When I read the report of an extremely rare plover on a Santa Cruz County beach, I knew that I had to head down with GrassHopper Sparrow, to add this find to my county list! (This was a mega lifer for Grasshopper.)
This plover had only been seen in California on twenty occasions. And when it was first seen on the morning of September 17 by Simon Thornhill, he posted on a birding list serve: “Strange Plover at Laguna Beach”. He noted that the plover was slightly larger than the snowy plovers it was loosely associating with. He included a photo and it was identified by the birding community as a lesser sand plover (Charadrius mongolus).
I had first seen a Lesser Sand Plover in California on October 22, 2016 on Pt. Reyes Beach on the Outer Point of Marin County’s Pt. Reyes. This small plover is usually found in Asia (it was formally know as the Mongolian plover), the east coast of Africa, India, and Australia. So when one wanders into California is would have most likely crossed over from Siberia and headed south through Alaska, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon.
A rare plover in Santa Cruz County was a bird too good to pass up so Grasshopper and I headed to the coast on a Sunday afternoon. The weekend pumpkin patch traffic was surprisingly light and we make good time down Highway One into Santa Cruz County.
We parked in the dirt lot, crossed the highway, and started down the trail towards Laguna Beach. As we headed down the trail, we met three other birders coming up the trail. They where smiling and this is always a good sign! The rare plover was still present.
The birders gave us directions to where the sand plover was being seen and they predicted that we would find it in less than five minutes! Let’s hope this prediction comes true.
The wind off the ocean was whipping up the sand and I assumed the plovers would be hunkered down in the dunes about 40 yards from the waterline.
We first observed three snowy plovers in the dunes and we knew the sand plover must be close by. To distinguish a snowy from a sand is not a very tough identification. The sand is larger and uniformly a darker grey with a distinct white supercillium (eyebrow). And also most of the snowies on Laguna Beach were sporting jewelry, colored leg bands to help researchers identify individuals.
While I did not keep track of time, we did find a darker, slightly larger plover that was loosely associating with the snowies, within about five minutes! County lifer 262!!
We had the sand plover all to ourselves for about 15 minutes. Over the last couple of days the plover had attracted many birders to this almost forgotten beach on this Santa Cruz County beach.