Black-Bellied Plover at the Beach

An itch to go outside and bird on a sunny if moderately windy afternoon in late July 2016 led me to this solitary Black-Bellied Plover on the shores of Boundary Bay Regional Park. My subject was sporting worn breeding plumage and keeping company with a solitary gull. Neither one was the least spooked by my presence. BBPLs are the largest [migratory] plovers to visit North American shores during the spring and fall migration periods. When they are dressed in their breeding best, their white crowns remind me of the powdered wigs that privileged males of European nobility and the wealthy elite wore centuries ago. A stunning attire of black and white -- white crowns, coupled with white rumps, speckled gray-and-black back and wing feathers, black faces, black flanks, black bellies, and black legs -- makes these plovers easy to spot from a distance.


the BBPL sports a solid black face and belly during breeding season in the Arctic. this fellow is in the process of shedding that striking plumage for his (much more muted) winter wear © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved


Though they may associate with other shorebirds--including gulls, other plover species, and sandpipers--Black-Bellied Plovers are usually found in large flocks. To find a single individual is highly unusual. Also, Black-Bellied Plovers are generally quite skittish around humans, and getting closeups of them is almost as difficult as getting a closeup of Caspian Terns. This is not my first encounter with a BBPL--I photographed a small flock in breeding plumage in April 2016, albeit from 200-250 feet away--but it is my closest.


both these shots were taken from about 40-50 feet away ... which is close for a BBPL. their legendary skittishness was notably absent in this solo act. © W.H. Sim, All Rights Reserved


That this solo act even tolerated my presence was remarkable in itself; I slowly approached it out in the open from 200 feet away and in broad daylight, and there was nothing to camouflage me from it on the beach. I can only surmise that the gull didn't consider me a threat, and that comfort level was telegraphed to the Black-Bellied Plover. Still, that legendary reputation for wariness around strangers has helped keep BBPL numbers strong when many other (shore)bird populations have seen significant declines over the years. Learn more about the Black-Bellied Plover by visiting their Cornell Lab of Ornithology profile here

Published by Hui Sim


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