CAPE ANN WILDLIFE 2018: A YEAR IN PICTURES AND STORIES Part Two: Spring

Go Here For Part One

Mama (left) and Papa (right) return to Good Harbor Beach on a bitterly cold day, April 3, 2018. 

Part Two: Spring

By Kim Smith

The return of Mama and Papa Piping Plover to Good Harbor Beach filled our hearts with hope and heartache. Although not tagged with a definitive id, we can be fairly certain they are the same because the pair attempt to build their nest each year within feet of the previous year’s nest. Not only did our returning pair try to nest on Good Harbor Beach, there were two additional pairs of Piping Plovers, and several free-wheeling bachelors.

The GHB Bachelors

Papa guarding all-things-Mama

Papa and Mama courting, building a nest scrape, and establishing their territory on the beach.

The PiPls are forced off the beach by dogs running through the nesting area. They begin building a second nest in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot.

Each spring the Good Harbor PiPl have returned earlier than the previous, which show us that the pair is gaining in maturity, and in familiarity with the area. Tragically, at the time of their arrival in April, dogs are permitted on the beach. Dog traffic running through the Piping Plover nesting area was unrelenting, despite signs and roping. The Plover family never caught a break, and were soon making overtures at nesting in the parking lot.

Even with desperate calls for help and repeated warnings from the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, owners continued to allow off leash and on leash dogs to run freely through the PiPl’s nesting area, daily forcing the PiPl off the beach. They were at first torn between maintaining the territory they had established on the beach or establishing a new territory on the white lines in the parking lot. After one particularly warm sunny Sunday in April, they gave up completely on their beach nest scrape.

We learned that during the month of April, dogs at Massachusetts barrier beaches, such as Good Harbor Beach, not only endangers the lives of threatened Piping Plovers, but many species of migrating and nesting shorebirds.

On May 5th, the first egg was laid in the parking lot. Thanks to Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew, a barricade around the nest was installed within hours of the first egg laid. Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer soon followed to install a wire exclosure around the parking lot nest.

Four!

No shortage of vandals.

Garbage left on the beach brings predatory gulls and crows and they, too, became a serious threat to our Piping Plover family after the chicks hatched. The lack of a common sense ordinance to keep dogs off Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, the unaware dog owners, the garbage scavenging gulls and crows, and the vicious vandals are absolutely our responsibility to better manage and to control. For these reasons, and despite the kindness and care of dozens of PiPl volunteer monitors, as well as good people from around the community (and beyond), the Piping Plovers face terrible odds nesting at Good Harbor. 

Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to some of the dozens of stories that I have written about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. Many communities throughout Massachusetts and coastal New England have in place common sense management rules and are successfully fledging chicks. I wrote about that extensively during the summer months and you will find a list of the posts regarding that topic in Part Three: Summer.

Most of the Snowies from the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018 had departed for their Arctic breeding grounds by the time the Piping Plovers arrived to Cape Ann beaches. This was a relief as I imagined that the Piping Plovers might make a tasty meal in the mind of a Snowy Owl. Thinking we’d seen the last of Hedwig and all Snowies, Bob Ryan called to let us know there was a Snowy Owl hanging around the distillery. I jumped in my car and raced right over. She appeared in good health and stayed for a day.

We did learn weeks later that during July and August there were still a few Snowies remaining on Massachusetts beaches and, from examining their pellets, it was clear they had been eating Piping Plover adults.

I was deeply honored to receive Salem State University’s Friend of the Earth Award.

and to give my conservation program about the Monarch Butterflies as their keynote speaker.

In May, three Wilson’s Plovers were spotted briefly on Good Harbor Beach. This was a very, very rare northern sighting, especially so as there were three.

The Young Swan of Niles Pond was released by Lyn and Dan, only to lose his life later in the spring.

Amelie Severance sent us a lovely and detailed drawing of the Young Swan.

A fabulous Green Heron was photographed and filmed on an area pond–signs of a great summer season for all species of herons, yet to come.

For the past several years, at least, Killdeers, which is another species of plover (although not endangered) have been nesting in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach. This year we had, at a minimum, two successful nests!

All four chicks hatched and, at only one-day-old, made the epic journey to the beach. Miraculously, four teeny tiny mini marshmallow-sized baby birds, led by Papa and Mama, zig zagged across the parking lot, trekked through the dunes, and landed within feet of the parent’s original nest scrape.

Only one chic, the one PiPl volunteer monitor Heather names Little Pip, survives into summer.

 

Piping Plovers Return to Good Harbor Beach!

Kim Smith to Receive “Friend of the Earth Award” and Keynote Speaker Salem State earth Days Week

Piping Plovers Driven Off the Beach

Monarch Butterflies at Salem State University

Fencing is Urgently Needed for the Piping Plovers

Check Out Gloucester’s DPW Phil Cucuru Showing Extensive Storm Erosion

How You Can Help the Piping Plovers

Gloucester Celebrates Earth Day With Great News: Lyn and Dan Release the Young Swan Back to the Wild

Piping Plovers Forced off the Beach By Dogs for the Second Weekend in a Row

Piping Plovers and Thoughts About Signs, Dogs, and Why We are in This Predicament

We Need Volunteer Piping Plover Monitors Saturday at the PiPl Nesting Area #3

Heartbreaking to See the Piping Plovers Nesting in the Parking Lot

Snowy Owl at Ryan and Woods Distillery

Breaking: Plover Egg in the Parking Lot at Good Harbor Beach

Breaking: Two Eggs in the Nest: Shout Out to Greenbelt for Installing the PiPl Wire Enclosure

PiPl Egg #3

Swan Crisis

Rarest of Rare Visits from Wilson’s Plovers

Vandals Harming the Piping Plovers

Four!

Tonight on Fox See Our GHB Piping Plovers

Debunking Piping Plover Myth #1

Amelie Severance’s Lovely Drawing of the Young Swan

Debunking Piping Plover Myths #2 and #3

More Shorebirds Nesting at Good Harbor Beach!

Angie’s Alpacas

So Sorry to Write Our Young Swan Passed Away this Morning

Beautiful Shorebirds Passing Through

Debunking Piping Plover Myth #4, Winthrop Beach is Amazing, and Lots of Sex on the Beach

Our Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Chicks

Breaking News: Our Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Chicks Have Hatched

Piping Plover Makes the Epic Journey to the Beach

Good Harbor Beach Two-Day Old PiPl Chicks

Good Morning! Brought to You By the Fiercely Patient Green Heron

We Lost Two Chicks Today

Shout Out to Gloucester’s Animal Control Officers Teagan and Jamie!

Our Third Piping Plover Chick was Killed This Morning

Debunking Piping Plover Myth #5: Piping Plover Volunteers Are NOT Calling for and Outright Ban of Dogs on the Beach

What Do Piping Plovers Eat?

Happy Father’s Day, Brought to You By Papa Plover

RAREST OF RARE BIRD SIGHTINGS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!!

Last May you may recall that we posted photos of a tiny flock of three Wilson’s Plovers (Charadrius wilsonia) that were spotted at Good Harbor Beach. The fog was dense and I was on my way to work, so I only captured a few fleeting moments of footage and several photographs.

Compare Wilson’s Plover (top of page) to Piping Plover (above).

I was contacted by Sean Williams, secretary of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee with a request to use my photos. Wilson’s Plovers are a southern species; it is quite rare to see them as far north as the New Jersey shore, let alone in Massachusetts. There is no previously known sighting ever of two or more Wilson’s Plovers ever seen before in Massachusetts history.

And to think this rare bird sighting happened on our Good Harbor Beach!

The Wilson’s Plovers were foraging by Boardwalk #3 in our Mama and Papa Piping Plover territory. There were a few minor skirmishes between Wilson’s and Piping but they all continued to go about their respective ways. The Wilson’s foraged at the wrack line, preened on the beach, and one took a bath in the shallow water of the incoming time.

You can see in the clip, Papa Plover giving brief chase to one of the Wilson’s Plovers.

Here is a copy of the report that MARC requested be filled out in the case of rare bird sightings.

Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC)

Review List Species Report Form

Please answer each question with as much thought and detail possible. These details will help the MARC determine whether your review list species is sufficiently supported for acceptance. It is fine if you do not have all the details to complete the form; complete as much as possible.

Once completed, email this form to Sean Williams: seanbirder@gmail.com

  1. Species or subspecies: Wilson’s Plovers (3)
  1. Date, time, and location (please be specific, i.e. 17:40 on 30 Oct 2015, GPS coordinates or street address):

Approximately 8-9:00am on May 9th at Good Harbor Beach, 99 Thacher Road, Gloucester, MA

Number of individuals: 3 birds, two persons, myself and Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer

  1. Situational details of the sighting—e.g., “I was walking down Race Point Beach when suddenly…”, or “I got a call from Ludlow Griscom and went to investigate a…”

I was walking on Good Harbor Beach checking on our Piping Plover pair and saw the three birds in the fog, plus one sandpiper. The birds were foraging in the wrack line. One went higher up on the beach to preen, another took a bath in the shallow water. The WP were in the PiPl’s nesting territory and there were several skirmishes between the PiPl, and one Wilson’s chased another Wilson’s. After a bit, all three flew further down the beach and out of sight. I stopped by later in the day, after the fog had burned off, to see if they were still there and they were not.

  1. Physical description. This is perhaps the most important part of the form. Include all observed physical details of the bird, including plumage, bill, feet, eyes, bare skin, shape, and size relative to nearby birds:

Pale pink legs, thick bill and overall black, plumage similar to PiPl, but a little darker, but not as dark as Semi-palmated Plover, tiny bit larger than Piping Plover.

  1. Vocal description. If the bird vocalized, describe the sound to the best of your ability, e.g. trill, buzz, high-pitched, “kser”, quavering, length of call, etc.

The waves were drowning out their vocalizing.

  1. Behavioral description. What behaviors did you observe?

Foraging, preening, bathing, territorial dispute with PiPl, and flying.

  1. Habitat:

Good Harbor Beach is a sandy beach, with the beach greatly narrowed this year because the beach dropped about six feet and the tide now comes right up to the dune during periods of high tides. The beach abuts a dune, large parking lot, and marsh.

  1. Total length of time and number of times bird was seen and/or heard:

Half an hour to an hour.

  1. How did you rule out other similar species?

 Behavior and photos.

  1. Distance from the bird:

Twenty to thirty feet or so.

  1. Optics used to view the bird:
  2. Eyes and cameras. I may have film footage. Will check on that.
  3. 13. Lighting—e.g. sunny or cloudy, was the bird sunlit or backlit:
  4. Sunny at first, then dense fog came rolling in.
  5. Your contact informationkimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com

RAREST OF RARE VISIT FROM WILSON’S PLOVERS

Wilson’s Plover Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Earlier this week while checking on the PiPl, a small group of shorebirds caught my eye. They were foraging at the water’s edge. Although the fog was as thick as split pea soup and visibility not great, something seemed off with the birds–they looked like Piping Plovers–but seemed a tiny bit bigger, and the silhouette of their bills was larger and chunkier than that of our PiPl. When they scurried along, coming closer, I could see that their bills were solid black, too, and their legs and feet were a fleshy pink, not the bright PiPl orange.

The three foraged nearly identically to the way Piping Plovers forage, pecking and darting at the water’s edge, enough so that when Papa Plover caught sight, he chased them further down the beach and out of his territory.

Papa Piping Plover, with feathers puffed out to appear larger, chasing the Wilson’s Plover out of his #3 nesting area.

In the above two photos, compare the orange legs and feet of the PiPl, versus the Wilson’s fleshy pink legs and feet. The PiPl bill is black with differing degrees of orange; the Wilson’s bill is pure black and thicker.

The mystery plovers were fairly far down the beach and I only got few good photos, but did take some footage of Papa chasing the odd plovers with the pale pink legs.

Later at home I was able to identify the shorebirds and amazingly, they are Wilson’s Plovers!! I write amazingly because they are a southern species of plover, rarely seen as far north as New Jersey. I mentioned to Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer about the Wilson’s Plovers. I don’t think he believed me at first, but after taking a walk on the beach, he agreed, yes, they were Wilson’s Plovers!

Wilson’s Plovers live along beaches of the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They are named after the ornithologist Alexander Wilson who discovered them on Cape May in 1813. The species is (and was at that time, too) very rare for New Jersey, let alone northern Massachusetts!

Pretty pink legs of the Wilson’s Plover.

Wilson’s Plovers are listed as threatened or endangered in some states. As with Piping Plovers, disturbances to nesting areas and loss of habitat are the primary threats to this plover species.

I only spotted the Wilson’s Plovers early in the day. The fog engulfed the shoreline even more, making additional sightings nearly impossible. The following morning I stopped by GHB to check on the PiPl, and did not find the Wilson’s. Ornithologists call these visitors in places far outside the bird’s range “vagrants,” but I prefer to think of them as guests. Please write and let us know if you see a Wilson’s Plover, and please take a snapshot if possible. Thank you.