Gloucester’s Coffins Beach is a long, long stretch of wide open sandy seashore framed by dunes, sea and sky. Growing up, we called it the private side of Wingaersheek. I could hear piping plovers and saw two ‘in the zone’– the intertidal bit that is still wet at low tide and well under water at high tide. I didn’t see birds in the safe retreats by the upper part of the beach, but heard the melodious chirps that inspired their nickname.
Listen to the piping plover
Piping plovers have quite a story. In Massachusetts, the vast majority are south, Cape Cod and the islands. By the close of the 19th century, these birds were near extinction. They rebounded successfully by the 1950’s.
I spoke with Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt, Marion Larson with Ma Wildlife, Deborah Cramer and Chris Leahy. All of them have updates for GMG which I’ll add next. First,
Chris Leahy, MA Audubon, explained that a second age of precipitous piping plover decline occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s. What do you think it was?
Read on to find out.
MA Audubon grabbed on and worked closely with many to solve the problem early. It turns out the population plummet correlated highly to a steep increase in vehicles driving on beaches. The baby fledglings could not climb out of wheel ruts and perished, or were squished by the next roaring set of wheels.
Not the only vehicles, but I do recall dune buggys everywhere , especially down the Cape. They were cool and celebrated in TV and film: Steve McQueen driving on Crane’s Beach (just past Coffins) in the Thomas Crown Affair, Elvis through waves, Adam 12, Monkees, Bionic Woman, Speed Buggy /Scooby Doo, the list goes on and on.
“That was big!” said Leahy. “Once that connection was figured out, the goal was how to restrict vehicles.” Massachusetts is far and away a leader in piping plover conservation and decades later a nesting pair on Good Harbor Beach is a major insight into just how well Massachusetts has done. Piping plovers have nested on Coffins Beach before; Good Harbor, Lynn and Revere are relatively new.
read news from Greenbelt: 2016: 9 piping plover chicks on coffins beach