Piping Plovers of New Jersey
Piping Plovers are about as charismatic as shorebirds get -- they're small, fast, fluffy, and just downright adorable. Unfortunately, they are now pretty rare, listed as endangered in the state of New Jersey. Despite this, and due to some great protections put in place at the Jersey Shore, they can be found, and using a gentle approach, can yield close encounters. I had a great chance to watch a couple grow up this summer, from tiny little fluff balls, to full blown juveniles.
The first one I encountered honestly looked like a cotton ball sprinting across the sand (pictured below). These birds are always on the move, but none more than the chicks. It was consistently hard to keep a good sun angle with them as all these shots were taken laying down in the sand and I didn't want to scare them off by moving.
A couple weeks later, these tiny birds had grown a lot! About half of their feathers had begun to take form and show proper shading. At this point, the birds seemed a bit more comfortable and a bit more willing to explore past mom and dad. Here is one strutting around. Note the crawfish just in front of the bird for scale.
While the chicks were exploring, mom and dad were keeping a watchful eye on them, as well as grabbing some morsels to eat as well. I found that after about an hour of laying on the ground the birds wouldn't pay me any attention and would just ignore me. It was so cool being seeing the world as they do and having these small, seemingly fragile birds move about as if I wasn't there.
A couple weeks later still, the chicks had more of less completely lost their 'fluffy' feathers as seen below. They were just as eager to continue exploring however and seemingly always had one foot in the air in every picture I took.
On my last visit with the plovers one of the parents took a special interest in me and walked to about 6 feet of me, right up to the minimum focusing distance of my lens. It was such a treat to be so close to one, and you can even see some reflection in the plover's eye. It's hard to imagine a better experience than that.
While I only spent a couple mornings with these birds, it became one of the highlights of my 2017. It's always a privilege to have birds essentially ignore you and allow you to witness their behavior unaltered, and it's even more of a treat when it's a rare bird. I'm looking forward to the summer of 2018 and hoping I can put together some more frames of these shorebirds.