It’s that time of the season, and the tiny little plovers that sprint up and down Sands Beach are making eyes at each other.
For the threatened Snowy Plovers, which have been run off most of their natural breeding beaches by predators, nesting season begins this month. During the breeding season, which lasts until mid-September, volunteer Snowy Plover docents will be watching over the roped off nesting areas on Sands Beach like hawks.
“We rope off the area in order to ensure less disturbance to the birds by beach users,” said Jennifer Stroh, coordinator of the volunteers for the Snowy Plovers.
For plover aficionados, Sands Beach is considered a historical site. After being abandoned by the birds for years, in 2001 the beach became the first known spot the birds returned to for breeding.
In the summer of 2001, two plovers were born on the once chick-less beach. Plovers typically lay three eggs, and camouflage their nest as much as possible. But after a crow ate one of the two baby plovers, eight volunteers came together and protected the other chick. The bird survived and later went on to mate.
And so, since 2001 the Coal Oil Point Reserve and the Snowy Plover volunteers have been protecting the threatened Snowy Plovers from crows, unleashed dogs and hearty beachgoers from squashing the bird nests, Stroh said.
From sunrise to sunset there is at least one volunteer on the beach, leashing dogs, instructing beach users to walk toward the shoreline, and providing information about why the volunteers want to protect a species that usually weighs less than two ounces, Stroh said.
“I started working as a volunteer in 2001 because I wanted to be actively involved in the conservation of a species in its natural habitat,” Stroh said.
Stroh said volunteering on the beach with other people who are dedicated to protecting the plovers has been a rewarding experience.
“The strongest impact on me was being able to work with other people who wanted to recover an endangered species,” Stroh said. “These people have a commitment that goes beyond protecting birds; it’s caring for the ecosystem.”
Stroh, who is head of a staff of about 60 plover volunteers, is also in charge of the scheduling, managing, recruitment and fund proposals for Coal Oil Point Reserve. Shoreline Preservation Fund and Santa Barbara Audubon Society gave the majority of the funding for this organization.
Snowy Plovers can be found from the Pacific coastline of southern Washington to southern Baja California, pecking at beds of kelp, and camouflaging with their sandy surroundings, according to California State Parks official website.