JOHN MARTIN RESERVOIR, Colo., -- A picture perfect day was on the agenda for National Public Lands Day here at the reservoir.

This year the celebration fell on Saturday, September 24, 2016. Six volunteers contributed their time and energy to focus on improving habitat for endangered and threatened species, specifically the piping plover and interior least tern. Duane Nelson led the group. Nelson is a contractor for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Albuquerque District, and is well-known in Colorado as an expert on these species.

Every year, the endangered interior least tern (sterna antillarum) and the threatened piping plover (charadrius melodus) return to the shoreline of John Martin Reservoir to find suitable habitat in which to create their nests. John Martin Reservoir and a few nearby plains lakes are the only places in Colorado where these birds are found. Both species nest on the ground and before they start their courtship, look for the preferred rocky, gravelly substrate in which to build their ground nests. They also like areas that are free from vegetation so they can see predators approaching.

Islands prove to be the safest place for these birds to nest as the surrounding water deters predators, and buoys and signs deter recreationists from invading the islands. Because the eggs blend in with their surroundings, a misstep on the part of a visitor could easily destroy a nest full of eggs, resulting in a high fine and even possible jail time.

This past year, successful nests occurred at Plover Island located on the reservoir's north shoreline. While the birds were still nesting this past year on Plover Island, the water level was enough to keep the area an island. After the birds successfully fledged, the water levels dropped and the water no longer surrounded the peninsula. It wasn't long before invasive species of trees began to take over the area.

The six volunteers focused on taking out all the invasive trees, which included cottonwood and tamarisk plants. After three and a half hours of working, the volunteers had cleared the point.

At the end of October, the gates on the dam will shut for winter storage of the reservoir, so the water will rise -- hopefully enough to cover the entire peninsula which will keep further invasive species from taking root.

Next spring, when the gates re-open for irrigation season, and the birds return, they will find a safe haven again in which to raise their young at Plover Island.