Vineyard Birder Gives Florida a Looksee

by Lanny McDowell on March 15, 2009

This blog is the first in a series that uses Avian Art to showcase bird photography of mine that was produced on a recent two week stay in Florida, which gave me a few days to head out on my own to find birds and capture some images.  I will take my birding audience, and anyone who else who tags along, to a few Florida birding hotspots.

Folks on Martha’s Vineyard care a lot about their Piping Plover summer residents and so do Floridians care about their Piping Plover winter residents.   Just before I headed down to Miami I was invited to go out on a small boat out of Stuart on the day after I arrived in Florida, under the guidance of the local Audubon Society, to take photographs of the  plovers that winter on tidal sandbars near mangrove islands in the estuary system that connects the Intracoastal Waterway and the jettied entrance to the Stuart harbor system and the Atlantic Ocean.  A few Piping Plovers had previously been observed and they numbered in the low teens.  Our job was to find them, count them; and my mission was to stalk them, find any that were wearing leg bands and document the bands with my photos to identify individual plovers.

Sometimes (usually) birders do look like birders.  Here are two of my hosts trying to figure out where all the shorebirds have gone.  An adult peregrine had cruised through and put up some flocks of Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin, so we knew birds were around somewhere, just not exactly where.  It took a while to discover where the shorebirds were feeding – in the lee of a smallish treed island – when the wind could be described at the very least as blustery.


There were two birds that were banded: one with an aluminum band and another sporting three colored plastic bands.  I don’t have the word on exactly where each bird was banded, although someone said that one of the plovers there was from Michigan.  Michigan!  It’s so easy to think of Piping Plovers as coastal … our coastal!


Oops !  I had to take a shot at this ibis winging by over the flats.  It was my first day birding in Florida, so I was easily impressed by anything moving and feathered.


Gotta get some Zs sometime:



This is the fashion star.  He was also the most advanced of the group of nine plovers in terms of the onset of breeding plumage:






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Birds are cool!  Lanny     These images and more are available for purchase. Contact me or View store.Birds are cool!  Lanny     These images and more are available for purchase. Contact me or View store.

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Soo 03.17.09 at 2:16 pm

nice job Lan-Greg Braun, ex. dir of AoMC will enjoy this I will send him the site.


Lanny McDowell 03.17.09 at 2:27 pm

Thanks a bunch, Soo. I did not have all the names for all the personalities on that adventure, so I included none.. Did you ever get the story on the origination of the banded birds?


Greg Braun 03.18.09 at 9:33 am

Lanny: Many thanks for your time and good photos of the piping plovers taken during the outing on the flats near St. Lucie Inlet. The photos will be a help as we try to figure out more about the travels, habits and habitats of these birds. I haven’t heard back yet about the banding history of these birds, but will let you know once I hear.

The others survey participants who are in your posted photo are Jim Kearman (foreground) and Bob Matheson (background).

I’m working up a presentation for the Florida Oceanographic Society about our work with the piping plovers. OK to use a couple of your photos – with photo credit, of course?

Greg Braun
Executive Director
Audubon of Martin County


Lanny McDowell 03.18.09 at 1:18 pm

Thanks so much, Greg, especially for providing the names of the guys in the photo. I should add that the woman that piloted the boat to get us out there to the plovers was so nice and so accommodating to the purposes of the trip and deserves credit for putting up with our shenanigans (and navigating!).

Feel free to use my Avian Art photos for the uses you referred to above.


Lanny McDowell 03.18.09 at 4:34 pm

And here is how Greg, who is Greg Pavelka, Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, continued his feedback on the Piping Plovers off Stuart, FL:

Thanks, Lanny. The boat captain that day was Niki Desjardin of Ecological Associates, Inc, and yes, she’s been great to work with.

I haven’t heard back yet about the precise location where the plover you photographed was banded, but here’s an excerpt from the response to my transmittal of your photos:

You saw a relatively rare plover. Of the 8,000 plus piping plovers, a little more than 100 breed along the Great Lakes. I will forward your report and pictures to the University of Minnesota researchers that are studying the Great Lakes plovers. Hopefully they will be able to provide you with additional information as to when and where the plover was banded. It was interesting to see Mr. McDowell’s photo showing the plover molting into the alternate plumage with the black neck band and black band across the head starting to become visible.


Soo 03.18.09 at 5:10 pm

Lanny, if you read my Bird News in the Vineyard Gazette, you will find the Plover was banded in Ludington State Park which is on the Eastern Shore of Lake Michigan.
Susan B. Whiting


Lanny McDowell 03.18.09 at 5:15 pm

How cool is that!!! That’s this Friday’s Gazette. If I weren’t in such a fuss-rush, I would make the Gazette a live link, but gotta move on …………………Vineyard Gazette.


Soo 03.18.09 at 5:26 pm

Yes, very cool. Would love to have been able to read the F&W silver band. Needed a scope and less wind. Will be attending Greg’s presentation and will let you know which photos he used. He is pleased you let him use them.

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