With the arrival of spring it’s always time for members of the unofficial Plover Appreciation Society to stand-up and be counted.
You either love plovers or hate them, the hate part coming into play when particularly aggressive and belligerent members of the species choose to dive-bomb members of the public enjoying the first warm days of the season on public open spaces.
The plovers – or masked lapwings to give them their proper name – are only doing what comes naturally, defending nesting sites from intruders that range from birds of prey, to lawnmowers, to families enjoying a picnic with frolicking children and dogs.
Plovers are often joined by magpies in their harassment of people, but in my experience the plovers are mere bluster, brushing “victims” with their wings at worst. The wings have spurs – giving the birds their other name of spur-winged plover – but these are certainly not poisonous as myth has it, and the birds are generally harmless. The same cannot be said for magpies, whose hooked beak can be dangerous.
In times past, before European settlement, the plovers would have dwelled at the fringe of human consciousness, at that point in the environment where woodlands merged with marsh and wetland. Over 200 years, the creation of open, grassy spaces in what the new Australians would come to call suburbia has also created ideal habitat for the plovers.
Each year I receive reports of plovers nesting in unusual, inconvenient places, examples being the oval within the Blundstone arena on the Eastern Shore and the grassy traffic island outside the ABC headquarters on the western of side of the river. This year my plover experience came a little earlier than usual when in early August I found a pair had raised two chicks on a disused and overgrown bowls green next to the car park for the Spirit of Tasmania ferry at Devonport.
I am pleased to have discovered, however, that I am not alone in my love, and concern, for our plovers.
After I wrote a column about nuisance plovers keeping me awake at night during the summer, an email arrived from the Member of the Tasmania Legislative Council for Mersey, Michael Gaffney, who is also Mayor of Latrobe.
Mr Gaffney had sent me a picture of a plover-friendly sign he had ordered to be erected in Latrobe and his email read: “In my capacity as Mayor I was approached by a local resident who was a little stressed when she had observed some boys at the local overnight motor-home area chasing some plovers, apparently with the approval of their parents.
“When she approached the parents, the adults were very sorry and, as they were from the mainland, said they did not realise that the birds were protected.”
Mr Gaffney said he tried to obtain signs devoted to plover protection from the wildlife authorities but found that these were unavailable.
Determined to protect the plovers on his patch, the Mayor decided to design one himself with the help of his staff.The sign is now displayed at the motor-home site and Mr Gaffney invites other councils interested in erecting signs of their own to contact him for a copy of the Latrobe Council one.
Plovers certainly have found a happy home in Latrobe – under the protection of the mayor no less – and let’s hope we see a proliferation of signs in other municipalities in coming years, as the Plover Appreciation Society flies high.