US Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque District

Corps Contractor Awarded for Protecting Endangered Birds at John Martin Reservoir

Karen Downey
Published May 18, 2016
Colorado Field Ornithologists presented 
Duane Nelson, contractor with the Albuquerque District, with a lifetime award for his work with endangered/threatened species at the reservoir, May 7, 2016. Nelson was presented an original painting of a piping plover and two chicks.

Colorado Field Ornithologists presented Duane Nelson, contractor with the Albuquerque District, with a lifetime award for his work with endangered/threatened species at the reservoir, May 7, 2016. Nelson was presented an original painting of a piping plover and two chicks.

JOHN MARTIN RESERVOIR, Colo. – Colorado Field Ornithologists presented Duane Nelson, contractor with the Albuquerque District, with a lifetime award for his work with endangered/threatened species at the reservoir, May 7, 2016.

The award was presented at the yearly conference and banquet of the group in Lamar, Colorado. During the three-day convention, Nelson conducted several tours to the reservoir so members of the group could view the birds in their natural habitat, as well as other sites to view birds uniquely found in southeastern Colorado.

“Only the piping plovers have arrived so far, but there is still anticipation and hope for the interior least tern to return to the reservoir,” said Karen Downey the District’s Operations Manager at John Martin Reservoir.

These birds return every year to the shores of John Martin to breed and incubate their young. The birds are ground nesters that make their nests close to the water of the reservoir. John Martin Reservoir and nearby smaller lakes are the only places in Colorado that these birds are found.

Piping ploverThe adult breeding piping plover (left) is a small sandy-gray colored bird with a white breast and one distinctive dark band around its throat. Smaller than a robin, the piping plover has orange legs and an orange bill with a black tip. Piping plovers were federally listed as threatened in 1986.

The least tern (right) is a small swallow-like bird with black outer wing feathers and a slightly forked tail. The black head, white forehead with black eye stripes, yellow legs, and yellow bill contrast with its pale gray body and white belly.

Least ternThe least tern was federally listed as endangered in 1985 under the Endangered Species Act.

Nelson, a biologist, has spent 26 years working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect piping plovers and interior least terns.  He began working as a contractor with the Corps at John Martin in 2002. Prior to that, he worked for Colorado Division of Wildlife between 1995 and 2002 and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory from 1990 to 1993, and all the while he was monitoring endangered and threatened bird species at John Martin, specifically the piping plover and the least tern.

Nelson was presented an original painting of a piping plover and two chicks. Upon receipt of the award, Nelson told the over two hundred members present that he was “very humbled and touched” to receive the award.