August 13, 2009

Rising waters threaten shoreline birds

By Matt Hopper

Imagine a partially submerged sandbar. Sporadic sprouts of green blades break the monotony of brown, muddied sand. While cruising by on a fishing boat, squint the eyes real hard. Count as many cotton-balled bodies with toothpick legs as possible in the time that the boat roars past. Give up? Most people would. Spotting hatchling least terns and piping plovers is no easy task. They’re cute and cuddly up close, but off-limits for all but a few hard-working professionals trying to rescue the dwindling species. Piping plovers are currently on the nation’s threatened species list and the interior least tern is endangered. Native since early Lewis and Clark expeditions, modern day technology and flooding hasn’t been too kind to the birds. Rising waters on Lake Sakakawea have hurt the shoreline/sandbar populations while simultaneously pushing the danger downstream. As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the northern based water flow, they’re doing their part to save as many of the existing birds as possible. The task seems contradictory but many factors play into the rise and fall of the river. One outing with a Corps crew is example enough of their determination to get both birds off the threatened lists. Posting signs, caging eggs and marking nests are just a few actions taken to restore hundreds of the animals. "Plovers came back around April and the terns were spotted late May, early June," said natural resource specialist Mike Morris. Morris works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed at Riverdale. He and his crew are one of many making a mad dash this season to track both birds. "We GPS every nest so that we can upload and download information regarding each spot daily," said Morris. "We have access to where every nest is located. Since we control the flow of water through the Missouri we try to minimize the impact to these birds."

The Weather Network