Red-capped Plover encounters and a painting
A few years back while walking amongst the soft sand and dried seaweed on the beach at Sultana Point on the Yorke Peninsula I had the awful experience of nearly stepping on an egg.
It was just a single one, just like the above. Fortunately I saw it in time, and we managed to avoid disturbing it (I had both two little children and Hubby with me), but it was a close call. We stopped walking in the soft sand and dried seaweed and returned to the water’s edge.
As a practice, we never walk in the soft sand at the beach now, except to get onto the beach in the first place, because in Australia, there are five beach nesting birds that lay their eggs either on the beach itself just above the high tide line or a little closer to the sand dunes. You can discover more about the other four birds at the wonderful website of Birdlife Australia (including a really good video), but I am going to focus on one of my favourites, the owner of the above eggs and the one I nearly stepped on, the little Red-capped Plover (and I have a little video too 😀 ).
When we last went to Edithburgh (Yorke Peninsula, South Australia), I was really eager to photograph the tiny shore birds. At the time I didn’t realise that there were two common little shore birds. Nor did I really have any idea what they were. But eventually I managed to work out what was what and sort the Red-necked Stints (migratory birds who only have red necks when they are in the Arctic, never here, yay for helping with identification with a name, d’oh!) and Red-Capped Plovers (yay, a red cap – that must be a Red-capped Plover!). I never did get the film I wanted of them running on the beach, but I did get a few good photos.
We came across this little guy dashing back and forth between the soft sand and the water’s edge. I had assumed he was foraging, but then he did this:
It just goes to show what a little lack of knowledge can do. I stood there fascinated. What was this bird doing? Hubby suggested it was a broken wing display to draw off predators. It didn’t click for me until much later what this actually meant. Call me dumb, but it is a mistake I will not make again. This bird was alarmed by our presence. He must have had a nest (yes, ‘he’, red-capped plovers joint care for their nests) nearby – which I did not see at all. We were at the waters edge, right on the edge, so I knew we weren’t about to step on anything. But I neglected to put the facts together correctly – the tide was coming in, the beach was quite narrow – yes, we were in range of the nesting zone, in the middle of the breeding season. D’oh!
The nest was likely in the row of dried seaweed near the grass in the background, just above the full high tide mark. The reason they lay their eggs in such an open area is so that they can see any potential predators and lead them off – hence the broken wing display. Both the chicks and the eggs are extremely well camouflaged – hence the nearly-stepped-on egg anecdote. And going through the photos, I’ve discovered that the female was around too, as I have a photo of her as well, taken within the same minute as several of those above.
So she wasn’t attending to her eggs, or chicks, because of our presence. ::headdesk::
Anyway, the moral of this little story, is to be aware of your surroundings and the animals who share it with you, otherwise, good intentions or not, harm can occur. I don’t think we actually did any real harm in this situation, and hopefully both birds went back to their nest once we had vacated the area (all I did was stay long enough to capture these photos at full zoom, so I was still a good distance away, which according to my photos was five minutes between first and last shot).
The problems occur when the parents are disturbed repeatedly. Because they jump off the nest and try to lead predators away, the eggs are left unattended and vulnerable to the elements, and those beaches can get awfully hot during the day. So lots of people on the beach, dogs and ultimately cars, can destroy nests and chicks.
Red-capped plovers are not currently threatened, but some of their fellow shore nesting relatives like the Hooded Plover are, so please do be aware of the possibility of these birds nesting in the spring/summer/autumn months on sandy beaches – for full details, please visit the beach-nesting birds page of Birds Australia – it is extremely informative.
And now onto my video! Yes, I have completed another little bird painting, and yes, it is of a Red-capped Plover. For those of you on my mailing list, you can find the video here if it doesn’t display. I would also love it if you would subscribe to me on YouTube 😀 There are plans for more videos – I have at least one close to finished and another in the making 😀
I’m submitting this post to Paint Party Friday, so don’t forget to go and visit all the wonderful artists over there. Also, a little later I add this to Saturday Critters. Also, I’d rather be Birdin’ and Wild Bird Wednesday where I get lost in all the wonderful birds around the world.