Our Portland-based niece and her husband, Kali and Brad Schultz, searched for plovers with me in Alaska. The Russian River, behind, isn’t plover territory, but thrilled us with leaping salmon. (Brad’s long-arm selfie with my phone.)
July 2, 202
Last week I went to Alaska where I didn’t see a single Kolea. That’s because instead of going to remote tundra areas where our plovers spend most of May, June, and July, this visit was a road trip from Anchorage to Homer. And although I enjoyed seeing moose, bears, sandhill cranes, and countless other animals in these human-populated areas, I yearned to see at least one plover.
Signs on Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail explain how to behave when confronted by a moose. I thought such an encounter unlikely. I was wrong. ©Susan Scott
A moose on the trail brought me, on my rented bike, to a screeching halt. ©Susan Scott
I waited until the moose lost interest in me and ambled off into the woods that border urban Anchorage. ©Susan Scott
Near the end of my vacation, a pair of plovers granted my wish. Not Pacific Goldens, but cousins close enough to satisfy my shorebird longing. While walking the beach along the Homer Spit, I had a close encounter with two semipalmated plovers.
Semipalmated means what it sounds like: half a palm. The name comes from the bird’s species name semipalmatus, a Latin term referring to the bird’s partially webbed feet. The bird’s first scientific name, Charadrius, means yellowish bird, (although I don’t see it.)
A clear picture of a semipalmated plover. D. Gordon E. Robertson photo, Creative Commons, Wikipedia.
Compared to Kolea, these plovers are pipsqueaks, even smaller than our Sanderlings, or Hunakai, that run like wind-up toys up and down the beaches with the waves. Semipalmated plovers weigh from 1-to-2-ounces (a CD is about an ounce), are about six inches long, and so well camouflaged that even after Kali pointed the bird out, I still didn’t see it. The plovers’ striking feathers practically disappear against the blacks, browns and whites of the rocky beaches, where they forage for insects, worms, shrimp, and crabs.
My first sighting of a semipalmated plover. This is just feet off the Homer Spit road (sign top left.) ©Susan Scott
Amazingly, these tiny plovers, like most other shorebirds, migrate thousands of miles each year, nesting in summer throughout Canada and Alaska, and wintering in the southern U.S., the Caribbean, and South America. Rarely, a semipalmated plover makes it to Hawaii. One was recorded on eBird this year in March at Puuhonua O Honaunau on the Big Island.
As we continued walking, we apparently got close to the nest, because both parents began flailing about …