A snowy plover family thrives at Grayton Beach State Park

November 29, 2012

Three snowy plover eggs just above the shoreline at Grayton Beach State Park.  The nest is lined with tiny seashell fragments. Photo by Jeff Talbert

2012 season proved best year ever for tiny shorebirds at South Walton State Park

Photos by Jeff Talbert, Florida State Park Services Specialist

Information gleaned from report by Raya Pruner, Biological Scientist, Florida Park Service, District 1

As we enjoy our wonderful beaches in South Walton, many visitors and locals are not aware that we are sharing vital habitat for a variety of shorebirds. Our dune systems and coastal dune lakes provide perfect nesting areas and foraging habitat for a variety of species such as sandpipers, gulls, terns and wading birds as well. One tiny species is the small, sandy colored snowy plover. The snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) can be found year round along our beaches in Northwest Florida. Each spring, these beautiful birds nest and rear young along our coastlines.

Snowy plover chick about to be banded by Department of Environmental Protection biologist. Photo by Jeff Talbert.

Snowy plovers are a threatened species according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, due to their small population size (222 breeding pairs in the most recent State-wide census). The biggest threat to the plover is human factors such as recreation and development, along with coyote, domestic dog, fox, fish crow, laughing gull, gull-billed tern, great blue heron, raccoon, opossum, bobcat, and feral domestic cats. It is with great challenges that snowy plovers manage to fledge their young.

Fortunately our Florida State Parks are the perfect host for these shorebirds. With preserved beach areas, chances of survival for snowy plovers and other shorebirds is good, and the only place left these birds have for a chance to thrive. The snowy plover 2012 season at Grayton Beach State Park was a good one. A total of 10 nesting individual birds were monitored, and it was the most successful year since monitoring began in 1989.

The last few years, the birds have been banded and monitored by the Department of Environmental Protection.  Plovers banded along Panhandle State Parks have been observed at Gulf Islands National Seashore at the western end of the panhandle, along the peninsula at Sanibel Island, Fort DeSoto, or Marco Island, and in other Gulf State areas such as Dauphin Island, AL and Horn Island, MS.

All three snowy plover chicks fledged and went on their way. Photo by Jeff Talbert

One snowy plover family had total success at Grayton, as one pair nested and fledged all three eggs  laid. The chicks were monitored and banded by Florida Park Service biologists, Raya Pruner and Marvin Friel. Park ranger Jeff Talbert photographed the progress of the young, from laying of their eggs to the fledgling’s departure.

Click here for complete report.

Click here for more information on Grayton Beach State Park.