Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Salt Plains NWR Snowy Plover Survey
Southwest Region, May 9, 2013
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Adult Snowy Plover on the Salt Flats.
Adult Snowy Plover on the Salt Flats. - Photo Credit: Glen Hensley / USFWS
Newborn Snowy Plover chicks in their nest on the Salt Flats.
Newborn Snowy Plover chicks in their nest on the Salt Flats. - Photo Credit: Glen Hensley / USFWS

In 2012, a range-wide survey effort for snowy plovers was published in the Journal of the Waterbird Society by Susan M. Thomas, et al., including several USFWS employees. In the published paper an estimated 42% of the entire North American breeding population of snowy plovers was located at two sites (Great Salt Lake, Utah, and Salt Plains NWR, Oklahoma). Approximately 76% (5,280 birds) of the breeding population within the Shortgrass/Mixed-grass Prairies Bird Conservation Regions, including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, was located at Salt Plains NWR.

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) and the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan (USSCP) Council developed a questionnaire to: 1) determine the current knowledge of WHSRN and shorebirds at designated sites in the U.S., 2) assess the perceived value of being a WHSRN site, and 3) determine how sites can be assisted by WHSRN and the USSCP Council in regards to technical assistance for shorebird conservation, education and outreach, etc.. As a WHSRN site of regional importance, Salt Plains NWR was contacted in October, 2012, to complete the questionnaire, in which a request was made for help developing a survey protocol for snowy plovers at the refuge.

A coordinated effort began between National Shorebird Coordinator, Brad Andres, Patuxent Wildlife Biologist, James Lyons, Region 2 Non-game migratory bird biologists, Bill Howe and Dan Collins, Inventory and Monitoring biologists, Bill Johnson and Paige Schmidt, former Region 6 Migratory bird biologist, Suzanne Fellows, and Salt Plains NWR staff, Barry Smart and Glen Hensley, to develop a survey protocol for the refuge based on the spatial sampling survey done in 2007 and 2008 as part of the published range-wide effort. Input was also sought from other refuge biologists that deal with snowy plovers within the vicinity, Rachel Laubhan - Quivera NWR, Jeff Sanchez - Bitter Lake NWR, and Murray Laubhan - Region 6 I&M biologist. A simple random spatial survey protocol was designed using the same 9 hectare grid cells developed in 2007. 100 out of 668 possible grid cells were randomly selected to be surveyed to represent the salt flats of the refuge.

USFWS staff from Bitter Lake NWR, Buffalo Lake NWR, Washita NWR, Region 2 I&M, Salt Plains NWR, along with volunteers managed to survey 98 out the 100 randomly selected cells. A total of 745 individual snowy plovers were observed during the survey. Following population estimate methods from Thomas et al. 2012, an estimated population of 5,078 birds was calculated for the salt flats of the refuge by I&M biologist Paige Schmidt. ATVs used to transport surveyors during the survey were provided by Deep Fork NWR, Ozark Plateau NWR, Oklahoma Ecological Services Office, Bitter Lake NWR, Washita NWR, and Salt Plains NWR.

Contact Info: Barry Smart, 580-626-4794, barry_smart@fws.gov
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