Alex Wilke, a coastal scientist with The Nature Conservancy, joined us earlier this week for the third Tuesday Talk of the year. The Nature Conservancy works worldwide to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. One of these areas is the barrier island system found on the eastern shore of Virginia.
Known as the Virginia Coastal Reserve (VCR), these barrier and marsh islands are the longest expanse of protected coastal wilderness remaining on the east coast. Within these 45,000 acres of owned and protected land, conservation organizations like The Nature Conservancy work towards land protection, migratory bird conservation, marine restoration, climate resiliency, outreach and education.
Wilke’s focus has been on the stewardship and management of migratory and breeding birds that spend time on Virginia’s barrier island system. She studies American Oyster Catchers, Black Skimmers, Terns, Whimbrels, and other shore and migratory birds, which are important to the coastal ecology of the area. Familiar with their behavior, she explained why it was important to protect the islands where they nest. For one, for many of these birds lay their eggs right in the sand. Any large human presence on those beaches would be harmful to the development of those eggs.
“They really rely on camouflage, which makes conservation necessary as humans would have an impact,” Wilke said
Humans aren’t the only thing these shorebirds have to worry about. Raccoons, crabs, and even coyotes prowl the beaches looking for these nests as a source of food. As mentioned previously, the birds use camouflage to avoid these predators.
However, one ground nesting shore bird found here, the Piping Plover, has another unique strategy. When a predator approaches a Piping Plovers nest, the bird will fake a broken wing, flailing about in the sand away from the nest in order to draw the predator away.
These birds are an amazing and integral part of Virginia's coastal ecology, and its important to continue protecting and respecting them and their habitat. For ways to get involved, please visit The Nature Conservancy's volunteer page and keep an eye out for information about the Birding and Wildlife Festival in Cape Charles, Virginia. You can find more about this event here.
Our final Tuesday Talk of the year will be held on August 8th and will feature presentations from student researchers.
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