|« Return Favor||Upward Bound »|
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Rescuing Piping Plovers
Every year zoo professionals from around the country head to Pellston, Michigan to participate in the Great Lakes Piping Plover restoration program. To help the recovery of this small shorebird, which is endangered in the region, these professionals evaluate abandoned or washed-away nests. Eggs are then salvaged and taken to the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) for artificial incubation of eggs, hand rearing of the chicks and finally the chicks’ release.
This year I was selected to attend this program. I was a little bit apprehensive about heading to northern Michigan to piping plover “camp.” As a city girl, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The closer I got to my departure date, the more nervous I became.
Then the day finally arrived. I packed up my rental car with all the items I needed for the trip: bug spray, bed linens, sunscreen, snacks, etc. I waved goodbye to my family and began my journey to UMBS. It sounds a bit dramatic, but a week “in the woods” was a really big deal for me. But I was determined to do it!
About five hours into my seven-hour drive, my GPS device died, and the car charger didn’t work. No problem, I thought; I’ll just call my husband along the way to make sure I was on track. That would’ve worked smashingly, but I had no cell phone signal.
One of my favorite quotes, and something I try to live by, is by Susan Rice: “Be prepared, more prepared than the next person." So, just as I’m fearing this is a sign of a bad trip to come, I pull out the map I printed before I left and began navigating the rest of the way.
I arrived just in time for my first piping plover chick feeding. Five chicks that were 6 days old were waiting for their 6 p.m. blackworm and insect feeding. The best way to describe the chicks is grayish cotton balls running around on toothpick legs; very cute, to say the least.
My six days were filled with feeding chicks, checking incubators, watching immature bald eagles venture further from their nest, listening to loons calling to each other, waiting for the Caspian tern to fly by the beach at the same time every day, watching thirteen-lined ground squirrels scurry about, listening to red squirrels vocalize while being chased by nesting grackles and laughing with my piping plover campmates about all our different zoo experiences. Since the piping plovers we were caring for will be released later this summer, we all had a great sense of accomplishment as we watched them grow and reach new developmental milestones.
I made my way home after six days there. It was hard to say goodbye to the clean air, the growing chicks and my new friends. Next year, while packing my rental car, I won’t be filled with apprehension. Instead, there will be excitement and eagerness to meet new colleagues and reunite with old friends. And of course, I will be ready to help the next generation of plovers get ready for their first migration and subsequent return to the Great Lakes!
Sunny Nelson is Lincoln Park Zoo’s zoological manager of birds.