BEAUTIFUL FALL MIGRATION

Cape Ann, and throughout Coastal Massachusetts, is experiencing a magnificent late summer and early fall migration, and not just with Monarchs. Other species of butterflies migrating in plentiful numbers include Painted Ladies and Buckeyes. All along our beaches and waterways, from Rockport to Gloucester to Manchester to Essex, we are seeing steady streams of shorebirds, waders, and songbirds gathering. Several mass movements of Green Darners have come ashore, too.

Clover Plover Killdeer Chick, June 2019

A small flock of Killdeers at Good Harbor Beach was recently observed. It’s difficult to know for certain if they are the same family that nested this summer (our Clover Plovers), but they certainly appeared to have a routine, first dining on crickets during the hour before dawn in the marsh, then flying over to the Creek to take a family bath.

Killdeer eating a cricket at GHB

Killdeers Good Harbor Beach September 21, 2019

When out and about, take a look for Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Whimbrels, and Spotted Sandpipers, to name just some. The young Ring-tailed Duck is still here, too, and I am wondering if she’ll be calling Cape Ann home this winter.

Ring-tailed Duck female nodding off while swimming 

CLOVER PLOVERS – Just hatched Killdeer Chicks!

The Good Harbor Beach Killdeers first laid eggs in the parking lot, very close to where the Piping Plovers also had a nest scrape. After only several days, the eggs disappeared but the pair soon re-nested along the parking lot edge.

Just as do PiPl chicks, Killdeer chicks are able to feed themselves shortly after hatching; they seem to come out running and only need their feathers to dry before feeding. The chicks learn the parent’s voice commands very early on in their development and at only a few days old, the brood will immediately freeze as soon as the adults give out a warning. The name Killdeer comes from the easily recognized and oft heard call of the adults, a loud, shrill ‘kill-dee, kill-dee.’

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

A trio of Black-bellied Plovers was foraging at Good Harbor Beach late Wednesday afternoon. They were only there very briefly; Black-bellied Plovers flush easily and the three skittishly flew off together when a happy group of noisy kids came along.

We will never see Black-bellied Plovers nesting. They are migrating north, to breed along the Arctic coast, from Baffin Island, Canada to western Alaska. Just like Piping Plovers, Black-bellied Plover males build nest scrapes and both male and female incubate the eggs.

The eggs look very similar to Killdeer eggs (Killdeers are also a species of plover), the eggs of both species are darker than Piping Plover eggs, and both are more heavily spotted at the large end.

Piping Plover Eggs

Black-bellied Plover eggs , left Killdeer eggs, right

So many species of shorebirds nest in the Arctic. We are so fortunate that Piping Plovers and Killdeers nest on our shores, providing a wonderful window into the life stories of these amazing and resilient creatures.

PLOVERS NESTING IN THE PARKING LOTS AT STAGE FORT PARK, O’MALEY, AND GOOD HARBOR BEACH

How to tell the difference between a Piping Plover and a Killdeer

This past week, we have received a half dozen reports of “plovers” nesting in local parking lots. Folks are correct, they are a type of plover, but they are not Piping Plovers. The bird is a more common sort, a Killdeer, and Killdeers, like Piping Plovers (and other species of plovers), share many similar courting, nest scraping, mating, and defensive behaviors.

Killdeer courting in the parking lot at Stage Fort Park

Killdeers have been nesting in the dunes and in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot for a number of years, and some years they even have two broods. Last year, the first brood of the season hatched from a nest in the dunes, the second brood, from a nest at the perimeter of the parking lot. For the second nest, Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew  put up a large rock adjacent to the nest, to prevent cars from driving over the nest.

We don’t hear as much about Killdeer Plovers because they are not an endangered species. Killdeers are found in every state of the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. They are the least shorebird-like of shorebirds because they breed and dwell in many types of habitats including grasslands, fields, urban areas, gravel pits, airports, parking lots, athletic fields, and golf courses. Despite their super ability to adapt to human habitats, it is a species in decline.

Killdeers are nearly twice as large as Piping Plovers, but you wouldn’t know that unless you see them side-by-side. The easiest way to tell the difference is Killdeers have two black collar bands whereas PiPls only have one.

Killdeers have a red eye ring, two collar bands, and a black, longer bill.

Piping Plovers have one collar band, no red eye ring, and an orange bill tipped black.

The back and wing feathers of the Killdeers are a mid-shade of brown, with rust and orange under wings. This coloration more easily blends with gravel pits, grasslands, and scrubby dune habitats. The Piping Plover’s wing and back feathers are a soft pale gray, in shades of driftwood and sand; the birds are much better camouflaged for beach life.  The Killdeer has a red eye ring, the Piping Plover’s eyes are jet black. Killdeer’s bills are more elongated and are a solid black, the PiPls’s is shorter and orange, tipped in black. Piping Plovers have orangish legs; Killdeer’s legs are light buff and light gray.

The feathers of the Killdeers at Stage Fort park blend beautifully with gravel, scrubby grass, and dirt found there in the parking lot. Notice in the third photo in the above gallery how the Killdeer blends with its grassy surroundings.

Piping Plovers are camouflaged in coastal hues of sand and driftwood

The same advice that applies to observing Piping Plover chicks as does to Killdeer chicks. Watch from a safe distance that does not cause the birds to flush and never pick up or touch the eggs or chick.

Killdeer and Piping Plover chicks are precocial. That is a word biologists use to describe a baby bird’s stage of development at birth. Precocial means that shortly after hatching, the bird is fully mobile. Plover chicks are not completely mature, they still need parents to help regulate their body temperature, but they have downy feathers and can run and feed themselves within moments after emerging.  Both Killdeer and Piping plover chicks are well camouflaged in their natural habitats.

The opposite of precocial is altricial. Birds that hatch helpless, naked, usually blind, and are incapable of departing the nest are altricial. Robins and Cardinals are examples of altricial birds.

Killdeer chicks are well hidden in their habitats, as are Piping Plovers chicks in theirs.

Follow this link for more photos of Killdeers and chicks

Even though they are not Piping Plovers, we still love to hear about Killdeers and to learn more about where they are nesting in our area. Please email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com if you have any information you would like to share about Killdeers. Thank you.

GOOD MORNING GOOD HARBOR BEACH BABIES!

The Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Family has hatched a second clutch of four chicks!

The first nest was located in the dunes, the second on the edge of the parking lot. The staff at the GHB parking lot placed two large stones on either side of the nest. A week or so later, an orange cone.

Nesting patiently and well hidden in the scrubby parking lot growth. 

Mama and Papa Killdeer successfully distracted many a beach goer from getting too close to to the nest with their broken-wing distraction display.

Killdeers are a species of plovers, as are Piping Plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, and Wilson’s Plovers. It takes about the same amount of time for the eggs to incubate, approximately 24-28 days.

Both male and female Killdeers brood the eggs. It is not easy to tell the difference between the male and female unless side-by-side. The male is typically a bit larger than the female.

Three of the eggs had hatched by nightfall, the fourth hatched early the next day. This new little Killdeer Family safely made it out of the parking lot the day after hatching, heading into the marsh, just as did the brood that hatched earlier in the summer.

 

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH KILLDEER PLOVER CHICKS!


You may recall that several weeks back we posted a photo of a Killdeer nest with four eggs. I only discovered the nest because each and every time anyone walked past, a Killdeer would call shrilly and drag its wings through the dunes in a dramatic display of “broken wing” trickery. I would often play along and see how far away the Killdeer would take me until one morning I decided to see what it was they were hiding.

Killdeer Broken Wing Distraction Display

Off to the side of the path that leads to the beach, not more than six feet away, was a loose scrape of dirt and sticks, with four perfect Killdeer eggs!

I had no idea when they had been laid, so there was no way of knowing when the chicks would hatch. Each morning on my way to check on the Piping Plovers I’d take a peak, until one day there weren’t any. How sad I thought, and wondered if a predator had eaten the eggs. But the nest had not been disturbed and there were no broken egg shells. A mystery.

The following morning I checked on the Piping Plover nest in the parking lot. It was drizzly but there were two Killdeers near to where the PiPl exclosure is located. I sat in my car watching the adult Killdeers when to my delight and amazement, out tumbled four teeny chicks from under Mama Killdeer. A car makes the perfect blind and for quite some time I photographed and filmed the Killdeer family.

Off and on during that rainy day I stopped by to check on the Killdeers. Because of the weather, the parking lot was virtually empty. Tiny tufted black, brown, and white feather balls atop overly long spindly legs, the baby birds spent all their time zooming here and there, foraging on itsy bitty insects in the grass and gravel.

When not foraging, they would run under Mom or Dad to warm up on that damp drizzly day. Just like Piping Plover chicks, Killdeer chicks are precocial birds and can feed themselves within hours after hatching however, because they are so tiny, they lose body heat relatively quickly. The chicks need the warmth provided by snuggling under Mom and Dad.The next morning it was still drizzling, and the Killdeer family was still in the same location! I watched them for a bit, when a man showed up with his dog. The Killdeer parents went into high alert and did their best distraction displays. The dog chased the adult Killdeers around the parking lot while I spoke with the man. It is the same man who brings his dog to Good Harbor Beach via the footbridge end at the close of the day, after the lifeguards and dog officers have left. This was a tremendous problem last year after the Piping Plovers hatched. Last summer I was too busy preventing his dog from squashing a PiPl chick to get his license plate number, but not this time. The man and his dog left the parking lot.

Moving to the marsh

Shortly after the dog encounter, both Killdeer parents led the chicks into the marsh. To see the chicks navigate over the incline at the edge of the marsh was amazing; it must have seemed like fording a mountain to them. I’ve looked but have not seen the family since. I am hoping that they are thriving and growing in the marshland.

We don’t hear as much about Killdeer Plovers because they are not an endangered species. Killdeers are found in every state of the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. They are the least shorebird-like of shorebirds because they breed and dwell in many types of habitats including grasslands, fields, urban areas, gravel pits, airports, parking lots, athletic fields, and golf courses. Despite their super ability to adapt to human habitats, it is a species in decline.

Killdeers begin courting in our area in March. Although I imagine they have been nesting at Good Harbor Beach for a longer period of time, I only have a record of Killdeers nesting at GHB going back three years and it is yet another important reason as to why humans and pets should not be traipsing through the dunes.

It is difficult to tell the difference between a male and female Killdeer unless they are side-by-side, and even then, still challenging. The male is a bit larger.

MORE SHOREBIRDS NESTING AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!!

Pictured above are the beautiful mottled eggs of a different species of plover, the Killdeer. Notice how the Killdeer eggs look similar to the PiPl eggs, but are a deeper gray. Killdeers make their nest scrapes on the ground, just as do PiPl, but in gravel and soil, and the darker colored eggs are perfectly camouflaged amidst the sticks and stones. Piping Plover eggs are beautifully camouflaged when laid in sandy nest scrapes.

Stay tuned for wonderful news about our Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Family.

Piping Plover eggsKilldeer, Good Harbor Beach Gloucester

FRIENDS OF LITTLE CHICK

Common Tern delivering breakfast to its fledgling.

Here are a collection of recent photos of different species of shorebirds and songbirds gathering and migrating along Cape Ann beaches that Little Chick may encounter on his journey south.

During the spring breeding season Piping Plover mating adults chase all other birds out of their territory, from the largest Black-backed Gull to the tiniest Song Sparrow. At this time of year, during the summer southward migration, you’ll often see PiPl feeding alongside other PiPl, as well as with Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Killdeers, peeps, terns, and gulls.

Ruddy Turnstones

Ruddy Turnstones Photobombed

Common Tern fledgling squawking for breakfast.

Won’t someone, anyone, please, please feed me! Unlike Piping Plover chicks, Common Tern chicks cannot feed themselves at birth. Common Tern chicks can walk and swim, but it will be many weeks before they learn to fish.

Tree Swallows massing, foraging in dunes rich with insects and berries.

Bonaparte’s Gulls

 

Compare Common Tern in the foreground to Bonaparte’s Gull in the background. Both have red-orange legs and feet and both are black-headed. The easiest way to differentiate when on the beach is the Common Tern’s bill is orange; the Bonaparte’s Gull’s bill is black. 

 

Least Sandpipers are the smallest of peeps. Note how beautifully camouflaged are they in the drying seaweed at the high tide line.

Daybreak and early morning are often the most beautiful time of day to see wildlife.

WHAT ARE THOSE CRAZY BIRDS RUNNING AROUND GOOD HARBOR BEACH PARKING LOT?

Killdeer Chick

Lost of folks are asking, are the Piping Plovers nesting in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot? The answer is no, the Piping Plovers are nesting on the beach near boardwalk #3. The mama and papa, and now chicks, that are running all around the GHB parking lot are a shorebird named Killdeers. Comparatively quite a bit larger, and more commonly seen, Killdeers are related to Piping Plovers, but are a different species.

Killdeer Chicks and Parent, Good Harbor Beach 2016

That I am aware of, this is the second year in a row Killdeers have chosen to nest at the Good Harbor Beach parking lot. It is frightening to see the babies zoom in and out between the cars. The mom and dad give vocal cues to the chicks, but still they run willy nilly. Killdeers have a fondness for human modified habitats, such as the GHB parking lot, and a willingness to nest close to people.

Like Piping Plover chicks, Killdeer chicks are precocial. That is a word ornithologists use to describe a baby bird’s stage of development at birth. Precocial means that shortly after hatching, the bird is fully mobile. Plover chicks are not completely mature, they still need parents to help regulate their body temperature, but they have downy feathers and can run and feed themselves within moments after emerging. The opposite of precocial is altricial. Birds that hatch helpless, naked, usually blind, and are incapable of departing the nest are altricial. Robins and Cardinals are examples of altricial birds. 

Adult Kildeer

If you encounter the Kildeer family and would like to take a photo, or simply observe these adorable babies on-the-go, my advice is to stand quietly and don’t chase after them. Running after the chicks will put the parents into panic mode and they may lose sight of the other siblings. As the chicks mature, they will spend less time in the parking lot, and more time in the marsh and at the tidal river edge. Kildeer adults, and even the chicks, are actually good swimmers. Last year the Kildeer family crossed the tidal river and spent the second half of the season on the opposite side of the marsh.Compare the Killdeer chick above, to the Piping Plover chick below.

Piping Plover Chick and Mom

Killdeer Family all grown up, September 2016

AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH – PLOVERS HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE! – TIPS ON HOW TO ID PIPING PLOVERS, SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, AND KILLDEERS

Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim SmithFor the past ten weeks, each morning very early before work I have been filming the Good Harbor Beach shorebirds and their habitat, and when not too tired from work, would go back again at the end of the day. For the most part, it has been a tremendously educational and rewarding experience, and I love Good Harbor and its wild creatures even more than when I began the Piping Plover project. We are so fortunate to have this incredibly beautiful and beloved treasure of a beach in our midst, and so easily accessed. As much as I have enjoyed filming the wildlife, it has been equally as fun to observe the myriad wonderful ways in which people enjoy the beach recreationally and that too is part of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover story.

Male Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim Smith

Take a closer look at the shorebirds next time you are at Good Harbor Beach. Small and swift, they can look similar, but once you begin to study their behaviors, each species becomes easier to identify.

Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim SmithNew female Piping Plover on the scene with very pale coloring

Good Harbor Beach is currently home to three different species of plovers. We all know about our beautiful Piping Plover family. The lone surviving chick and Dad were last seen heading deep, deep, deep into the salt marsh. Since that time, several new Piping Plovers have joined the scene, two females and a male. We can tell they are different from our original mated pair by their feather pattern and bill color.Killdeer Chicks Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Earlier in the summer, four Killdeer chicks hatched at the edge of the GHB salt marsh. It was pretty scary filming the Killdeer family because all six were running willy nilly every which way throughout the beach parking lot on a very busy weekend morning. In the next photo, taken several days ago, you can see that the family has grown quickly.Killdeer Family Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Killdeers are the largest of the the three species of plovers seen in Massachusetts, nearly twice as large as the pocket-sized Piping Plover. That fact didn’t stop the male Piping Plover from defending its nesting territory. Notice the two dark bands around the neck and chest of the Killdeer.

Piping Plove Chasing Killdeer Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Half the size of his foe, our male Piping Plover is vigorously chasing the intruding Killdeer from his nesting territory

Killdeer Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim Smith

The Killdeer has a dark band encircling its neck and a second band across its chest

The third species of plovers at GHB is the Semipalmated Plover. Although only slightly larger than the Piping Plover, the difference is easy to spot by the darker brown wings. Compare the single neck ring of the Semipalmated Plover to that of the Killdeer’s double set of rings. Unlike Piping Plovers and Killdeers, Semipalmated Plovers do not breed in Massachusetts but in northern Canada and Alaska. At this time of year we are observing their southward migration to the southern United States, Caribbean, and South America.Semipalmated Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim Smith

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plovers are often seen in mixed flocks with Semipalmated Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers. Semipalmated Sandpipers have black legs. Least Sandpipers have distinctly colored yellowish legs.
Semipalmated Plover Semipalmated Sandpiper Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Semipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpipers

Least Sandpiper Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim Smith

Least Sandpiper

Note that all of the shorebirds mentioned here are also currently at Wingaersheek Beach.

 

 

FIRST LOOK BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS!

PIPING PLOVERS RUNNING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHNot shy in the least, the four Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers spent the early part of the morning running and feeding along the shoreline, bathing in the tidal flats, and ferociously defending their territory against other avian intruders. A jogger ran past the one preening at the water’s edge–he was quite close–but that did not seem to alarm the Plover. They are diminutive little creatures, about six to seven inches in length, and show mostly white feathers when flying overhead.

PIPING PLOVERS -Eating 4 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Breakfast – Piping Plovers eat insects and small invertebrates

One Piping Plover seemed to be testing different sites to nest, momentarily hunkering down, then leaving the spot, and then returning a few moments later to vigorously dig a deeper depression in the sand, before then flying away.

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHTesting the depression

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Leaving the possible nesting site

PIPING PLOVERS -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Returning to the depression

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -3 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING -4 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Digging in!

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

The roped off area appears to be a terrific solution in helping to protect the possible nesting sites. Visitors to Good Harbor Beach this morning were very mindful about respecting the boundary. And there was not a single dog in sight, off leash or otherwise. The Plovers flew in and out of the restricted area, as did Killdeers and several other species of shore birds.

KILLDEER GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHA Killdeer feeding near the Piping Plovers. The Killdeers, also members of the Charadadriidae, are slightly larger and a much darker brown than the Piping Plovers.

PIPING PLOVERS GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER -1 COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHPIPING PLOVERS PREENING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITHPreening