Years of Pacific Golden-Plover in my 5MR
This is the story of Pacific Golden-Plover in my 5MR. Pacific Golden-Plovers have been occasionally reported in eBird on Dockweiler Beach and along Ballona Creek. For a long time, it was a rare sighting. Some meticulous record keepers back-entered a series of reports from the 70s and early 80s. After that, eBird sightings of Pacific Golden-Plover in the area vanish until one was reported over a couple of October days in 2010. A one-day wonder was seen in October 2015. Since November, 2017, however, there are hundreds of winter reports. All of them may be of a single returning individual.
In November 2017, I was making one my regular bike rides from my house down the Ballona Creek bike path and then south along the coast. I stopped, as I often do, at a Snowy Plover enclosure on Dockweiler Beach. Not only can you find banded Snowy Plovers there, but I’ve found Red Knot and even a Mountain Plover there before. On this day, a Golden-Plover was standing by itself inside the enclosure. Distinguishing Pacific from American Golden-Plover was above my birding pay grade at the time, so I left it to the experts to make the ID.
Birders dutifully made their trip to the beach to see it. After 10 days, the reports stopped. On later bike rides along the beach, I didn’t see it again. Until I did see it again. On a stop in January, there it was, back in front of the Snowy Plover enclosure. It continued on the beach until the end of February. I think it’s safe to assume that all these 2017/2018 sightings on Dockweiler Beach were the same bird.
Given historical reporting trends, it would probably be another 3-5 years before one was spotted in the area again. But on Halloween 2018, I found a Pacific Golden-Plover along the rocky Ballona Creek with a big flock of Black-bellied Plovers. Was it the same bird who spent the previous winter at the beach just a mile away? The bird and I had no way to communicate and resolve the mystery. This Pacific Golden-Plover, like the one the year before, stayed around until mid-February 2019.
A single Pacific Golden-Plover was back on the creek in the fall of 2019. This one was found much earlier than the previous two: on August 30, 2019. And it ended up staying longer than the birds the previous two years, being reported on the creek until mid-March 2020. Like the bird the year before, this one stayed with a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers, and roamed up and down the creek with the tide., Was it, however, the same bird? Was it enjoying its L.A. winters so much that it decided to arrive earlier and stay later?
This fall, a Pacific Golden-Plover showed up again along the creek. I first spotted this one on September 1, 2020 (2 days later than the first report in 2019). Does this make it likely that it was the same bird as the one that spent the winter of 2019/2020 along the creek? The timing is right, but this bird had more black feathers on its belly than the bird that arrived in Fall 2019 did. Could that mean it’s not a juvenile, but is that same bird, this time coming back with a few breeding feathers still hanging on? If the world wasn’t so crazy these days, I might find some time to research Pacific Golden-Plover molt.
None of these unanswered questions may be as important as this one: how do you pronounce “Plover”? Is it a long “o”, as in Homer? Or is it a short “o”, as in cover? I’ve heard it both ways, from old-timers and newby birders alike. One birding blogger explored the issue, without resolution. For what it’s worth, I’m a long “o” plover pronouncer.