Only one snowy plover chick apparently left on Siesta

Snowy plovers are hard to see on the beach because of their size and their coloring. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota Audubon members had high hopes last week that a few snowy plover chicks might survive the 2012 nesting season on Siesta Key. However, as of the middle of this week, it appeared only one chick still was roaming the beach.

A third chick from a second nest “just disappeared” after about six days, Siesta resident Catherine Luckner reported.

On the morning of Aug. 12, she and her husband saw both of the chicks that had hatched on Aug. 3, she told The Sarasota News Leader. Since then, the Luckners and the two other “chick checkers” on the island have spotted a single baby plover, she added.

Moreover, the hen that hatched that chick “is skinny,” Luckner said. “She has no partner.”

The hen does leave the chick from time to time to eat, Luckner added, but even though the Audubon volunteers have seen lots of plovers feeding in the red drift algae that has come ashore on the beach over the past couple of weeks, the hen apparently is not taking much time away from the chick.

Luckner said more volunteers would be most welcome in the effort to watch over this last surviving chick — especially on the weekends. Anyone interested in helping out may call Bob Luckner’s cell phone number, 224-6951, or visit the Siesta Key Association website, which has contact information in a homepage article about beach-nesting birds. (Catherine Luckner is president of the SKA.)

A volunteer saved one chick last week, she said, by throwing a pair of binoculars at a seagull that had swooped in and scooped up the chick from the beach. The gull dropped the chick immediately, she said.

“Just a split second, being there, makes all the difference in the world,” Luckner pointed out.

If the final chick can survive, she said, it will be about two more weeks before it can fledge, or fly on its own.

Tropical Storm Debby and predators have been the primary threats to the endangered plovers on Siesta Key this summer, Luckner earlier told the News Leader. Gulls and crows both are among the predominant natural predators for the tiny birds, she has said.

The only other positive note about plovers this summer, Luckner said, was that a plover hatched on Longboat Key, which had fledged, had shown up on Siesta about two weeks ago. It was among a group of plovers feeding on the red drift algae. “That is the best food” for the birds, she said.

Audubon volunteers had wondered what had become of it, she added.