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Busy summer for plover lovers

…on volunteer surveys

Scientists working for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are appealing for help with three surveys this spring and summer. Anyone who watches birds on the coast or at gravel pits can take part. Two plover species - Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover - will be the focus of this attention.

Ringed Plover on beaches

The two main habitats frequented by Ringed Plovers are beaches and machair (the sandy grassland areas that occur on windswept Scottish islands), though they also occur inland at gravel pits and on river shingle. There is concern about populations nesting on beaches, where rising sea levels and increasing visitor numbers are making life tough for this smart little wading bird. This will be the first national survey since 1984.

Greg Conway of the BTO said: Ringed Plovers rely upon camouflage for protection, hoping that their clutch of eggs will be mistaken for pebbles. Sadly, this makes it all too easy for an unsuspecting beach-walker to trample on a nest. The species is also threatened in areas where rising sea levels are reducing the width of beaches. The survey will aim to find out the present numbers of Ringed Plovers in the country and how the species is faring in different habitats.Volunteers will be asked to visit local beaches and other suitable habitat to count any Ringed Plovers they see. Birdwatchers should contact Greg Conway on 01842 750050 or by email: greg.conway@bto.org. Greg will be able to put them in touch with the BTO's volunteer Regional Representatives (RRs) who are organising survey work in each county. Contact details of RRs can also be found at http://www.bto.org/regional/index.htm

Little Ringed Plover on gravel pits

Little Ringed Plovers were also last surveyed nationally in 1984. The species really likes bare ground, particularly the sand and shingle banks that occur in working gravel pits and around reservoirs, and on nature reserves where vegetation is cleared each winter to make space for this popular summer visitor. Little Ringed Plovers are a conservation success story. The first pair of Little Ringed Plovers in the UK nested at Tring Reservoirs (Hertfordshire) in 1938. Ever since, breeding numbers have been increasing steadily, accompanied by a west- and northwards range expansion.

Greg Conway of the BTO said: We are excited to see just how well Little Ringed Plovers are doing. Aggregate companies and other businesses which find themselves hosting these small plovers have been very sensitive to their needs. The species has flourished since its first breeding attempt just seventy years ago, spreading throughout most of England and into Wales and Scotland.

Volunteers will be asked to visit local gravel pits and other suitable habitat to count any Little Ringed Plovers they see. Birdwatchers should contact Greg Conway on 01842 750050 or by email: greg.conway@bto.org. Greg will be able to put them in touch with the BTO's volunteer Regional Representatives who are organising survey work in each county. Contact details of RRs can also be found at http://www.bto.org/regional/index.htmThe 1984 survey of Ringed Plover revealed a total of an estimated 8,540 pairs in Britain (Prater 1989). England held about 2,390 pairs, Wales an estimated 220 pairs, Northern Ireland 130 pairs and Scotland c. 5,800 pairs, i.e. two thirds of the total population.

The first pair of Little Ringed Plovers in the UK nested at Tring Reservoirs in 1938. Ever since, breeding numbers have been increasing steadily, accompanied by a west- and northwards range expansion. In 1944 there were three pairs, by 1950 c. 30 pairs, in 1956 - 74 pairs, in 1959 - 98 pairs and by 1967 - 223 pairs at 154 sites in 26 counties. In 1973, a survey of Little Ringed Plovers summering in Britain revealed at least 467 pairs, at 261 localities (Parrinder & Parrinder 1975). The last national survey in 1984 showed that the population had further increased to between 608 and 631 pairs recorded at 370 sites in most counties in England and Wales; at that stage there were no breeding records from Scotland and Northern Ireland (Parrinder 1989). More information is given at http://www.bto.org/goto/ringplovers.htm

The Breeding Plover Survey (for Little Ringed Plover and Ringed Plover) is supported by Natural England and The D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust. BTO funding comes from the legacy-based fund Birds in Trust, and the Christmas and New Year Bird Count.

4th July 2014