Journal archives for September 2021

05 September, 2021

Banded Piping Plovers 8N2 and 60R and iNat

A few times per year when visiting my original hometown of Port Aransas on the Texas coast, I spend a morning driving the 7.4 mile Tony Amos beach and counting birds. This beach is named after a man who surveyed this beach every other day for several decades, counting birds, trash, people, and taking several other kinds of measurements. This important data set is now in the care of David Newstead with the Coastal Bays and Estuaries Program.

Occasionally I was able to ride with Tony on these surveys, and one of the highlights was documenting banded Piping Plovers during the fall and winter. A few organizations band Piping Plovers on their spring and summer breeding grounds with colored bands or labeled flags meant to be identifiable from good photographs or binocular views, without recapturing the bird. Tony photographed dozens of these banded birds over the years and meticulously recorded their locations and dates observed. He would report this data to the banding organizations annually. Sometimes he would tell me about individual plovers he had been documenting for years, and how faithful they were to their small winter ranges on the beach. When I count birds on this beach by myself, I always try to photograph banded Piping Plovers to post on iNat and to report to their banders.

Yesterday I was excited to find an example of Piping Plover winter territory fidelity in my own iNaturalist observations. Last weekend (8/29/2021) I drove the Tony Amos beach and kept an eBird list. (I stopped the list after about 4 miles.) I found and photographed three banded Piping Plovers. I finally processed my photos yesterday and posted them as iNat observations. Then I decided to search my iNat observations for the two labelled flags, "60R" and "8N2". The search for 8N2 found these 5 observations:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 11.21.37 AM

Look at the dates and the map on the screen shot above. I have photographed this same individual plover 5 times between November 2015 and August 2021, all in the same single mile of beach!

Here's the map zoomed out a bit to show Port Aransas to the north, and Padre Island to the south:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 11.22.44 AM

The search for 60R found only one additional observation:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 1.57.38 PM

I photographed plover 60R only once before, back in 2017, within 250 meters of where I found it last weekend! Here's the map a little zoomed out, showing 60R's winter territory is a little north of 8N2's territory:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 2.11.00 PM

I'd like to think Tony would be proud, even though he sometimes sneered at projects like eBird and iNaturalist. (I don't think he trusted the notion of citizen science, and I think he was sometimes resentful that these projects made tools and data easily available that he'd had to invent and collect on his own years before.)

iNat Idiosyncracies

A few years ago I experimented with making an iNaturalist Project for banded shorebirds. I was hoping that if we could encode the flag numbers and unique color combinations on each observation, users would be able to see maps of individual birds from observations contributed by anyone. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to submit an iNat observation of a banded Piping Plover observed during the winter, and maybe see observations of that same individual made on its breeding grounds or during migration? iNaturalist came oh-so-close to making this possible, but I ran into a couple idiosyncrasies that prevented it from working.

  • Piping Plovers have a conservation status of Vulnerable in iNaturalist, so their locations are obscured to everyone but the user who made the observation. This prevents the mapping I was hoping for.
  • Projects can be configured to show these obscured locations to project curators, but this is only makes the locations available for download or viewing of the raw GPS coordinates. They still do not display unobscured on the maps.

So that's why I had to share my observations of 8N2 and 60R as screen shots. Here's how my iNat search appears to everyone else:

Screen Shot 2021-09-05 at 1.19.51 PM

See how the map shows the observations much more spread out, purposely obscured by iNat's rules about vulnerable and endangered species.

I wanted to attach all observations of 8N2 and 60R to this journal post, but another iNat idiosyncrasy is that attaching older observations to a journal post is very difficult or impossible, since it involves manually scrolling to each observation you want to attach. So I've only attached the observations I made on 8/29.

Here's the search link that will show you my 5 observations of 8N2, with obscured locations.

And here's a link to my 2 observations of plover 60R.

Photos of both along with these screenshots .

I'll update this post with information I hear back from the banders about these two birds.

Posted on 05 September, 2021 19:32 by mikaelb mikaelb | 2 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment