It isn't often that you get a life bird... and maybe save a life (or lives) at the same time. Only time will tell all of the story; all I have -- and it's more than enough for me -- is my little part of it.
I went down to the Sandy Hook area of Gateway National Park today since (a) it's the weekend, (b) the weather is good and (c) I am soooooooo tired of being stuck indoors. And found just about nothing. A definitely UNbirdy day. None of the warblers I had expected. Few predators (an osprey overhead was about it). Not even a lot of gulls. It may have been in part because there was a beach cleanup underway and the birds were staying undercover. But definitely NOT a good bird day.
I grabbed some nature shots as I walked, and had just about decided to leave when I reached the end of one trail. To my right was the Fisherman's Trail -- a trail I often decide not to take because it's long, it's entirely soft sand (so it's hard to walk on) and it's not terribly often that there's much good at the other end. But I ran into another photographer (Canon 400 f5.6 on a 40D) and she said there were piping plovers on the beach.
Piping plovers! A life bird for me! And an endangered species here in New Jersey. Off I went down the trail. I didn't find the plovers right away when I got to the water. I might not have found them at all had it not been for a pair of birders who waved me over and pointed out a single plover.
I watched and took pictures from a distance for a while. The birders left as I was trying carefully to move closer. And closer. And closer. And on my belly wriggling closer even. (My admiration for those who do that as a matter of routine. I'm covered with sand.) I moved around taking shots from different angles, a little surprised that the bird didn't move.
Another plover flew in and I got shots of that one too.
And that's when it hit me. (I'm a little slow at times.)
This wasn't just a pair of plovers. This was a pair of NESTING plovers.
Just about the time that dawned on me, the plover on the nest moved out of the nest and I could see that there were at least two eggs in the nest.
I started to move slowly away, grabbing one last shot as the plover got back on the nest and gazed down at the eggs.
As I backed away, I realized there was a problem: this nest was outside the area set aside by the park service for the protection of endangered nesting birds. It was out in the open in an area where fishermen tramp through on their way to and from the fishing beach, where kids and their parents walk to and from the beach to gaze out at New York City on the other side of the bay. I grabbed for my cellphone... no service out there.
I marked the nest in a way that I hoped the rangers could find it but wouldn't call attention to it by others, took a photo of the location to help the rangers, and hightailed it back to the car as fast as I could. Got to the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory, got the ranger number from them and then met the ranger who responded. I offered to go with him and the bird expert to the nest but he was confident they'd find it from the photo I showed them.
The nest will be fenced off so people don't go near it. Don't know if this little plover family will make it. But it sure feels good knowing I did what I could to give them a chance.