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June 16, 2011

Rare Bird Sighted at Sandy Pond

Piping Plover Was Last Seen Ten Years Ago -

RARE SIGHT - A piping plover was spotted in May on the shoreline between Sandy Pond inlet and Sandy Island Beach State Park. There are only about 61 known pairs of piping plovers in the entire Great Lakes region. (Photo by Lewis Grove.)

OSWEGO COUNTY, NY - Two SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry students spotted a piping plover, an endangered shorebird, along the beach near Sandy Pond last month. Last seen in this area in 2001, the piping plover is on the endangered species list. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were only about 61 breeding pairs in the entire Great Lakes region in 2010.

Robyn Niver, an endangered species biologist with the Service, is asking anyone who has seen the shorebird along the Eastern Lake Ontario dune system to contact her office in Cortland at 607-753-9334. It is important that the Fish and Wildlife Service or staff of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation receive these sightings so they can determine if they need to implement measures to protect the birds.

Piping plovers are usually about seven inches long with sand-colored plumage on their back and crown and white underbelly. Breeding birds have a single black breast band, a black bar across the forehead, bright orange legs and bills, and a black tip on the bill.

Niver said a team of two to three biologists will conduct a bird survey during the week of June 13 along the 17-mile stretch of barrier dunes between Deer Creek Marsh in Oswego County and El Dorado Preserve in Jefferson County as part of a range-wide survey for plovers across the country. They plan to travel by boat close to the shoreline to determine if the bird is nesting in the area or if it was a temporary visitor.

Lewis Grove, a Ph.D. graduate student in wildlife ecology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and fellow student Scott Warsen were about halfway between the Sandy Pond inlet and Sandy Island Beach State Park, walking south, when they flushed a small shorebird from the lakeshore on May 10.

"The call notes and very pale back quickly indicated that it was a piping plover," said Grove. "Luckily, the bird did not fly far and was very obliging for continued observation and photos."

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, piping plovers arrive at their breeding grounds on the Great Lakes between mid-March and mid-May, where they look for sparsely vegetated beach, cobble pans and sand dune ecosystems to nest. They migrate to their wintering grounds along the South Atlantic, Gulf Coast and Caribbean beaches from mid July through late October. The population has drastically declined in the Great Lakes in recent decades, the result of shoreline development and recreation.

Anyone who thinks they have seen the piping plover is asked to contact Niver at 607-753-9334 or .

The unique ecosystem of the Eastern Lake Ontario dune provides habitat for a great variety of migrating and nesting birds. For birding sites and visitor information in Oswego County, go to visitoswegocounty.com/the-great-outdoors/birding/ or www.seawaytrail.com

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