MiGreatPlaces: Whitefish Point Piping Plover

An international effort involving two colleges, researchers and students, all to protect and preserve a very important part of Michigan’s wildlife.

In tonight’s MiGreatPlaces, Corey Adkins takes you to Whitefish Point where they’re saving the piping plover.

“There is nothing better than waking up and seeing the sunrise on the beach and then walking it all day and watching the sun set at night. It’s a really fun job,” said Algoma student Heather.

These are lifeguards at Whitefish Point, but it’s not the people they’re interested in. She’s protecting the piping plover.

“It’s a really neat bird. It’s kind of one of the coolest shorebirds they seem really intelligent and when you watch them all day you get to know their personalities and they’re very neat.”

And they’re also endangered.

“We have 3 populations of plovers. The Atlantic Coast population, the Great Plains population and we have the Great Lakes population which is the most endangered. We had 66 nesting pairs last year,” explains LSSU Professor Jason Garvon. 

That is why this program is in place to watch over the birds and their eggs. They are small and elusive. Here are some pictures of what they look like. Kind of like a killdeer.

“Basically we have a two mile walk out at vermilion and here it’s one and a half miles and we just walk around looking for the piping plover now that we have nests, we watch and look for incubation changes to if they females is on the nest we come and we wait for the male to take over and we watch for predators and if we see a Merlin or some thing we report it and we look out for people to tell them what to look out for on the beach,” explains Michelle.

Michelle Kane is a student at Lake Superior State University. Heather goes to Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie, Canada. This international project brings the two schools together for a common goal.

“It’s not very often you have undergrad students working with endangered species so we just decided to pull the two together and hire students from both sides,” said Shannon Rowell-Garvon of Algoma University. 

Whitefish Point is the perfect place for the plovers to nest.

Jason explains, “it’s got sand mixed with rock or cobble that intends to make the best nesting habitat. Their eggs as you saw with the shot blend into the rocks and then they are in a really small depression and then the plovers with the rocks flatten down on the nest and they make it really hard to find them, even when we know where they are.”

Today, with their teachers, they are helping the plover by putting this cage over the nest. There was already a smaller cage there but as the nest grows they need more space.

They are amazed at what they see.

“This was exciting there were five eggs on the nest. Jason and I have been doing this seven years and this is the first time we saw five on the nest.”

They make quick work of putting the cage on then quickly retreat, hoping the mom comes back. She does. The group is successful and hope all five eggs hatch.

“We had 66 pairs and 120 chicks so that would be 240 total in there last year, and then a number of them will die in the winter or in transit while they are migrating and so I think last week we had 44 nesting pairs and now we have a few more this week.”

And that’s part of the reason why these birds need to be protected. And you can help be a part of that solution too.

“The simplest thing anyone can do is if you come across an area and you see signs like this and you’ll see twine is to just respect that area. Keeps dogs on leashes especially in that area our monitors should be on the beach talk to them they can offer info, they can show you wants going on or where the birds are.”