Cat Island Chain supports four endangered piping plover nests
September 12, 2017
Piping plover. Photo courtesy of Joel Trick.
It’s another groundbreaking year for endangered Great Lakes piping plovers in Lower Green Bay. Four pairs nested at the Cat Island Chain this year, fledging six chicks, just a year after a pair nested at the site for the first time in more than 75 years and successfully fledged three chicks.
Local biologists who monitor the site were surprised at the increase in nesting this season. “Plover activity at the site this year exceeded our expectations,” said Reena Bowman, Wisconsin’s piping plover coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With at least a dozen adult plovers spotted at Cat Islands, this has clearly become an important area for the recovery of the Great Lakes piping plover.”
The plovers are successful thanks to the ongoing partnership among the Service, Wisconsin DNR, Brown County Port, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others to create and manage habitat within the Cat Island Chain. Project partners are actively managing the site for open, sandy areas with small rock cobble and scattered vegetation which provide suitable nesting habitat, as well as extensive shoreline and mudflats which offer abundant opportunities for foraging and food.
Piping plovers once nested on the wide beaches of sand and cobble along the shores of all the Great Lakes. Loss of habitat caused numbers to dip below 20 pairs in the Great Lakes before the small shorebird was listed as endangered in 1986. Green Bay has regularly been an important migratory stopover site for the endangered piping plover, and with the ongoing reconstruction of the Cat Island Chain, the area is now able to support nesting piping plovers. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is currently the only other regular nesting location in Wisconsin.
Since being listed as endangered, conservationists have worked tirelessly to save this rare bird from extinction by preserving and restoring habitat, protecting nesting areas and monitoring the birds’ migrations. In the Great Lakes this season, 76 pairs nested, most of them in Michigan, a significant number for a species that was nearly extirpated by the 1980s.
After nearly 25 years of planning, the Brown County Port and Resource Recovery Department began reconstruction of the Cat Island chain in Lower Green Bay in 2012. During extremely high water levels in the mid-1970s, a series of severe storms during ice breakup resulted in catastrophic erosion and ice damage to the islands. While some of the remnant islands and wetland habitat still remain, the goal of the project is to reconstruct the 272-acre Cat Island Chain that includes a 2.5-mile-long wave barrier. The Army Corps of Engineers will continue to fill the islands over the next 20 to 30 years with clean dredge material from the maintenance of the Green Bay Harbor.
In late June, the Cat Island chicks were banded with leg bands in specific color combinations that help identify and track the birds. This year’s chicks received varying combos of green and orange bands with different colored dots.
The adults migrated in late July, and juveniles departed in early August. Many Great Lakes piping plovers have already been spotted on their wintering grounds in Florida, Georgia and other Gulf and Atlantic Coast states, joining plover populations from the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains. As the birds head south, the Service is asking birdwatchers and others to report any sightings of piping plovers, especially plovers with colored leg bands.
“Each season, we learn more about managing for piping plover habitat. We hope to repeat this success in future years,” mentions Reena Bowman. “The Cat Island Chain represents a unique opportunity to aid in the recovery of the Great Lakes population.”
Because it is an active construction site, the Cat Island Chain is currently closed to the public. Limiting disturbance at the site is also critical for the success of both piping plover and other breeding migratory birds.