By Nikki Muench
Summertime in the Bay Area: tourists visiting from other states and countries flock to San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore, bundled in newly purchased fleece jackets from The North Face, and questioning why the Northern California beaches are foggy, cold and windy. As a volunteer Snowy Plover Docent at Point Reyes, I answer many visitor questions all summer long during my shifts, in addition to talking about a petite, federally threatened shorebird that inhabits the large beaches of the park.
The Western Snowy Plover, a small, sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird, has been listed as a federally threatened species since 1993, with more recent population estimates for the Pacific Coast hovering below 2,500 individual birds. Point Reyes is of particular interest in recovery efforts due to the fact that the wide, miles-long beaches are prime nesting grounds during the plovers’ summer breeding season. This also means that the breeding season (when the birds, their eggs and chicks are particularly vulnerable to disturbance, abandonment and predation) is when many more people are visiting the beaches in Point Reyes and may not see the highly camouflaged birds and their nests.
The Snowy Plover is one of two endangered bird species among the 490 species that inhabit the National Seashore, so I wanted to share some of the common interactions I have had with visitors to encourage more people to be bird-friendly beach-goers at Point Reyes.
- Dogs are one of the more common conversations all docents have at Point Reyes beaches, understandably because visitors want to bring their dogs to the beaches to play and run around. Dogs are not allowed anywhere off leash in the park, and are only allowed on select beaches. The best ways dog owners can be great visitors to Point Reyes are to: A. Know which beaches allow dogs; B. Always have dogs on a 6-foot leash; and C. Remind off-leash dog owners that dog needs to be on a leash at all times, or share observances of off-leash dogs with a volunteer, park ranger or law enforcement officer.
- Temporary beach closures are in effect from Memorial Day through Labor Day every summer, designating people- and dog-free areas of beaches where the plovers can breed, nest, and raise their chicks undisturbed. The best way to help maintain these areas is to read and respect the signs along roped off sections of beach. These sections are typically in dry sand sections of beach toward the dunes, so we encourage visitors who might take walks in the wet sand to maintain awareness of those roped off sections or stop signs.
Volunteer docents are on the beaches every weekend day, and help support the important work of Matt Lau, the resident plover biologist at Point Reyes National Seashore. These volunteers, wearing red vests and typically hosting information tables at beach entrances throughout the park, are there to talk about the snowy plover and answer questions that visitors might have, so I encourage you to stop by their tables and say hi. In addition to staffing information tables, docents have opportunities to do beach walks and collect disturbance data while observing a parent incubating a nest. Anyone can volunteer as a docent to help educate the public about this species and help support recovery efforts in the park!