Hit the Seaside With A Shorebird Biologist


The job of defending susceptible seashore birds begins early. By 7 A.M. one morning in late April, Shelby Casas is nearly out the door. The shorebird biologist with Audubon New York checks the climate to substantiate no harmful storms are forecast; she additionally checked out it earlier than mattress final evening. “I verify the climate quite a bit,” she says, laughing. Her bag is filled with the necessities—bug spray, sunscreen, and a discipline be aware­e-book—and he or she tosses in recent fruit and water bottles. After feeding her pets, Casas grabs her favourite automobile breakfast (granola bar and thermos of espresso) and climbs into her Subaru Outback. She could spend hours driving between websites all day. On lengthy journeys, she usually listens to audiobooks—subsequent on her listing is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. This morning she’s heading to a non-public seashore near her condominium, so music will do.

At round 8:30 A.M. Casas parks close to Lengthy Island’s Half Moon Seaside, considered one of eight beachfront nesting websites she and two techni­cians have monitored since March. From the entrance seat she faucets on her smartphone to open NestStory, an app for biologists monitoring chicken nests, and revisits notes from the final go to right here three days in the past (“4 unleashed canine”). Then she checks—yep, you guessed it—the climate, once more; it’s clear. Grabbing her backpack, she loops binoculars round her neck, ideas a recognizing scope over her shoulder, and walks down the slim path to the seashore.

By 9:30 A.M. she’s scanning the sand with binoculars, then walks to the final recognized location of a pair of Piping Plovers close to some string fencing. If she spots them contained in the restricted space—marked by metallic posts linked by string and indicators declaring the realm closed for nesting birds—Casas will watch from a distance. “We wish to trigger the least quantity of disturbance attainable,” she says. If considered one of these monitored birds performs a broken-wing show—a trick to draw the eye of a predator and lure it away from the nest—Casas is aware of she is near the nest.

Shelby Casas and three shorebird field technicians stand on the beach scanning the sand with binoculars.
Casas scans the seashore along with her group of discipline technicians. Picture: Luke Franke/Audubon

Cautiously she strikes forward, ducking below string fencing whereas scanning the bottom for camou­flaged eggs earlier than every step. Aha! She spots two black-spotted tan eggs within the sand. Casas shortly takes a GPS location, then backs away, attempting to reduce her footsteps as crows could use the prints as a crumb path resulting in the eggs. Not good. “You be taught to be quick, out and in,” she says. She watches from afar till the dad and mom resume incubating, then returns to the automobile.

From the entrance seat, at 11 A.M., Casas notes in NestStory that the mated pair may want an additional layer of safety subsequent time she checks on them. Piping Plover par­ents incubate and defend their eggs for about 4 weeks till chicks hatch; throughout this susceptible time foxes, raccoons, and canine are pri­mary threats. To maintain predators out, Casas’s group encircles nests with a chicken-wire exclosure that’s 5 ft huge. Plovers are sufficiently small to navigate the gaps between wires, however their predators aren’t. The shorebird is federally threatened, nevertheless it’s on the endangered species listing for New York (and different Atlantic Coast states), incomes these further layers of safety.

The exclosures could make or break a nest’s success. Final 12 months the group delayed enclosing a nest as a result of Casas was sick; the following day predators destroyed the eggs. She refuses to let that occur once more.

After saving the entry, Casas drives to the following website, Prospect Level. She arrives simply previous midday and repeats the drill: reads by way of the final go to’s notes, checks the climate, steps onto the seashore, and scans for birds. After a detailed research, she concedes that the seashore’s plo­ver pair hasn’t laid eggs but. Immediately is quiet, however come summer season Casas’s crew will keep busy monitoring eggs and fluffy chicks, documenting what number of younger birds survive to fledge—and in the event that they don’t, how they died.

She walks the seashore trying to find indicators of breeding birds, hugging the water’s edge. Seeing Casas’s official Audubon New York gear, an influence walker stops the biologist to ask a query in regards to the fenced-off space. Casas interacts with the bird-curious public usually. “Lots of people take delight in these birds and revel in seeing them,” she says.

She finishes scanning for nesting exercise whereas keeping track of the clouds. Unhealthy climate—a thunderstorm and even an early-season hurricane—may imply further work the following go to to a seashore. Seaweed, trash, and even balloons, weave themselves into the fencing. “That might trigger plenty of harm—birds might get caught in it,” Casas says. She’s going to minimize particles out to stop it from snagging birds, and restore fences as wanted with the mallet she all the time carries in her bag. Happy she missed no birds, she heads again to the automobile.

Casas sits within the entrance seat with NestStory open. It’s 3 P.M.—the tip of a mean discipline day. She provides a be aware about some canine tracks worryingly near the nesting space, then units her cellphone apart. She eases her ft out of her mountaineering sneakers and slips into flip-flops. The day’s work is finished. Tonight she’ll verify the climate and if tomorrow seems to be storm-free, she’ll be again at it, working to guard the seashore’s feathered inhabitants.

Instruments of the Commerce 

Shelby Casas is all the time able to hit the seashore. After monitoring shorebirds for a number of seasons, the shorebird biologist has (virtually) every part she wants in her bag for a day on the sand. Someway, her REI backpack holds all of it: “It’s not my favourite one, however it is vitally sturdy,” she says. Her reliable bag holds the principle gear mandatory for her job: gloves, zip ties, and a mallet to restore fences, along with string and a roll of orange, plastic tape used to focus on the string fencing. Her Vortex binoculars, when not round her neck, stay safely in her backpack. A bit of mesh pouch secures her knife and multitool, “since you by no means know,” she says. In a pinch, Casas makes use of her light-weight towel to dry off after crossing a flooded space—or to wipe off the occasional chicken poop.

Equally essential is the protection gear. She all the time has a primary support package and no less than one Nalgene of water in her bag. Strolling on the sand takes a toll on her knees (delicate from a earlier harm), making a knee brace a clutch accent for lengthy days. And he or she doesn’t skimp on sunscreen, carrying each face and physique sunscreen. “I’ve been engaged on the seashore now for 5 years and sunscreen is essential,” Casas emphasizes. “I’ve gotten extra vigilant because the years have passed by.” Anti-itch cream and hand sanitizer—clear public bogs are uncommon early within the season—spherical out her gear.

This story initially ran within the Summer time 2022 concern. To obtain our print journal, change into a member by making a donation immediately.


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