The Cape to Cape Explorer Tours team is helping to monitor endangered Hooded Plovers this season on the Cape to Cape Track. These charismatic shore birds are listed as critically endangered. But the Margaret River region and the 124km Cape to Cape Track is an important habitat for them. And, you can help too by following some simple tips to ensure breeding and nesting Hooded Plovers have every chance of successfully rearing young.

Monitoring Hooded Plovers and recording sightings

Our guides will be working with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) to record any sightings of Hooded Plovers. We’ve done our training just in time for the for the final part of the current breeding season. And we’ll be raring to go come next spring. Hooded Plovers usually nest in a simple scrape of sand about the size of a footprint, just above the high tide mark on beaches. But due to a range of potential threats to eggs and young chicks, many Hooded Plover pairs struggle to successfully rear their young. These threats include vehicles and four wheel driving, dogs, feral cats, foxes, foot traffic, natural predators like snakes and birds of prey, and large swells. The sightings and recordings made by our guides add to an extremely valuable database of information. It’s used to shape and guide conservation action.

Hikers can also help hooded plover conservation

We brief all our Cape to Cape Track hikers about how they can help the plight of Hooded Plovers. Plover eggs and chicks are incredibly well camouflaged and are sometimes difficult to see. And they can be easily trodden on! For this reason, we always urge hikers to tread carefully on beaches. And to walk lower down the beach towards the water where possible. DBCA and the hoodie volunteers are usually pretty quick at getting signage erected. And these signs contain good information about minimising your impact.

Other Hooded Plover tips for hikers on the Cape to Cape Track

It’s also important not to approach Hooded Plovers during breeding season as they can become stressed if incubating eggs or raising young chicks. Newborn chicks look like adorable little fluffballs on two sticks. But they’re unable to fly away from predators for their first 35 days. All they can do is crouch and try to blend in with clumps of seaweed. You’ll note some nesting sites are roped off during breeding times. They’re also regularly monitored by dedicated volunteers as part of a monitoring program with Birdlife Australia and DBCA. If you come across one of these sites while hiking, feel free to check them out from a distance. But it’s important to stay outside the roped area.

A real privilege seeing hoodies in their natural habitat

The birdlife on the Cape to Cape Track is a real teat for nature lovers. And it’s always special seeing Hooded Plovers, with their bright red legs and distinctive black hooded markings. Our guide Andrew Green has been a part of the dedicated monitoring team for several years and has a wealth of experience with hoodies. He says: “When I first did my shorebird monitoring training, I came to realise just how vulnerable Hooded Plovers are. This is a bird that spends maybe only fifteen minutes building a simple nest. It lays its eggs right out in the open amongst a myriad of threats. And then when a threat does present itself, rather than swoop or screech like other birds, it simply bobs its head up and down and runs away. It’s surprising that they have survived this far.”

Facing new threats after living in balance for thousands of years

Andew goes on to say: “They do however occasionally put in a bit of extra defensive effort and it’s quite an amazing thing to see. In some situations they will lure perceived predators away from nests and chicks by pretending to be an easy meal. They do a bizarre ‘broken wing dance’ in the hope that the predator will attack them rather than the egg or chick. And once they’ve enticed the predator far enough away, they swiftly take to the air and leave them standing. 

“Hooded Plovers would have lived in balance with their predators for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Now that there are a whole new suite of threats for them to deal with, it’s really important that the level of public awareness is as high as possible. And that the quality of the research data is strong. Having Cape to Cape Explorer Tours guides out on beaches regularly checking breeding locations, recording data, and alerting the relevant land managers to breeding events that need their attention, is going to give a real boost to the survival chances of these adorable birds.

“No one who spends a decent amount of time monitoring Hoodies is able to resist their incredible charms. They are just such an adorably laid-back, tough-as-nails, stunningly beautiful little creature. And it takes very little time to fall head over heels in love with them. Especially when you’ve been along for the ride through some of their highs and lows. When they do finally manage to fledge a chick, as happened with the breeding pairs at Margaret Rivermouth and Boodjidup Beach recently, you find yourself congratulating the proud parents, out loud, with much enthusiasm, while they just bob their heads up and down at you in return!” Nice work Andrew – happy hoodie spotting!

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