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By Rebekah Persad, Ontario Piping Plover Technician, Birds Canada

Piping Plover chick Photo: Neal Mutiger

Beaches may have been closed to the public for much of the summer, but that didn’t stop Piping Plovers from returning! This is the 14th consecutive season that plovers have returned to breed in Ontario. In that time, hundreds of people have supported plovers in too many ways to count – and one of the great pleasures we have at Birds Canada is working with many of those people. We wanted to introduce you to some of them!

Meet Don Kennedy, who’s often the first to sight plovers at Sauble Beach in Ontario; Elizabeth Steadman whose research is providing insights into plover habitats; and Stephanie Schubel, who works hands-on with plovers in the States.

Don Kennedy Photo: Peter Middleton

Don Kennedy is a long-term resident and one of Sauble Beach’s most dedicated plover supporters. After working as an engineer and within community service, Don retired, but he wouldn’t be bored! In 2007, he was swept up in the excitement of a Piping Plover being spotted at Sauble Beach. That season a pair of plovers nested: the first nest in Ontario in 30 years. He quickly became involved with the local plover groups and offered consistent monitoring for the birds, because in his opinion, “it’s simply a great hobby.” He continues to monitor these birds for many reasons. “After 13 years, I’ve observed a lot and it’s been very rewarding personally. This year is a COVID challenge – there’s very little beach and it’s closed, but the birds are back.”

Elizabeth Steadman Photo: Anna Sheppard

Elizabeth Steadman, a Master’s student at Trent University, became involved with plovers for a different reason. Elizabeth worked at Presqu’ile Provincial Park in Ontario and was introduced to the birds by coworkers and mentors. Her summers of monitoring nests led to the pursuit of a Master’s degree centered on the birds….and on bugs (PLOVER FOOD!). She has collected and identified over 10,000 microscopic insects from shorelines and watched thousands of hours of chick behaviour. Elizabeth hopes her project will advance knowledge of Ontario beach habitats and promote plover friendly management practices. “Your journey into beach conservation and the birding community could begin similar to mine, with an outdoor adventure and the patience to observe what others may overlook.”

Stephanie Schubel Photo: Megan Diamond

Stephanie Schubel has been working with Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes for 14 years! She first became interested in plovers as a student at the University of Michigan Biological Station. She monitored nests in Northern Michigan and shortly after, began work with University of Minnesota Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team. She is now the head bander and field lead.

Stephanie believes that habitat protection is necessary to ensure plovers successfully breed and fledge chicks, but education is also a large part of that. “By educating the public we are able to create more awareness of the plight of the Piping Plover which in turn helps encourage others to get involved. It is especially helpful to educate the public about their local wildlife, which helps them connect to the environment where they live and motivates them to protect it.”

Stephanie also believes that a collaboration between agencies, states, and nations helps achieve the recovery goals for these species, along with the action of individuals. “It’s important to educate others of the Piping Plovers presence and encourage the public to share the beaches: give plovers a little space and keep dogs on leashes or off beaches. It’s crucial to continue to identify and promote conservation of Great Lakes Piping Plover breeding and wintering habitat.”

Big thanks to Don, Elizabeth, and Stephanie for sharing their insights and passion for the Piping Plovers! We also want to thank all the many volunteers and supporters who are involved in Piping Plover conservation each season. The program and the plovers would not be a success without your continued support.

Birds Canada would also like to thank Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation for providing support to the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program.

Rebekah Persad recently graduated from Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo. She has worked with Piping Plovers in Atlantic Canada, and shorebirds in James Bay. We’ve been thrilled to have her assisting the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program this season, and wish her the best of luck this fall as she begins her Master’s studies. 

Rebekah Persad Photo: Erica Nol