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A Plover Story of Survival and Long-distance Travel

In 2019 a Piping Plover chick hatched near Sleeping Bear Point in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It was one of several to hatch in that area. Without the identifying bands put on its legs when it was about a week old it would look the same to us as any other young Piping Plover and we wouldn’t know its individual story. It was given a yellow band on each lower leg and an orange band with a blue dot above the joint in its leg. On one of the yellow bands was the number 324. The nest its parents established was clearly a long shot to succeed. With the water levels on Lake Michigan at a high point in their cycle (the last time water was this high was in the mid-1980s) nesting habitat was limited and their nest was in a flood-prone location.

During a storm on May 20 the water crept up to within inches of the eggs. It fell to me to crawl through the water to carefully remove the eggs and temporarily replace them with fake eggs. The eggs were placed in an incubator until the storm abated and the water receded. The adults incubated the fake eggs overnight then accepted back their real eggs in the morning.

After that close call the nest remained dry until June 13, just before the expected hatch date. Once again a strong storm from the north threatened to flood the nest. It was a brutally cold, wet and windy day. Two of us took six-hour shifts watching the water level at the nest and measuring its rise. Although it came close, the nest didn’t flood, and the eggs hatched a few days later on June 16. Hours after the chicks hatched they, like all Piping Plover chicks, were mobile and no longer at the mercy of rising water.

The chicks grew quickly and by July 8 were able to fly. The chick with a blue dot was last seen at Sleeping Bear Dunes on July 28.

On November 15th we received exciting news from the Yucatan Peninsula! The blue-dot chick had been seen and photographed on November 14th at Punta Mosquito, Isla Holbox, Mexico. Very few Great Lakes Piping Plovers migrate that far west for the winter. Thank you to Barbara MacKinnon, Francisco Cab and Eduardo Pacheco Cetina from Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna de Yum Balam who sent an email to with the report and this photo.

Best wishes, little bird. Hope to see you back in the Great Lakes in the summer of 2020.

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