dogs on the site, which is located only in the dry sand above the tide line.

“We are not really out here to write a bunch of tickets,” Murphy said. “We are doing more of an interpretive approach.”

Murphy is one of many officials who keep tabs on the management area near Clatsop Spit. Others include Blackstone, NOAA fishers officers and Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

The officials monitor the site for disturbances like tire tracks or footsteps. In addition, they look for the snowy plovers, nests and tracks.

Snowy plovers in Oregon have small bands around their legs, placed by wildlife biologist for tracking purposes. The bands are color-coordinated by location and age of the birds.

Snowy plovers born in Oregon last year have violet bands.

“There are probably eyeballs on this site four or five times per week,” Murphy said.

If a nest is found, the restrictions on the monitoring site would be pushed to Sept. 15, the latest snowy plovers usually breed. The restrictions would also be increased to not allow any activity in the surrounding area, including no kite-flying since kites imitate predatory birds.

Multiple factors have led to snowy plovers becoming endangered. An increase in European beach grass, urban development and human disturbance have all played a role in the declining population.

Mike Stein, North Coast district manager for Fort Stevens State Park, said the state park has never offered protection to this degree for an endangered species, especially in a place like Clatsop Spit, which has high levels of activity.

Actively managing the select locations rather than the entire beach area has created a fair balance between conservation and recreation at the park, Stein said.

“It’s been a winning formula, to date,” he said.

Outside of the half-mile management area, the rest of the park is business as usual. For the snowy plover conservation to be successful, Murphy said, it will take community support.

“Be aware of these areas and what we are trying to accomplish and be a good steward for it,” Murphy said. “The rest of the beach is just as open as it always was.”


Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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