21 April 2017

BO:X,g, aka Old Man Plover...what a stud!

I completed our most recent waterfowl/shorebird survey on Bulls Island last Friday 14 Apr. I was going to write about how most of the ducks have flown (only a very few Blue-winged Teal and Bufflehead remain), how shorebird migration was showing both winter holdovers (Short-billed Dowitcher and Dunlin) and spring migrants (Piping Plover, see more below), and about all the summer resident species showing up like Gull-billed Tern, Least Tern, Black Skimmer, Least Bittern, Black-necked Stilt, Orchard Oriole, and Great-crested Flycatcher. 

I was going to write about all that, but the news from Michigan that I received on Thursday 13 Apr 2017 kept distracting me from that task. I've written about the banded Piping Plover BO:X,g (a.k.a. Old Man Plover) many times on my blog. I thought it appropriate to dedicate this report to him in celebration of a will and determination that I, for one, would do well to emulate.

My records indicate that I first recorded BO:X,g on Bulls Island on Fri 19 Oct 2012, though he may well have been spending time on Bulls before then. Usually avoiding humanizing their banded birds ("BO:X,g" is the banding code indicating both the location and color of leg bands), and by then already 10 years old, BO:X,g had so endeared himself to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore banders, lead by Alice Van Zoeren, that they dubbed him "Old Man Plover" because of both his age and his proven ability to fledge chicks. 

BO:X,g hatched in 2002, and began breeding in 2005, at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Michigan's upper coast of Lake Michigan, and he returns there every year for what has become very successful breeding.  At least since 2012 he spends most of his year here on Bulls island showing very high site fidelity for the North Beach or the oceanfront saltwater marsh at Jack's Creek (only a couple of hundred meters apart, actually). 

On 18 Nov 2016 we found BO:X,g in some distress with what appeared to be a woody stem of vegetation firmly stuck beneath at least one of his left leg bands. He was actively probing the sand as in a feeding motion, but constantly "favored" his left leg by keeping it tucked up high. He did not seem to be in specific or obvious pain from this encumbrance but did distinctly favor his left leg as though it was bothersome at a minimum. Look closely directly beneath his tail in this photo for a thin dark line that is the offending impediment.

Photo by Kent Bedenbaugh.

By our next survey on 3 Dec 2016 BO:X,g appeared to have shed the offending stick. He was, however, still favoring that left leg. He appeared to hold it off the ground some but I could still see his foot rather than having his foot fully withdrawn under his ventral feathers. He did seem to use the "sore" leg in walking but seemed to hold up that leg when standing still.

The next report that we had on BO:X,g came from Melissa Bimbi from her 27 Jan 2017 survey on Bulls when she photographed him having lost all of his left toes, having lost the Orange leg band (the "O" in his banding label), and left with a stumpy left leg. He likely underwent an autologous amputation of his toes due to injuries likely sustained from the impediment stuck under his bands that caused an abrasion, a lesion, or perhaps a blood flow constriction.

Photo by Melissa Bimbi.

By 18 Feb 2017 BO:X,g was still on the North Beach with other Piping Plovers and was seen actively walking and feeding albeit with a slight stutter step due to his toe loss.

I saw Old Man Plover on our 30 Mar 2017 survey. I reported to the Michigan bander Alice Van Zoeren "Old Man Plover looks like he's getting ready to migrate. By that I mean that his colors are brightened, he looks plump, and he seems little affected by his foot loss. At one point I watched him stand on his stubbed leg and scratch at the sand 2 times with his one remaining foot; he seems to have adapted well, considering." 

Ron R posted a comment on my blog "Old Man is currently (April 11-12 2017) on the beach at Port Dover, Ontario. Still hobbling but otherwise appears quite healthy." 

On Thursday 13 Apr 2017 I received this from Alice: 

"He has arrived!!!! Sleeping Bear Plover crew lead went out to check this morning and there he was! ...on the exact same arrival date as the past two years." She sent along this photo-proof of his presence."

Photo from Alice Van Zoeren.

Here is what Old Man Plover looked like on Fri 15 Apr 2017:

Photo from Alice Van Zoeren.

What a stud! He survived a serious injury and an autologous toe loss. He recovered enough to migrate, right on schedule, all the way back to his breeding grounds in Michigan. I'll not be betting against him successfully fledging a new brood or against him returning to Bulls Island this fall. I'm looking forward to updates from Michigan and to seeing Old Man Plover once again on Bulls Island. I think that he'll make it back.

Oh, about spring migration of other Piping Plovers…Bulls Island is not only a winter residence for several Piping Plovers, it is also a migration stopover for other Piping Plovers. On 7 July 2016 I recorded a Piping Plover bearing bands O,YG:X,O, aka "Bahama Mama." From Alice Van Zoeren, "Exciting news. This is our first report of the 2016-17 non-breeding season! The plover you saw is known as 'Bahama Mama'. She breeds at Muskegon, MI and winters in the Bahamas. She and her mate lost all three of the chicks they hatched this summer so apparently she has no reason to stay up north. She hatched at Ludington, MI in 2013 and was given her unique band combination in the Bahamas when she was trapped there in 2015." On last Friday's survey (14 Apr 2017) I recorded "Bahama Mama" again as she apparently stopped over on her spring migration. Again from Alice Van Zoeren, "I'll let the monitors at Muskegon, MI to watch for her [Bahama Mama] return. It's always useful...and very fun...to get report of plovers in migration. Last year she stopped through NC along her way." 

"You can help us out by spreading the word about sending reports of banded Piping Plovers to plover@umn.edu or to any of the other plover research groups or to BBL. Banded birds are doing a service to their species by letting us understand their habitat needs and other aspects of their lives in order to better protect them. We can only learn how to help them if people report sightings." [From Alice Van Zoeren.] See also: https://www.waterbirds.umn.edu/piping-plovers/reporting.

Looking ahead at the tidal calendar suggests the following dates to consider for our next survey:

Fri 28 Apr 2017 5.4 ft high tide forecast at 10:02 AM
Sat 29 Apr 2017 5.2 ft high tide forecast at 10:56 AM


P.S. I'm reminded of a poem by D. H. Lawreance:

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.


  1. Great information.
    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice follow up on BO:X,g. I'm still amazed at him. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for this great post!