What did Hurricane Matthew mean for Great Lakes Piping Plovers?
Hurricane Matthew plowed through much of the winter range of both the Atlantic Coast piping plover population and the Great Lakes piping plover population. Unfortunately there is mounting evidence that plovers wintering in the western Bahamas, specifically Andros, Joulter Cays and the Berry Islands may have been severely impacted by the Hurricane, with just handfuls of birds being seen in locations where hundreds were known to winter previously. It's possible hundreds of plovers may have been killed by the large storm surge that went along with this storm in that area. While a handful of Great Lakes piping plover have been reported from Andros/Joulter Cays over recent years, the large lion's share of these plovers are almost certainly from the Atlantic Coast population. Two Great Lakes plovers known to be wintering on Abaco, somewhat east of the storm's main track are known to have survived the Hurricane.
It's possible that some of these birds may have simply moved during the storm rather than being killed but we will have to wait until subsequent winter surveys or perhaps even the breeding season to really have a good idea what the Hurricane did.
The storm also raced up the Georgia/South Carolina/North Carolina coasts where the majority of Great Lakes plovers winter but I am more hopeful that these birds may have been able to escape inland to miss the possibly lethal storm surge, an option that may have not been available to plovers on the low lying Joulter Cays and Berry Islands. That is precisely what satellite tagged Black-bellied Plovers did during Hurricane Matthew, in fact of 6 tagged BBPL in the track of the storm, all apparently survived.
I have continued to get reports of Great Lakes plovers from the typical SC, GA locations and haven't seen any evidence that the Hurricane was a major blow to our birds in these areas but definitive answers on the full impacts of Hurricane Matthew on the Great Lakes population may not be known until we are able to see what kind of return rates we get in the spring. Of course with our small critically endangered population, even losing a handful of adult plovers could be a real set back.