Temporary shore closures at John Martin Reservoir to protect nesting birds

PICT 64J1 John Martin Reservoir Dam - CPW
Published Saturday, May 25, 2019

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking visitors to John Martin Reservoir State Park to help protect two rare birds that nest on its shores.

In what's become an annual ritual, CPW has closed access to some shoreline areas to protect the nests of Least Terns and Piping Plovers, which are federally protected as endangered and threatened species.

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PICT Plover eggs at John Martin Reservoir - CPW
Piping Plover eggs amid the rocky shore of John Martin Reservoir State Park. Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife / Samantha Huff

CPW is using signs, lines of buoys, temporary fencing and orange bailing twine to mark the nesting areas. The goal is to provide undisturbed places where the birds can lay eggs, incubate and fledge their young. Closures will be erected as active nests are found and barricades will remain up through mid-August, when the young leave their nests.

"These are small birds that require beach and shoreline areas to nest," said Ed Schmal, a CPW conservation biologist. "We will mark the nesting areas the best we can."

Schmal said visitors are asked to be vigilant even beyond the closed areas.

"These birds are really good at blending into rocky and sandy shorelines," Schmal said. "So we are asking visitors to be on the lookout for their hard-to-see nest scrapes and eggs in other areas, as well."

The closures can range from small plots to 15 acres in size. Nests will likely be established on both the north and south shores and islands. CPW staff already has preemptively closed much of the south shoreline to vehicles and has erected a complete closure on Point 5. A camping area has been designated on the south side, up next to the dam. Despite these closures, a majority of the reservoir shoreline will remain open to recreation.

"By making targeted closures, we are able to provide for the needs of the birds and still offer a high quality recreation experience for people who love to visit the reservoir," Schmal said.

The Least Tern is a small, swallow-like bird with black outer wing feathers that is sometimes seen diving head-first into the water after fish. The smallest of the North American terns, it has a distinctive black crown, white forehead and black-tipped yellow bill. It is listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

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PICT John Martin Reservoir Dam Overview - CPW.
View from the air of the John Martin Reservoir dam in Bent County. Courtesy CPW.

The Piping Plover is a tiny shorebird with pale brown and white plumage, a black neck band and a black bar across the forehead. They typically nest on sandy beaches or river sandbars that are free of vegetation, relying on their cryptic coloration as camouflage from predators. It is listed as a federally threatened species.

Protecting nesting areas is the most effective way to support the recovery of Least Tern and Piping Plover populations, biologists say.

In Colorado, the Least Tern and Piping Plover are found only in the southeast part of the state. 

Schmal warned that disturbing a closed area, allowing dogs to run off leash or violating road closures can result in citations for offenders issued by CPW officers and U.S. Army Corps rangers.

A map explaining the closure areas is available at the park headquarters and in a kiosk on the south side. 

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