A snowy plover nesting pair laid three eggs March 25 on the beach in Anna Maria — to signal the beginning of the shorebird nesting season. Locals are hopeful to see the birds have a more successful year than the previous year, when two tropical storms and a king tide decimated nests on the island.
A closeup view of a snowy plover on the beach in Anna Maria. Islander Photos: Courtesy John Ester
There is but a handful of nesting snowy plover pairs in Manatee County, and the first pair laid their eggs in late March to mark the beginning of the shorebird nesting season.
According to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring volunteer Glenn Wiseman, the nesting is about three weeks later than last year’s first attempt at a snowy plover nest on the beach in Anna Maria.
“Last year we had our first nest on March 5, but that was a bit early,” said Wiseman. “Usually mid-March is more typical. It’s always a relief to see the first nest because even though we expect a nest or two, there is always a chance it might not happen due to the limited number of nesting pairs in our area.”
Snowy plovers typically nest on beaches along the Florida panhandle. Wiseman said about 20 percent of the population will nest south of Manatee County and about a dozen nesting pairs are typically seen within the county.
“More than likely it’s the same birds,” he said. “The same 24 or so have been seen from here down past Longboat all winter.”
Wiseman said the snowy plovers on and around the island are not the migrating type.
“They are permanent residents,” he said.
Last year’s nesting season for the snowy plovers and many other shorebirds was disastrous. Two tropical storms and a king tide in June 2012 “wiped out all but one of our nests,” said Wiseman.
“We are hoping for a good season,” he said. “The good news is that the storms brought in lots of sand at the north end where the nests are typically located, which produces excellent habitat for nesting shore and sea birds.”
Wiseman said shorebird nesting season typically begins with the snowy plovers making their first attempt to nest.
“The snowys come first and will be joined shortly by the seabirds, the skimmers and then terns,” he said. “The later two are colonial nesters, meaning that they may have up to 600 birds nesting in the same area.”
AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said the female snowy plover is now protecting three eggs.
“We believe this nest was laid approximately March 25 and is due around April 18, which is just before Earth Day,” she said. “We have buffered off the area and signage is now up. It is now considered federally protected land.”
Fox said there are two other nesting pairs on the island, but they have not yet produced a nest.