The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small shorebird that has threatened or endangered status throughout its range (USFWS 1988; Haig 1992; Thompson et al. 1997). The species is distinguished from other, smaller plovers by a single black neck band that is present during the breeding season and a short, stout bill (orange during breeding), pale gray back and wings, white belly, and orange legs (Figure 1-4). The name “piping” refers to the bird’s distinctive flute-like vocalizations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) collect and maintain data on plover nesting. Methods used to monitor plovers in the Platte River are the same as or similar to those used by biologists elsewhere in the range of this species in North America. Protocols for monitoring breeding pairs, estimating productivity, and reporting results have been formalized.1 Since the Northern Great Plains (NGP) population was listed, Platte River nesting records have been consistently collected and maintained.
The general method used to obtain estimates of breeding pairs throughout the piping plover range is to walk toward potential nest habitat or approach it by boat (Plissner and Haig 2000). Potential habitat is identified on the basis of historical records (plovers are very site-faithful if habitat is suitable) and knowledge of habitat characteristics. In the central Platte, USFWS and NGPC biologists obtain estimates by using an airboat (Erika Wilson, USFWS, pers. comm., July-September 2003; John Dinan, NGPC, pers. comm., May-September 2003); they do not go on the land, because some of it is private property. At sandpits and Lake McConaughy, monitors approach plover habitat on foot (Mark Peyton, CNPPIR, pers. comm., September 2003; Jim Jenniges, Nebraska Public Power District, pers. comm., May-August 2003). USFWS’s surveys by river use two observers and are conducted in May and early June, depending on river conditions. At potential habitat sites, the monitors stop and check the landscape with a telescope and record the presence or absence of plovers. Monitors also record the Global Positioning System (GPS) location of the site. If plovers are present, the number of individual birds is counted, and their behavior in riverine habitat is recorded. Plovers typically vocalize and are usually visible to monitors because of their flight or rapid movements on the ground. If monitors are close to a nest, plovers may perform “broken-wing