Natural Resources, School of

 

Date of this Version

2012

Citation

Brown, M.B., J.G. Jorgensen, and L.R. Dinan. 2012. 2012 Interior Least Tern and Piping Plover Monitoring, Research, Management, and Outreach Report for the Lower Platte River, Nebraska. Joint report of the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership and the Nongame Bird Program of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Lincoln, NE.

Abstract

Preface

This document reports on our monitoring, research, management, and outreach activities during the past 12 months (2012). We prepared it to inform our partners, cooperating agencies, funding sources, and other interested parties of our activities and to provide a preliminary summary of our results.

The data, data analyses, results, summaries, and interpretations found in this document are not final and should be considered as such when being cited or referred to in documents, reports, proposals, or presentations. Please contact us before using any of this material and for additional information that may have become available.

In an effort to make the information in this document more accessible, it is divided into five (5) sections: Introduction, Monitoring, Research, Management, and Outreach.

Introduction:

This section describes the project area and summarizes conditions encountered during the 2012 field season.

Monitoring: This section describes the data we collect every year for basic demographic analysis and includes the number of nests, adults, eggs, chicks, and fledglings found in the focus area. These data are collected and summarized in a form that allows comparison across the range of each species.

Research: This section describes our research objectives, data collection, and data analyses. Management: This section describes our actions to protect Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers and their nests from interference.

Outreach: This section describes our efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers and to promote environmental literacy.

Introduction

The Lower Platte River and its major tributaries provide important nesting habitat for two state and federally protected bird species, the Interior Least Tern (Sternula antillarum athalassos) and Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). The Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership (TPCP), based at the University of Nebraska-School of Natural Resources, and the Nongame Bird Program (NBP), based at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), work cooperatively on Interior Least Tern and Piping Plover monitoring, research, management, and outreach activities in Nebraska. The TPCP and NBP focus on nesting areas along the Lower Platte, Loup, and Elkhorn rivers in the eastern part of the state; however, we also address tern and plover issues across the state and region. Our joint program includes terns and plovers nesting in natural, on-river habitats (midstream river sandbars) and human-created, off-river habitats (sand and gravel mines, dredging operations and lakeshore housing developments). The TPCP leads efforts on the off-river habitats, while the NBP leads efforts on the river habitats.

Focus Animals

The Interior Least Tern (Sternula antillarum athalassos) is the smallest tern found in North America. The species was first described in 1847 from a type specimen collected in Guadeloupe, West Indies (Checklist of the Birds of North America 1998. American Ornithologists’ Union). Meriwether Lewis and William Clark recorded their historical first observation of the Interior Least Tern on 5 August 1804 along the Missouri River in Nebraska, near present day Omaha. Today, the Interior Least Tern is a state and federally listed endangered species (50 Federal Register 21784–21792). It was placed on the Endangered Species List on 27 June 1985, and a Recovery Plan was issued in September 1990. As a result of its listing status the Interior Least Tern is protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act (1973) and the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 37-801-11). A review of the species’ population status is currently being conducted by the USFWS (P. Hartfield, pers. comm.).

The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small, migratory shorebird. The species was first described in 1824 from a type specimen collected in New Jersey (Checklist of the Birds of North America. 1998.American Ornithologists’ Union). Meriwether Lewis and William Clark observed Piping Plovers, and recorded their observations in what became the state of Nebraska, during their 1803–1805 “Voyage of Discovery” across North America. The Piping Plover is a state and federally listed threatened species (50 Federal Register 50726–50734). It was placed on the Endangered Species List on 10 January 1986, and the Northern Great Plains Recovery Plan (which covers plovers in Nebraska) was issued in May 1988. The listing status of this species is managed under the auspices of the Federal Endangered Species Act (1973) and the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 37-801-11). Critical habitat for the Northern Great Plains breeding population was designated in Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota on 11 September 2002 (67 Federal Register 57637). The United States District Court vacated the portion of critical habitat located in Nebraska on 13 October 2005; to date, it has not been reinstated. A review of the species’ population status was completed in 2009 and the recovery plan is currently being re-evaluated (C. Aron, pers. comm.).

Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers are an integral part of the fauna of Nebraska. Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers were among the first birds to be described in Nebraska by western explorers, and were known by Native Americans well before that. Historically, terns and plovers flourished on the sparsely-vegetated midstream sandbars of the Platte, Missouri, Loup, Elkhorn, and Niobrara rivers. However, much of this natural habitat has been lost due to anthropogenic changes in these river systems. The amount of suitable sandbar habitat has been reduced by the presence of invasive plant species, construction of dams and reservoirs, river channelization, bank stabilization, hydropower generation, and water diversion. Terns and plovers frequently nest on human-created habitats that occur outside of the river channel and are created by industrial and commercial activities such as sand and gravel mining, dredging, and construction. This change in nesting habitat from exclusively on-river sandbars to a combination of on- and off-river habitats is the result of the decrease in availability of river habitat and the increase in availability of human-created off-river habitats. Although human-created habitats offer alternative nesting sites during years where river sandbars are limited in availability, they are not likely to provide a suitable long-term substitute for riverine nesting habitat. Broad-scale alterations of the natural river systems that traditionally provided breeding habitat for Interior Least Terns and Piping Plovers have been a major contributor to population declines.

Loss of overwintering habitat also contributed to the decline of both species. Piping Plovers and Interior Least Terns spend about eight months of the year in their overwintering areas. Overwintering habitat for Northern Great Plains Piping Plovers occurs along the southern Atlantic coast from Florida to South Carolina, the Gulf of Mexico from northeastern Mexico to southwestern Florida, and the Bahamas. These overwintering habitats are characterized by wide beaches and a combination of sand flats, mudflats, tide pools, marshes, lagoons, and large inlets. Interior Least Terns spend the winter off-shore and along coasts, bays, estuaries, and river mouths near Central and South America. The principal threats to tern and plover overwintering habitat include habitat loss and degradation, increased residential and industrial development, and natural disasters (i.e., global sea level rise and hurricanes).