The Little Egg Foundation and New Jersey Fish and Wildlife have a great partnership running cams at Piping Plover nests in Plover Park @ Barnegat Light. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, and it’s mutually beneficial.
I get photos and videos for Little Egg to train our NestStory software. We want to replicate our success teaching computers about Peregrine Falcons with tiny Piping Plovers. In the not-too-distant future, we dream of a fully automated version of NestStory. Imagine a world where a camera and a machine brain can monitor, understand, report, and store all activity at a nest. No more lumbering humans disturbing nests to check them and hoping they get there soon enough to respond to issues or even understand what happened when something goes wrong. 24/7 monitoring with zero disturbance. Possibly less expensive too.
And NJFW gets continuous real-time monitoring of Piping Plover nests exclosed with wire fencing. While exclosures can be a good tool for protecting nests from predators, they can also backfire and actually attract some predators to the nest. When to exclose and when not to is one of the most challenging decisions they face each season. And we’ve recently had a few adult mortalities in which exclosures are possibly implicated, so there is even more urgency to this part of the project.
While the cameras certainly don’t help anyone sleep better, they provide hard facts and data about what’s occurring in real-time and are an excellent tool for improved decision-making.
Our setup involves two cameras: one high-speed camera targeting the top of the exclosure to catch crows, owls, falcons, and other predators who might use the exclosure as a perch or even target the plovers inside. The second camera is a live video feed pointing at the nest bowl inside the exclosure.
Last night I deployed new cameras at a freshly exclosed nest in the Park. I rushed out to do it, as sometimes the first night is the most important to catch curious predators, and I got home late.
We have a new app for the nest cam, so early this morning, I turned on the camera and started making a short screen recording as a tutorial I could send to Kashi & Emily so they could begin using the cam too. My first attempt failed. It was too long to send via txt. So I tried again to make a quick one, and that’s when things went off the rails.
I don’t want to spoil it, so watch the video below, and then you can read more about what it shows below! It starts out with me doing a demo and then we get a little surprise.
The behavior seen is not only a rare one but my favorite. Goddess/photographer Mel Groo has even made me promise she will “get to see it in person before I shuffle off this mortal coil.” It’s called “goosestepping” or “tattooing.” It is the last stage of courtship, right before copulation. So yes, the adorable pair decided to have sex on camera during my tutorial. And he actually, literally stepped all over her, kicked her off the nest she was incubating, and marched all over their eggs to do it!
Even more interesting, if you look very closely, you can see that this nest is already at four eggs or full clutch. So they should be done with goosestepping.
I sent it to Goddess/scientist Michelle Stantial who caught that immediately and squeaked, “OMG! They have a four-egg nest already!!! I don’t know if I’ve ever really seen that!!!”
There is always something surprising, something new to learn, and something to enjoy with the Little Egg Cams. The equipment and the machine learning are 100% funded by (fully tax-deductible) donations to The Little Egg Foundation. So please consider supporting NestStory and, if nothing else, helping us catch more surprising adorableness! You’re a part of this too because we can’t do it without you.
Same exact thought on the 4-egg part! I wonder if she had just laid the egg and he did not realize it was there yet, or if this is a normal thing that they still copulate a little after the 4th egg bc maybe plover dads are never that great at math and they figure it can’t hurt… But what happens next? If a successful copulation, presumably she is left with his genetic material. Maybe once her body turns off the egg-making process, there is no chance of a “surprise” chickie, lol? Fascinating, must read more. And I LOVE THESE CAMS!
My theory is a.) PIPL can’t count, b.) the behavior is driven by hormones more than intent and it takes a while to “calm down” and c.) actual fertility is controlled by the egg