A wing, a prayer and an 'LOL'

Jan. 8—EMPIRE — If you're among a flock of readers who believe newspaper reporters are just vultures in disguise, get a gander at this story — the initial details are a hoot.

A piping plover shorebird from Sleeping Bear Dunes was recently spotted in Florida.

The plover, wearing the leg tag "Of,L:X,L/O/L," on July 26 departed Leelanau County and by October had landed in Georgia, according to information previously provided by Erica Adams, U.S. Fish & Wildlife's plover coordinator.

Then earlier this month, Sleeping Bear Dunes crowed out this latest sighting in — what else? — a tweet.

"LL:LOL, a Piping Plover from Sleeping Bear Dunes was just spotted at a state park in Florida!" the Dec. 14 tweet reads.

"The plover's identification tag is Of,L:X,L/O/L, and is nicknamed 'LL:LOL.' Hatched on the shores of Lake Erie and captive-reared, and released from Sleeping Bear Dunes."

Adams previously said she sometimes refers to the little bird as "Big LOL."

Fledgling responses to the park's tweet suggested Big LOL was either a snowbird or a retiree.

The rest of this tale, however, is no lark.

Plovers are a small migrating shorebird with shiny dark eyes, a compact body, distinctive black markings and delicate legs and feet the color of an oriole's breast.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which helps fund Adams' work, reports there are three populations of the bird in the U.S., one of which is right here in the Great Lakes.

The other two groups of the plovers live along rivers and lakes in the Great Plains and at the Atlantic shoreline, and all three populations are considered endangered, threatened or both.

Habitat destruction, agricultural chemicals, dangers to migration like tall buildings, excessive lighting and vehicle traffic, plus natural predators have in recent decades diminished the birds numbers, records show.

There are now about 74 nesting pairs that live in Sleeping Bear Dunes during the summertime, then in late July or August, begin to wing their way toward wintering grounds in Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

Big LOL was cared for in a human-made brooder, Adams said, after the nest was abandoned because of "predation" — meaning a hungry animal or bird ate one of the parents.

We're looking at you, hawks, raccoons, foxes, etc.

Big LOL's leg bands, Adams said, consist of an orange flag, a light blue band, a dark green band on its left leg and a split black/orange/black band on its right leg.

These are visible enough to be sighted by birders using binoculars.

Adams said the bird will be tracked over its lifetime by scientists like Adams, who depend on in-person sightings by volunteer bird enthusiasts, and not computer tracking, to keep tabs on OF,bG:X,L/O/L.

"We know where Big LOL forages and migrates to, and all the other things they do in between, because of this individually identifiable band combination," Adams said during an October interview.

The Great Lakes' Piping Plover population was first listed as endangered in 1985, information on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's website states.

A recovery plan was finalized in 1988, then revised in 2001 and 2003 to include designations of winter habitats.

For a bird's eye view of these, visit Fish & Wildlife's online map.

A species recovery plan, such as that adopted for the Piping Plover, seeks to restore an endangered or threatened animal or plant "to the point where it is again a secure, self-sustaining member of its ecosystem," a federal notice states.

Considering the headwind of challenges to the small bird's continued existence, a wing and a prayer probably wouldn't hurt either.