We won’t ever really know what happened to her. Only that her little body was found on the beach by a couple of walkers. Noticing her white leg flag ‘BD’ and recognising her as an endangered species, they reported their sad find to the local co-ordinator of Bellarine Friends of the Hooded Plover. On examination no puncture wounds were found, the body intact. Conjecture has it she probably died of exhaustion.
BD’s short life began just over a year before her death, on the 8th of January 2021, at Point Lonsdale, the offspring of two Hoodies flagged MD and HY. Their only surviving chick, she was assisted through the hazardous first five weeks of life, until she fledged, by a small band of dedicated volunteers who took turns every day to monitor and guard her. During daylight hours we would redirect foot traffic, encourage owners to leash their dogs or remove them from the beach during curfew and to speak with locals and holiday makers, seeking to educate them about the plight of the Hoodie. Raising their awareness about those tenuous first weeks when flightless chicks are subjected to a seeming myriad of threats. If risk of predation by foxes, feral cats, magpies, gulls, nankeen kestrels and off-leash dogs was not enough, the constant stream of foot traffic from beach users, including a steadily increasing number of kite surfers and paragliders, makes it almost impossible for a chick to forage at the water’s edge where it must gain access to vital nutrients in the variety of invertebrates that live there. So, when BD successfully fledged, it was a triumph of Hoodie parenting by MD and HY and a lot of hard work by the volunteers.
In February of 2021 the young fledgling was successfully tagged BD Right White by BirdLife Australia staff, then released back onto the beach by her namesake, Brett Diehm, wildlife officer from Barwon Coast and long-time Hoodie volunteer. I was thrilled to be invited to witness the event.
During the year that thrill continued whenever I spotted her out on the beach amongst the other Hoodies that flocked throughout the off-season months on the beach between Collendina and Point Lonsdale. I watched her grow, her plumage changing from the geometric patterns of a fledgling to the mottled black and white of a subadult to her final adult Hoodie colours—the characteristic rich black ‘hood’, pure white collar and breast, soft grey back. Her black-tipped beak change from grey, to pale pink, to deep red.
Over summer BD struck up with her first mate, another adult Hoodie that I had been monitoring for a few years, JU Orange, a seven-year-old Hoodie originally from the Surf coast, west of Anglesea, who made his way to the Spit at Ocean Grove, then Collendina, during his first year. BD produced her first egg which together they incubated for almost the whole of the 30 days it takes a hooded plover egg to hatch. But alas the job of becoming a parent proved too much for her.
The site the birds had chosen for their nest was close to 5W, a beach access from the local caravan park and a popular spot for sunbaking and assorted beach activities. Even though the area had been sign-posted to encourage beach users to give the birds space, every day in my role as a volunteer with BirdLife Australia, I found myself having to politely move people on. The average holiday maker is often completely unknowing about the existence of hooded plovers, let alone that their beach usage could be threatening their survival, that certain precautions need to be taken in order to share this endangered species’ only habitat.
Like the day I approach BD’s and JU’s territory to find a group of fourteen young people have set up camp directly in front of the site where I know the nest to be. The girls are on towels up on the high sand metres from the nest in the dune above them, the boys playing a game of beach cricket. I take a deep breath and hope the binoculars slung around my neck and my telephoto lens might give weight to my forthcoming request.
‘Hi there,’ I approach the girls first. ‘I’m a volunteer with BirdLife Australia. I wondered if you’d mind moving down the beach a bit? There’s an endangered hooded plover nest just in the dune there.’ I point in the general direction.
‘We know all about them,’ proffers one of the girls. We learned about them in Outdoor Ed.’
‘Oh, great,’ I say, not sure if she’s trying to cut me short or showing interest. ‘I’ve noticed both birds are off the nest at the moment. That means their egg is exposed to the weather and predators like magpies and gulls and—’
‘Yeah, we know. How far do you want us to move?’ The spokesperson is businesslike and clearly, I’m taking too long.
‘The other side of the access path would be good,’ I say. I look across at the boys playing cricket.
‘We’ll tell them. They’ll be fine about it,’ she says, answering my question before I have a chance to ask.
The girls pick up their towels and are soon followed by the boys who continue their game at a safe distance for the Hoodies. Another of the girls and one of the boys come over to ask about the birds. Out of the corner of my eye I’m relieved to see one of the Hoodies fly back into the dunes.
Not all interactions with the public are like this, however. Another day it’s an older woman sunbaking on a towel set up immediately in front of the nest. She’s been coming to this beach for thirty years and she’ll move in her own good time when she feels like it. Mercifully, when I look back after walking away defeated, I see she has gone for a swim and hope this at least gives the Hoodies a small reprieve.
When incubating eggs Hoodies will leave the nest to lead a perceived threat away, even going so far as to affect a broken wing display to draw a predator away from the nest. BD’s and JU’s territory is notorious for unleashed dogs, even though large signs placed on the access paths and beach indicate rules for dog owners. When she could have been incubating her egg, or foraging for food or resting, BD would have spent hours each day leading dogs, people, magpies and kestrels—one day I saw four circling the nest site—away. Goodness knows what else this brave little Hoodie had to contend with.
Vale beautiful BD.