Plett Plover Lover 

Published: April 8th, 2021

Plett Plover Lover

Lookout beach is a dreamy part of our coast, with beautifully creamy beaches on which to laze away the day.

The ebb of the waves flow into a vast expanse of clear and open water as far as the eye can see and even further still… a dream really; the embodiment of the perfect summer by the sea, wrapped up in seashells, shorebirds, and suntan lotion. For me, this particular beach opens the door to my longing heart, reminiscent of all the summer days spent with friends and family, toes in the sand.

The days are becoming shorter; the sun wakes later and rests earlier. Sunny, hot days at the beach are becoming few and far between. The turn of the season is upon us and, with this, the end to another shorebird breeding season approaches too fast.

As a young conservation scientist hoping that for these 6 months of the year, I can bring change and perhaps prosperity to our White-fronted Plover population, my visits to Lookout beach often leave me more disheartened than the time before.

Today we completed about 70 field hours on Lookout beach for the 2020/2021 breeding season, surveying, and monitoring White-fronted Plover breeding success. Thus far a 6.5% success rate – that is, for every 100 eggs laid only about 7 will fledge.

Of course, this is not the final count, as we are very hopeful for the 2 eggs still nestled in the sand and 2 chicks that are still running around on the sandy shores but concerning indeed! Even if these 4 fledge the success rate will only be pushed up to about 14%. A more normal success rate for shorebirds would be closer to 35% – at Nature’s Valley beach we are currently sitting at 23% with six more chicks anxiously waiting for fledge day – resulting in possible breeding success of 43%.

The reasons for this low breeding success on the Lookout peninsula are multi-faceted; a mixed pot of natural and human impacts that culminate into a harsh and stressful life. Flooding and predation are significant on the peninsula but disturbance by humans and dogs is not to be ignored.

White-fronted plover defense mechanisms are interesting and almost always result in the parent leaving their eggs to lead disturbance away from their eggs or chicks. This is the perfect window for eggs to overheat and die or be predated. Disturbance of an incubating parent can cause egg death in mere minutes or allow predation of defenseless eggs or chicks in seconds.

Their reaction is also more severe when dogs are enjoying the beach with us – they will leave their eggs sooner and spend more time using their tactics to lure us away, increasing time spent off the eggs.

With kilometers of dog-friendly beaches on Keurbooms and Robberg beach, I ask myself why there were so many dogs on Lookout this morning? I do not have an answer. For things to change a little, we must all do our bit. This may mean taking your dog to a different beach, especially from August to February each year. It is worth it to see these birds flourish on our coast and I promise you, your dog won’t care.

In a world where so much is against our shorebirds, can we not be for them?