Wilson's Plovers and their Chicks

Wilson's Plovers and their Chicks

We went off to Surfside, Texas last Saturday when the forecast was for 70% rain. And boy, we lucked out; it only sprinkled on us while Texas City and close communities got about 5 inches of rain (13 cm). We are getting through a tropical storm named Bill (!) this week; perhaps it is time to look up dimensions for that famous ark. 

But, we got some good photos during our trip and were coming back along Bay Rd off the Bluewater Hwy when we noticed some cute little Wilson's Plovers

Plovers are smallish shorebirds that feed by sight, not by probing as some sandpipers. They have relatively short bills and eat insects, worms and other invertebrates. They tend to run-pause-run, so you notice the movement before you actually can figure out what bird you are seeing.

But what we saw was a bit different.

Male Wilson's Plover pretending to have a broken wing Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2000 sec ISO 640

Male Wilson's Plover pretending to have a broken wing

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2000 sec ISO 640

This Wilson's Plover was making an awful racket and spreading his wings. He would run a few steps and repeat the broken wing distraction display. That was a huge clue there was a nest somewhere close and perhaps chicks. 

Some birds that nest on the ground will make themselves very conspicuous in a effort to deflect attention away from the nest or chicks. Killdeers are a type of plover and are famous for this tactic. 

We parked the truck and got the tripods and milk-crates out. 

Young Wilson's Plover non-breeding with reddish brown small collar Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2000 sec ISO 640

Young Wilson's Plover non-breeding with reddish brown small collar

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2000 sec ISO 640

We saw two adults and two of these younger birds. Juveniles have a more rufus, incomplete neck band where the breeding male has a black one. The breeding female's collar is a dark brown. Not sure why these non-breeding birds were hanging around with the breeding adults. We were speculating these could be an early clutch, but who knows? One adult repeated the display to distract us, while the other crossed the road and called to the younger birds.

Female Wilson's Plover Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

Female Wilson's Plover

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

Who took their time crossing the road.  There was a lot of back and forth movement. We were set up on the on the shoulder, waving to the fishermen as they headed to the boat ramp at the end of the road. 

The male continued to try to distract us. The constant alarm calls and fluttering movements were beginning to make me nervous. 

After all four of the birds got on one side of the road, I noticed some odd movement in the grass. 

Two of the smallest chicks I have ever seen Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

Two of the smallest chicks I have ever seen

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

Can you see these tiny babies? Wilson's Plovers are medium sized shorebirds, about 6-8 inches long. They are bigger than sparrows, but not as large as a Cardinal. These little bitty chicks were much smaller than the Black-necked Stilt chick I showed you two weeks ago. 

We knew we were stressing the adults with our presence; one or the other was making the display distraction on the other side of the road, and even behind us. 

Wilson's Plover in full distraction display Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6  1/1600 sec ISO 400

Wilson's Plover in full distraction display

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6  1/1600 sec ISO 400

We were not that close to the chicks, remember the zoom factor but we did see there were at least four fluff-balls.

Parents watching chick cross the puddle Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

Parents watching chick cross the puddle

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

An adult led them away from the first location and they disappeared in the short grass. One was having trouble keeping up; the adult came back and waited until he was moving toward the other chicks. 

Wilson's Plover chick on his own Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

Wilson's Plover chick on his own

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/7.1  1/2500 sec ISO 640

This is a huge crop from the only closeups I was able to get. These chicks are out of the nest within hours of being born and can find their own food. We saw how protective the adults are with the alarm calls, displays and distractions. And how they made sure there were no stragglers when moving them to a safer location. 

We packed up and left after this. I had taken over 500 shots and would have stayed longer but best to let them get on with the hard business of raising chicks. 

Now I have to worry if these tiny babies survived all the rain and flooding we got this week. Surfside got a huge amount of rainfall; not so much here in the city. At least not as much as the Mad Media predicted.

Did you survive Tropical Storm Bill? Which local meteorologist was the least reliable? And do you worry much about the tiny baby birds during all these weather events?

Backyard Photo Art

Backyard Photo Art

Air-conditioned Nature Photography

Air-conditioned Nature Photography