|John and Ricky Warriner. Photo by Lynne Stenzel|
Commitment, persistence, consistency: these are traits of the PRBO volunteers who make our long-term studies possible--sometimes providing the very base for our work and leading the way to significant discoveries.
John and Ricky Warriner first became intrigued by Snowy Plovers nesting near their home, north of the Pajaro River on Monterey Bay, in the early 1970s. Using their car as an observation blind, the two watched plovers at close range and saw aggression between pairs, copulations, and parents caring for eggs and chicks.
In 1976, when Gary Page was planning a study of Snowy Plovers in the Point Reyes area, we met with the Warriners and the next year worked together to compare the two locations for plover nesting. John says, "We loved the prospect of working on this new project but had no idea then how much the plovers would change our lives."
The Pajaro River area proved to hold the greatest potential for revealing this species' life history and population dynamics, and by 1978 our study was centered there. Volunteers from the Santa Cruz Bird Club, recruited by John and Ricky, helped with dawn-to-dusk nest watches, documenting details such as egg-laying and hatches. The result was new basic knowledge: in 1986, the Warriners produced their first scientific paper "Mating system and reproductive success of a small population of polygamous Snowy Plovers," which won the Edwards Prize for the year's best paper in the Wilson Bulletin.
Next came expansion of the study area to include all 40 kilometers of Monterey Bay beaches. As PRBO volunteer Research Associates, Ricky and John led an effort to identify all the pairs, find all their nests, band all their chicks, and produce an accurate estimate of reproductive success at different areas of Monterey Bay, a job that entailed four to eight hours a day and up to seven days a week from March through early September.
Ricky's knowledge of individual color-banded plovers proved astounding. One of us might say, "I saw white-blue, green-yellow with an unbanded male today but couldn't find any nest for them." Ricky would say, "So that's where she's gone! Her nest with blue-orange, red-yellow has hatched, but she just left the brood, so probably won't have a new nest for a few more days."
One discovery resulting from this work was alarming. In the late 1980s, John and Ricky found that nonnative red foxes, released from fox farms in prior decades, were primary culprits in the plovers' failure to produce enough young for population maintenance at many sites. Without action to protect Snowy Plovers, they were in danger of disappearing from the Monterey Bay area.
John and Ricky became key project contacts in PRBO's collaboration with area agencies to protect plover nests. The cell phone age had arrived: upon finding nests, they would immediately call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or California Parks Department, and agency biologists would place nest enclosures to protect the eggs from predators.
After the coastal plover population received federal threatened status in 1993, protective measures expanded to include all the area beaches (and other areas on the coast). PRBO's collaboration with managing agencies increased. Pre- and post-season meetings, hosted each year by the Warriners, became a focal means of communication and soon attracted researchers and managers from far beyond Monterey Bay.
On the Snowy Plover's bumpy road toward recovery, one highlight has been the phenomenal growth of the Monterey Bay population since 2000. Under the watchful eyes of PRBO volunteers and staff, and protection from team members, the plovers' reproductive success there has greatly improved.
John and Ricky Warriner, after 28 seasons of study, are inspirational leaders in a successful conservation effort.