Migrating Great Blue Herons have arrived to Cape Ann, where they join the small number of Great Blues that overwinter in New England. Look for them in marsh, pond, and along the shoreline.
The Good Harbor Beach Parking Lot Plovers
The story of a remarkably spirited pair of birds and how a community came together to help in their struggle for survival.
By Kim Smith
May 6, 2019
For the past four years, beginning in May of 2016, a pair of Piping Plovers has been calling the sandy shores of Good Harbor Beach their home. Located in the seaside city of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Good Harbor Beach is the city’s most popular beach. Visitors are attracted to her natural beauty, soft sandy beach, and gently sloping shoreline. Good Harbor Beach provides a beautiful and well-kept location for every kind of fun-in-the-sun activity, and beachgoers can be found swimming, sunbathing, surfing, picnicking, volleyball playing, jogging, strolling, kite flying, and wind surfing. Even weddings take place at Gloucester’s welcoming “little good harbor” at the edge of the sea.
The Piping Plovers arrive from where no one knows for sure. Perhaps they wintered at the wide sandy beaches of North Carolina’s Cape Lookout, or further south at the highly productive tidal flats of the Laguna Madre in Texas, or southwestward at the remote Turks and Caicos Island of Little Water Cay. What we do know is the pair is arriving earlier and earlier each spring. Is it because they are older and are more familiar with landmarks marking the migratory route? Do they arrive earlier because they are stronger flyers, or because they now have a specific destination in mind?
Piping Plovers winter primarily along Gulf Coast beaches from Florida to northern Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida, and at Caribbean Islands.
For whatever reason, in 2018, the male and female arrived at Good Harbor Beach in early April.
That year coastal regions all along the Eastern seaboard had been devastated by four late winter nor’easters and Good Harbor was no exception. The beach had narrowed greatly while great expanses of dune had eroded or simply disappeared.
Soon several more Piping Plovers, and a single Dunlin, arrived to join the scene. The small flock of shorebirds appeared weary after what must have been a wild and windy northward migration, and all spent several days recuperating by resting on the beach and foraging at the tidal flats.
Foraging and flying through spring wind storms and snow squalls.
Despite April snow squalls and a changed landscape, the Piping Plover mated pair set about reclaiming their previous years’ nesting site.
Mama Plover, left, and Papa Plover, right, shortly after arriving in April 2018
Piping Plovers are a shorebird so small you can easily hold one in the palm of your hand. They have a rounded head and rounded body feathered in coastal hues of sand and driftwood. Their jet-black eyes are large and expressive while slender yellow-orange legs propel them around the beach with lightning speed.
During the breeding season, the bill appears orange with a black tip, and both male and female sport a distinguishing crescent-shaped head band and black collar around the neck. All markings may be more pronounced in the male. By summer’s end, the collars and crowns of both male and female fade to gray and the bill becomes a solid black.
The Piping Plover’s (Charadrius melodus) name comes from the characteristic piping vocalizations the birds make. Warning of pending danger, the adult’s calls are sharply rattling. When parents are piping to their chicks, the peeps are softly melodic and barely audible. The most notable of all is the repetitious piping the male makes to the female, calling her to join him in courtship.
Within several days after arriving, the Good Harbor Beach Mama and Papa were courting and making nest scrapes on the sandy beach.
What does Piping Plover courtship look like? The male makes a small nest scrape in the sand about three to four inches in diameter, and only as deep as the saucer of a teacup. The scrape is not often tucked under vegetation or in the dunes, but sited between the wrack line and edge of the dune, open and exposed to all the world.
He pipes his mating call, urging the female to come inspect his handiwork, his mere little scrape. He’ll continue to pipe while tossing bits of seashells, dried seaweed, or tiny pebbles into the nest scrape. If she is enticed, and that is a very big if, she will make her way to the nest scrape.
The male will continue refining the scrape, vigorously digging, with his legs going a mile a minute and sand flying in every direction. If he’s proven his nest building skills, she’ll peer into the nest. With tail feathers fanned widely, he then bows. The female not only inspects the nest, but the male’s cloaca, the V-shaped vent on the underside of a bird that is the opening to its digestive and reproductive tracts. If she decides to stay a moment longer, the male stands at attention with chest expanded while doing a high stepping dance around the female.
When and if satisfied with all her mate has to offer, she will position herself to allow the male to mount her. He dances more high steps upon her back in preparation for the “cloacal kiss,” where they touch cloaca to cloaca. It only takes a few seconds for sperm to be transferred to the female. Up to this point all has appeared rather courtly and refined, so it is always surprising to observe the last bit of the mating encounter where the male holds the female down to the ground with a rough hold on her neck for several more moments, after which she will pick herself up and run off. From separate stances, they end with a round of preening before then dozing off or zipping off to the shoreline to forage for food.
The Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers courtship and mating
Enter the troublesome “Bachelor.” Each year, the Good Harbor Beach nesting pair have an unmated male joining the mating game, and does he ever like to cause trouble. The Bachelor is constantly in the pair’s established territory, not only trying to trick Mama into mating with him, but later in the season will fly aggressively at the young chicks and fledglings.
Countless Piping Plover smackdowns ensue, where the Papa and the Bachelor repeatedly run pell-mell torpedo-like towards each other, then puffing out their feathers to appear larger, brandishing their wings and oftentimes biting, and then retreating. Sometimes the female joins the battle with a flourish of wings and both do figure eight flights and run-abouts all around the Bachelor. At other times, she watches from a distance as the two duke it out. Most often the dual ends with the mated pair heading to their respective corner of the beach, while the lonely Bachelor lays low.
Trouble with unmated males, “disrupters,” so to speak, is not uncommon to the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. A great deal of time and energy is spent by males defending their territories from other males.
Depending on weather and air temperature, the female begins laying eggs in the nest scrape. In Massachusetts, this usually takes place near towards the end of April or at the beginning of May. Stormy weather, cooler temperatures, and disturbances by dogs often result in delayed nesting. She usually lays four eggs, less typically three. She does not lay all the eggs all at once, but one every day, or every other day, over an approximate week-long period.
Not until three eggs have been laid do the plovers begin continuously sitting on the nest. During daylight hours, both the male and female take equal turns brooding the eggs. The “changing of the guard” takes place in half hour intervals and the nest is never left unprotected, unless a predator is being chased off the scene.
The Atlantic Coast breeding population has more than doubled, from 790 pairs when it was first listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1986. Over these past thirty-plus years, collaborating conservation organizations throughout the bird’s breeding regions have devised a practical way to help keep people and pets out of endangered and threatened shorebird nesting areas. Symbolic areas are roped off, with “keep out” signs that explain to beachgoers about the nesting birds.
DCR symbolic fencing
In 2018, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair arrived on April 3, nearly a month earlier than in previous years. At the time of their arrival, the citywide leash laws allowed for dogs on the beach during the month of April; however, symbolic fencing was installed and a designated area was clearly defined. The mated pair began to zero in on one particular nest scrape only a few feet away from where they had nested the prior two years.
Piping Plover eggs, chicks, and hatchlings are subject to predation, mostly from avian predators, and largely by crows and gulls. Adult Piping Plovers perceive all canids as threats, whether a dog on leash, a dog off leash, fox, or coyote, largely because fox eat Piping Plover eggs and because off-leash dogs chase shorebirds, inadvertently step on the eggs, and with their curious nature, generally disrupt the nesting area.
Vandalism, bonfires and dog disturbance in the nesting area
The Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers were no exception. Because of the constant disruption by dogs running off leash through the roped off nesting area at Good Harbor Beach, the pair were shunted off the beach and began spending their days huddled on the white lines in the adjacent parking lot. After several warm April weekend beach days, when each day there were several hundred off leash dogs, with dozens tearing through the nesting area, on April 22 the birds made their first nest scrape on one of the white lines in the parking lot.
To you and I, nesting in the parking lot may seem like a crazy alternative, but when you think about it, their solution was really quite smart. At Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, there is street parking for beachgoers and few, if any, cars are in the parking lot. Most people are walking their pets on the beach, not in the lot. And the painted white lines provide camouflage in much the same way as does beach sand.
Parking lot nest scrape, 2018
Calls for help were made to the community, urgently requesting that people keep their off leash dogs out of the roped off nesting areas. Many people made an effort to control their dogs, but many did not, and on May 5, the first egg was laid in the parking lot nest.
Within hours after the egg was discovered, Gloucester’s DPW crew, under the direction of Mike Hale and Joe Lucido, erected a barricade around the nest so that the egg would not be run over by a vehicle. Many in the community rallied around the displaced plover family. After the second egg was laid, Dave Rimmer, director of land stewardship at Essex County Greenbelt Association, along with his assistant Mike Carbone, placed around the nest a wire exclosure.
An exclosure is used to protect the eggs of threatened and endangered species. The structure is approximately four feet in diameter, constructed with wire that allows the birds and chicks to run freely through the openings, but is too small an opening to allow most predators to enter.
A group of dedicated Piping Plover volunteer monitors set up camp in the parking lot and began monitoring the nest from sunrise to sunset. It was a highly unnatural situation and distressing to observe the birds brooding the eggs while also trying to defend their foraging territory on the beach. Piping Plover mated pairs communicate constantly with piping calls, and with one in the parking lot sitting on the nest and the other on the beach foraging, they were beyond hearing range from one another.
As the chick’s hatching day drew closer, advice was sought from John Regosin, deputy director of MassWildlife, on how to help the Piping Plover family return to the beach after the chicks had hatched.
Piping Plover chicks are impossibly adorable. Unlike songbirds that hatch blind, naked, and helpless, Piping Plover chicks are precocial, which means that within hours of emerging they are able to move about and feed themselves. Weighing about as much as a nickel, the downy balls of fluff are at first clumsy, falling over themselves and tripping about on oversized feet. Although they can feed themselves, the hatchlings are not completely mature and still need parents to help regulate their body temperature. The chicks snuggle under Mom and Dad for warmth and protection.
Chicks learn quickly, and after the first day, are fully mobile, confidently zooming around the beach. There are few baby birds more winsome at birth than Piping Plover chicks, and that is perhaps one of the reasons so many fall in love with these tiny creatures.
A portion of the parking lot was closed to beach traffic, and as was expected, within hours, the chicks were running in and out of the exclosure. By afternoon they were zing zanging around the parking lot, pecking at teeny insects found between the gravel stones.
Although an elaborate Piping Plover parking lot exit strategy had been devised, the Piping Plovers had their own solution in mind. The following afternoon, Dave Rimmer observed the tiny family of six attempt to depart the parking lot. They at first appeared to be heading to the beach via the marsh creek end, when they suddenly switched direction and started back in the opposite direction towards the boardwalk nearest their original beach nest site. They went part way down the boardwalk, and then headed back toward the parking lot, then back down the walk. The family next began to travel through the dunes in the opposite direction, toward the snack bar. After all the zig and zagging, the little family returned to the boardwalk, and then headed straight through the dunes, in the direction of the originally established beach nesting zone. For a few tense moments all sight of the chicks was lost, but the parents could be heard piping, urging the chicks onward. Suddenly, out they spilled, all four one-day old chicks, down the dune edge, into the roped off nesting area, and miraculously, within feet of where the adults had originally tried to nest.
It’s heartbreaking to write that three of the four chicks never made it past their first week. Volunteers witnessed one carried away by a gull and the second disappeared after an early morning dog disturbance in the nesting area. The third chick was observed taken away by a large crow. The fourth chick, the one named Little Pip by volunteer monitor Heather Hall, made it to two weeks. Both Little Pip and adults disappeared after what appeared to be an extreme disturbance by people and pets within the nesting area, made obvious by the many, many human and dog prints observed within the roped off area.
Much has changed for the better since the summer of 2018. Piping Plover recommendations were presented to the community by the author of this article. Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, under the leadership of Alicia Pensarosa, developed a list of recommendations, which was presented in July of 2018. The Piping Plover volunteer monitors and Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee worked with Gloucester’s City Council members to change the ordinance to disallow pets on the beach after April 1. On February 27, 2019, the ordinance was passed with community-wide support and the full support of all members of the Gloucester City Council.
On March 25, 2019, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair returned, a full nine days earlier than in 2018. They were observed foraging at the shoreline, dozing off in the drifts of sand, and remarkably, the male was already displaying territorial behavior. The pair look plump and vigorous, not nearly as weary as the small band of Piping Plovers that arrived the previous year, on April 3, after the four late winter nor’easters.
The symbolic fencing was installed on March 27 by Dave Rimmer and his assistant Dave McKinnon. Despite the ordinance change, come April 1, off leash dogs were still on the beach running through the cordoned off areas. Old habits are heard to change, visitors from out of town were not yet aware of the new rules, and not everyone in the community had received word of the change.
After two weeks of dog disturbance through the protected nesting area, the mated pair began spending all their time on the white lines in the parking lot. Within days, they had made a new nest scrape in the white lines of the lot, very near to the previous year’s nest.
April 2019 – For the second year in a row, the Piping Plovers are again shunted off the beach and into the parking lot. They return to the white lines, make a nest scrape, and are courting
The volunteer monitors worked closely with city councilor Scott Memhard, whose ward Good Harbor Beach falls under, to better educate the community about the ordinance change. Gloucester’s Department of Public Works employees Mike Hale and Joe Lucido provided clear, unambiguous signage, and the mayor’s administration, working with the Gloucester Police Department, stepped up the animal control officer patrols and began issuing and enforcing the newly increased fines.
As a result, dog disturbances through the protected areas greatly decreased during the second half of April, creating the best possible outcome of all, and that is, the Piping Plovers have returned to their beach nest scrape!
We know not what the summer of 2019 holds for the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover family. But by removing needless disturbance from dogs on the beach, we are at least providing the plovers with a fighting chance of successfully nesting on the beach, with the clear goal of fledging chicks.
Learning to fly
Warm weather brings an increased number of human and pet disturbances. People leaving trash behind on the beach attracts a great many crows and seagulls. Feeding the gulls and crows is illegal, but it is difficult to enforce laws of that nature.
Piping Plover eggs and chicks are in grave danger of being eaten by crows and gulls. The adults go to great lengths to distract gulls and crows from the nesting site, including feigning a broken wing and leading them away from the nest, to tag team flying after the much larger birds and nipping at their flight feathers. When the adult birds leave the nest to distract avian and canine creatures, the eggs and chicks are left vulnerable to attacks by avian predators. If the nest is destroyed, during a single season, Piping Plovers will re-lay eggs up to five times. The earlier in the season the birds are allowed to nest without disturbance, the greater the chance the chicks will survive.
A question often asked by beachgoers is why do Piping Plovers make their nest on the sandy beach where we like to recreate? Why don’t they nest in the dunes? The answer to that question is several fold. Piping Plovers evolved over millennia, long, long before there was recreational beach activity and the tremendous crowds seen today on sandy beaches, the preferred habitat of the Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers. The birds evolved with feathers that perfectly mirror the hues of sand, dry seaweed, and dry beach grass, providing camouflage and safety for the adults and chicks. In dune vegetation, their pale color would make them an easy target.
Because Piping Plover chicks are precocial, within days of hatching they feed at the water’s edge. They are so tiny, weighing only 5.5 grams at birth, and they need unfettered access to feed at the water. The hatchlings would surely be lost or eaten if home base were in the dunes.
Another comment heard is, “Well, they are obviously genetically inferior and stupid birds because they are unable to adapt to our human activity, you know, survival of the fittest, and all that.” Nothing could be further from the truth. By the earlier part of the previous century, the plume hunters hired by the millinery trade to provide feathers, and even whole birds, to adorn women’s hats, had nearly hunted Piping Plovers and many other species of birds to extinction. Under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prohibits the taking of migratory birds, their eggs, and nests, the Piping Plover population began to recover. Tragically, beginning in the mid-twentieth century the population again plummeted, as habitat was lost to development, recreational use greatly intensified along the Atlantic Coast, and predation increased.
The Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers are slowly making a comeback because of tremendous conservation efforts. Massachusetts is at the leading edge of Piping Plover recovery, and other states and provinces comprising the Atlantic Coast populations are learning from protocols and guidelines established by Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation partners. These partners include the Trustees of Reservations Shorebird Protection Program, MassWildlife, Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program, Essex County Greenbelt’s Land Conservation Program, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MDCR), and communities all along the Massachusetts coastline with burgeoning populations of Piping Plovers.
I am hopeful for the future of our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. It takes time and patience to effect change and we have come a very long way in four years. Nearly everyone we speak with has fallen in love with the plovers. Working with our dedicated volunteer monitors, Mike Hale, Joe Lucido, and the entire crew of Gloucester’s Department of Public Works, Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, former police chief John McCarthy, Mayor Romeo-Theken’s administration, animal control officers Teagan and Jamie, Dave Rimmer and the Essex County Greenbelt staff, city councilor Scott Memhard, and nearly all the members of Gloucester’s City Council, I have met some of the kindest and most tender hearted people. Documenting the story of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers though writing, photographing, and filmmaking, while learning and sharing with my community along the way, has provided a fascinating window into the life story and challenges of this surprisingly tough, resilient, and beautiful little shorebird.
Monday, May 6, 2019. As I write this, earlier today I observed Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer and intern Fiona Hill install a wire exclosure around the Piping Plover’s nest. The nest is on the beach! And very close to where the pair nested in 2016 and 2017.
Last Friday, I noticed the pair had zeroed in on a nest scrape far back in the roped off area, well clear of the high tide line. A stick protruding from the sand adjacent to the nest makes it easy to spot the location. There are bits of shells, dried seaweed, and small pieces of driftwood surrounding the outer perimeter of the nest and it is very well disguised. Nice location Mama and Papa, well done! Mama was in the nest moving her belly and legs, as if turning the eggs. Papa showed up about twenty minutes later and they changed places, he to sit on the nest, and she to forage. They have been continuously sitting on the nest since Saturday.
Dave and Fiona constructed the wire exclosure outside the nesting area to minimize disturbance. With great caution, they approached the nest. It was Papa’s shift and he valiantly tried everything he could to try to distract us from his nest of eggs, piping loudly and running very near to Dave and Fiona while displaying a “broken” wing. It only took the two of them fifteen minutes to place the exclosure around the nest, and within a moment after completion, Papa was back on the nest brooding the eggs.
Papa feigning a broken wing to distract.
The Good Harbor Beach dunes and Piping Plover habitat is recovering from the late winter storms of 2018. Phil Cucuru points to how much of the beach washed away in the first photo (April, 2018). In the next photo, the space between the old dune fencing posts and the edge of the dune show how much of the dune was carved away. The last two photos show the new dune fencing and the natural recovery taking place.
Just some of the many friends of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers – I wish I had photos of everyone
If you would like to read more 🙂 GO HERE to 100 Plus Articles, Posts, and Stories from April 2018 to May 2019
HAPPY NESTING AND HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY FRIENDS!
Our GHB Piping Plover family is doing beautifully and all appears to be going as expected. It’s almost been a week since the PiPls began incubating the eggs full time. Mama Pippi and Big Papi take turns at the nest, in approximately 20 to 30 minute intervals. The “changing of the guards” happens in seconds, but you can catch a glimpse of the eggs in the nest during the switch.
The Bachelor is still around, and he is clearly unhappy, skulking in sandy depressions, and causing Papa to give him chase down the beach.
I have been filming PiPls at area beaches and our pair is on a similar egg laying schedule as several other pairs. It’s super interesting tracking all and noting the (mostly) similarities and some differences. At one location, the pair are nesting under a stick, just as are the GHB pair.
Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers at the nest last Friday, before the wire exclosure was installed. Note what an awesome location they chose this year–it’s behind a rise of sand and is surrounded by plenty of twigs, dry seaweed, and bits of shell to help provide additional camouflage.
The Piping Plovers have a nest and it is not in the parking lot! Four beautiful, perfect eggs are now being tended to by both Mama and Papa Plover on the beach, in the same general location as the 2016 and 2017 nest locations.
Early this morning, Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, assisted by intern Fionna Hill, installed the wire exclosure that helps protect the Piping Plover eggs from canid, avian, and human disturbance and destruction.
Dave is permitted by Mass Wildlife, and is an expert in, building and installing PiPl wire exclosures. Dave and Fionna constructed the exclosure together outside the nesting area so that when they actually had to step into the nesting area to place the exclosure there was minimal disturbance to the nest. Dave noted that it only took the two of them about fifteen minutes to install the wire structure around the nest, and Papa Plover was back sitting on the nest within one minute of completion.
Gloucester’s conservation agent Adrienne Lennon was present at the onset, but had to tend to issues related to the dyke construction at Goose Cove. Dave’s new assistant, Fiona Hill, will be helping to monitor the Plovers for the summer. She grew up in Newburyport and is a a junior at UMass Amherst. Welcome to Good Harbor Beach Fiona and we look forward to working with you!
Papa feigning a broken wing in a classic diversionary display to distract predators.
So sorry the photos are very much on the pink side. I should convert the whole batch to black and white. My darling granddaughter was playing with my camera over the weekend and all the settings were messed up–the photos from the Cape Ann Museum were taken with the white balance set to underwater, and the beach photos this morning set to nine on the red scale! At least now I know how to fix it if it happens again 🙂
Papa back on the nest within a minute of exclosure installation completion.
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Papa Plover piping to hurry up and finish the installation. It only took @ecgreenbelt Dave and Fiona 15 minutes to set the exclosure around the nest. Papa was back on the nest within a minute of the expert installation! #pipingplover #sharetheshore #endangeredspecies #goodharborbeach #gloucesterma
It’s been another unseasonably cold and wet week for the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers (and all of we humans, too!). This morning, April 29th, at 5:45 am it was 36 degrees, and I nearly lost my balance on the unexpectedly frost-covered footbridge.
Crickly creek frosty morning at Good Harbor Beach
On the few warmer days we’ve had, the PiPls are courting and mating, but on freezing cold, wet, and windy days, they hunker down in divots and behind mini hills in the sand, and that’s exactly where I found them this morning. We should be seeing eggs any day now; perhaps Mama is just waiting for the weather to turn a bit warmer.
Hunkering down in sandy divots during cold, windy weather
The issue of dogs running through the roped off nesting areas has greatly subsided, thanks to the ordinance change, to increased enforcement by our dog officers Jamie and Teagan, to Piping Plover monitor presence over the past month, and to the bold new signage. We can see very clearly how fewer dogs on the beach has affected the plover’s behavior. Unlike the first two and half weeks of April where there were still many, many dogs on the beach, the PiPls are only occasionally seen in the parking lot.
Thank you to Gloucester’s awesome DPW crew, who in anticipation of the past weekend’s running race, encircled the plover’s nesting area with sawhorses and police tape.
We have seen a total of FIVE different Piping Plovers at Good Harbor Beach over the past two weeks, our mated Mama and Papa pair, the Bachelor, ETM (the banded PiPl from Cumberland Island, Georgia that Heather Hall spotted), and a mystery fly-by-night female.
We were hoping the new girl would stay long enough to strike up a piping conversation with the Bachelor, but she flew in for a one night stopover and has not been seen since. She was very distinctly pale, with only the faintest head band and collar band.
There is one bit of troublesome news to share and that is someone had a bonfire within the roped off nesting area. The police chief and and the federal agent assigned to Good Harbor Beach have both been made aware of the bonfire.
We are grateful and thankful to all who are helping the PiPls successfully nest, especially those who are using Gloucester’s alternative locations to walk their dogs.
Photos from PiPl check 4-29-19
Sawhorses and police tape in the parking lot, with thanks to the DPW staff
As you may have read, a banded male Piping Plover was spotted by Piping Plover volunteer monitor Heather Hall late afternoon on April 16th. He was banded on October 7th, 2018, at Cumberland Island, Georgia. (Read more here). ETM has been spotted daily and often at Good Harbor Beach since the 16th.
We’ve heard more from the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program biologists. ETM was last seen at Cumberland Island on April 11th, which means that in five days, or less, he traveled all the way from Georgia to Gloucester, approximately 1,140 miles, if traveling by airplane and overland. If he were traveling along the coastline, that would greatly increase the mileage. It’s no wonder that when we see shorebirds newly arrived at Good Harbor Beach in the spring, they appear weary and ravenous!
Reader Kevin McCarthy from Amelia River Cruises left a comment on our first post about ETM – “I was born and raised in Gloucester and grew up at Brier Neck but moved to Amelia Island Florida in 1968. Amelia Island is just south of Cumberland Island and for 20 years I have been operating Amelia River Cruises with narrative sighting boat tours along Cumberland Island. My wife’s family are among the very first English settlers on the island in 1740. Your plover may have been part of my Tours this winter.”
REMINDER – The Piping Plover volunteer monitor information meeting with conservation agent Adreinne Lennon is this Wednesday, April 24th, from 5:00 to 6:00pm at City Hall at the Kyrouz Auditorium
Our Good Harbor Beach PiPls are waffling between the parking lot and the beach.
Tuesday at daybreak I found them mating and sitting in the nest in the parking lot.
Mama (left) and Papa( right) in the parking lot nest scrape.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the two were this time mating at their beach nest scrape. Throughout most of the day they were seen on the beach!
Aside from some pre- and early dawn scofflaws, along with the occasional visits by dogs off and on leash during the day, the beach appears to becoming less frequented by pets. Perhaps the beach will become the safer of the two locations and our little pair will decide to return for the duration of the season.
HEADS UP – This Sunday is Easter. If the weather is nice there is the strong possibility we will get people from out of town, as well as some locals, who are not yet aware of the ordinance change. The monitors will be on the beach, but we need help from the community in letting people know about the new policy, no dogs on the beach at any time of day or night from April 1st to October 1st. Thank you for any help given!
Thank you again to dog Officers Jamie and Teagan for their continued stepped up presence, and to Mayor Sefatia, Mike Hale and the DPW for the fantastic, clear simple signs. The past few days, the signs appear to really be having an effect!
Banded Piping Plover ETM was observed again Wednesday. You can see his ETM leg band in the photo on the left, but not when he is standing with his left leg tucked up under his belly.
Late yesterday afternoon, our Piping Plover volunteer monitor Heather Hall identified a new addition to the three Piping Plovers currently residing at Good harbor Beach. She observed that he was super hungry and that he was wearing not one, but two identifying bands! The green band is located on his upper left leg and is etched in white with the letters ETM. On his upper right leg is a nondescript aluminum band most likely placed there by USFW.
The little guy was tagged on October 7th of this past year at Cumberland Island, Georgia, by the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. He is a first hatch year, which means he is not quite yet a year old. ETM was spotted several more times at Cumberland Island indicating that he spent the winter there.
Cumberland Island is a barrier island and is the largest and most furthest south of the “Sea Islands” of the southeastern United States. You may have heard of Sea Island cotton, a very luxurious type of cotton. The fibers of the cotton that are planted on the Sea Islands grow extra long. In spinning and weaving cotton, the longer the fibers, the smoother and more luxurious the cotton feels. The word long-staple is used to describe very fine cotton threads.
Cumberland Island National Seashore sounds like a stunning and fascinating place to visit and I hope to do just that someday soon 🙂
To learn more about the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program:
The Virginia Tech Shorebird Program is a consortium of conservation biologists in the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Although our biologists have a variety of interests, we share a common goal of conservation of coastal wildlife resources through transformational research. We work closely with managers and stakeholders to provide research that is timely and pertinent to management. The VT Shorebird Program began in 1985 with a study of piping plovers on the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. Since that time, our biologists have worked up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, along the shores of prairie rivers and lakes, and internationally in the Bahamas, Canada, and China, promoting the conservation of seabirds and shorebirds through research. We have worked with a variety of species, including piping plovers, least terns, snowy plovers, killdeer, spotted sandpipers, red knots, common terns, gull-billed terns, roseate terns, and black skimmers in an effort to conserve our coastlines and the animals that depend on it. Read More Here
And here’s more from Audubon –
Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. It is also one of the oldest barrier islands in Georgia, with rich soils capable of supporting a diversity of plants. It is bordered by the Cumberland River, Cumberland Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean. Three main natural communities are found on the island: extensive salt marshes on the western side comprise almost 17,000 acres; an ancient, mid-island maritime forest of live oak, pine, cedar and saw palmetto covers 15,100 acres; and a narrow strip of dune/beach stretches along the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Parts of the island have regenerated from use as plantations, when clear-cutting for sea island cotton farming and timber harvests for ship building were profitable. It has several noteworthy features, including 50 miles of shoreline, freshwater marshes and ponds, high bluffs, interdune meadows, tidal mudflats and creeks, and a large, freshwater lake. It is accessible only by ferry, a concession arrangement with the national park service.
As a United Nations-sanctioned International Biosphere Reserve, the wilderness on Cumberland Island protects many threatened and endangered species, including six species of migratory and shore birds and four species of sea turtles. It is clearly a place of global significance.
Cumberland Island is a major stopping point on the transatlantic migratory flyway, with over 335 species of birds recorded. Threatened and endangered species include Least Tern, Wilson’s Plover, and American Oystercatcher. The southernmost point of the island, known as Pelican Banks, is a favorite place for Black Skimmers, oystercatchers, pelicans, and numerous ducks and shore birds. The fresh water ponds provide excellent rookeries for Wood storks, white ibis, herons and egrets. In the forest canopy, warblers, buntings, wrens and woodpeckers abound. On the shores, osprey, peregrine falcons, and the occasional Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle can be seen. CI is a breeding site for endangered/threatened/high priority species such as Wood Stork, GAEA, Least Tern, Painted Bunting. Extensive, regular use by migrants and winter residents (warblers, shorebirds, PE, FA). The habitat is largely undisturbed and the island is one of GA’s largest. Area attracts several rare/accidental species (LBCU, GLGU, WEK). Northern edge for some species (i.e., WIPE winters) = seasonal use and range. Contains steadily increasing population of TUTI (uncommon to rare on many barrier islands). AMWP (winter and a few summer), REEG, etc.
Black Rail, Piping Plover, Saltmarsh sharp-tail Sparrow, Nelson’s sharp-tail Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Red-cockcaded Woodpecker (Source: Shelia Willis checklist) Read More Here
View back to Market Basket, April 2019. Heading into its third month, Aspen Dental, 501 Gloucester Crossing, Gloucester, Mass, openend January 31.
“we welcome all mouths”
I checked on the PiPls early this morning, or more accurately should write, one Piping Plover. We haven’t seen the second PiPl since Monday afternoon. The beach was quiet, with only two dogs, and they were both on leash. Officer Teagan was also present, walking the length of the beach and keeping an eye out on our singular PiPl.
Mid-morning I returned and the beach was bustling with activity. Dave Rimmer and his crew, Dave McKinnon (the above photo is for Dave’s Mom!), and Mike were installing the symbolic fencing. Gloucester’s Conservation Agent was present as well as volunteer monitor Mary. The group was soon joined by Joe Lucido. Joe was there to check on the signs, which are a work in progress, and a DPW crew was present cleaning up all the winter trash that accumulates and blows into the marsh. Joe has been posting about the PiPls on the Gloucester Beaches facebook page and he mentioned the Plover posts get tons of likes!
Shout out and thank you to Mayor Sefatia and her administration, all our City Councilors, Joe Lucido and the entire DPW, Heather Hall, Mary, and all our volunteers, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, Dave McKinnon, and Mike, Gloucester’s Conservation Agent, and everyone who is helping our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers get off to a great start!
Great foraging in the tide flats for our PiPl. Notice in the super copped photo, a tiny little shrimp!
1) Volunteer to be a Piping Plover monitor. Please contact Alicia Pensarosa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Heather Hall is currently working on a temporary schedule until one is provided by Alicia. Heather can be reached at email@example.com.
2) Please let your friends know the PiPls have returned and please share this post.
3) If you have a dog, and I know this is a great deal to ask, please avoid Good Harbor Beach. There are many other great places that folks can walk their dog. Beginning April 1st, all dogs are prohibited from Good Harbor Beach at anytime of day or night, including early morning and after the life guards leave for the day.
4) If you feel you must bring your dog to GHB, please avoid the No. 3 boardwalk area (their preferred courting and nesting area) and please walk your dog along the shoreline.
5) Join our Facebook page Piping Plover Partners.
6) Come to the Piping Plover Ecology, Management, and Conservation program at the Sawyer Free Library this Saturday from 10am to 12pm. This program is sponsored by the City of Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee.
7) Please report anyone harassing the PiPls to the police at 978-283-1212 and any dog harassing the PiPls to Gloucester’s Animal Control officers Jamie and Teagan at 978-281-9746.
THANK YOU FOR ANY AND ALL HELP GIVEN!
TWO GOOD NEWS UPDATES:
A note from Mayor Sefatia – A thirty day waiting period after the new dog ordinance was passed was required prior to any new signs being installed. The thirty days has passed and we will be seeing the new signs shortly!
Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt will be installing the protective symbolic fencing tomorrow, Wednesday!
Look for the Papa doing a fancy goose step during courtship. This is our Good Harbor Beach Mama and Papa courting last spring.
Our beautiful Piping Plovers have returned! This afternoon we observed them foraging at the shoreline, then chased up to the wrack line by a bounding off-leash dog. After the dog departed the area, the two PiPls dozed off in the drifts of sand and dry beach grass.
The pair look plump and vigorous, not nearly as weary looking as the PiPls that arrived last year on April 3rd, after the four March nor’easters.
Unbelievably, the male is already displaying courtship behavior! And even more amazingly so, he was doing it within mere feet of where they have nested for the past three years.
I know I sound like a broken record, but today was an on-leash day. There were at least a half a dozen dogs off-leash in the forty-five minutes Charlotte, Tom, and I were there. I purposefully bring Charlotte to the beach on on-leash days because of the out of control dogs. A forty to fifty pound off-leash Golden Retriever puppy came bounding up to Charlotte, while its owner stood back shouting he’ll slobber all over her. I was more concerned with the oversized pup knocking her over and used considerable force to hold the puppy back, while Tom scooped up Charlotte. Everyone I spoke with was not aware of the dog laws, old laws and the new laws, and the new 300.00 fines. All the ordinances on the books are not going to do a thing, unless they are enforced.
Please help give Jamie a true Gloucester welcome! Jamie hails from Gloucester, England and it is an honor that he chose Gloucester, Massachusetts as his final destination on his 5,500 mile cross country journey.
See Joey’s up-to-the minute schedule of when Adventureman will be arriving to Gloucester, posted at the top of the blog, and for Facebook readers, at goodmorninggloucester.org.
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@adventureman interview with @captjoe06 and @pdalpiaz. Adventure man is going to be arriving in Gloucester on Wednesday!!!! He has run 5,500 miles, along both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts and across the southern US, raising money for children’s hospitals. Come out and welcome Adventureman (aka Jamie) in true Gloucester style. For all the details, arrival times, etc. go to www.goodmorninggloucester.com. Shout out to @sefi62, Pat, Joey, Maggie Rosa, @beauport_hotel @capeannchamber @capeanngiclee and a host of friends who are welcoming Adventureman and planning to make his stay in #gloucesterma memorable!
Last night’s moonrise over the Back Shore was spectacular. Click on the sequence above to see full size. I don’t know why the Moon has a “neck” in the middle photo, or what that reflective appearance is termed, but it was so interesting to see.
February’s Snow Moon was also a Super Moon. It was the the second of a trio of Super Moons taking place in 2019. The Super Snow Moon was also the largest of the three (closest to Earth). The third and final Super Moon of the year is taking place on March 21st.
Our Charlotte loves looking at the Moon, so when she popped up in bed at 5:30 in the morning and exclaimed Moon!, I bundled her up and off we went to see the Moon setting over the Harbor. I wrote last month that she loves looking up in the sky for the Moon, largely from reading her the story book Good Night, Moon, and now we are reading Buenos Noches, Luna, practicing for an upcoming trip to Mexico.
NASA: When a full moon appears at perigee (its closest point to Earth), it is slightly brighter and larger than a regular full moon—and that’s where we get a ‘supermoon.’ The phrase was coined in 1979.
For the past week or so, a duo of male American Wigeons has been spotted foraging along the coastline. They dip and dabble, close to the shore, and are eating sea lettuce and seaweed.
American Wigeon male eating sea lettuce
Smaller than a Mallard but larger than a Bufflehead, the punky male flashes a brilliant green swath across the eye and has a beautiful baby blue bill. The males were are also colloquially called “Baldplate” because the white patch atop his head resembles a bald man’s head.
Oiling their feathers (called preening) and constantly aligning the feathers keeps the ducks both afloat and aloft.
Notice how the water forms beads on the duck’s breast, a sure sign the feathers are well-oiled. Ducks have a gland at the base of their tail called the uropygial gland (you can also say preen gland or oil gland). The preen oil creates a protective barrier that prevents the feathers from becoming waterlogged.
I like to think of the American Wigeon as both spunky and punky. Spunky because of the way they bounce back after diving in rough surf. Punky because of their occasionally holligan-like behavior.
Last year when first encountering American Wigeons I didn’t understand why the Mallards were so aggressive towards the Wigeons, snapping and nipping at the pair whenever they got too close to the Mallard’s meal. Now I see why. American Wigeons often feed alongside other ducks, especially diving ducks such as Coots. The Wigeons opportunistically snatch away the aquatic vegetation the divers pull up although, our two travelers were quite amicable and while feeding together, not in the least hoodlumish toward each other.
Watching the ducks tumbling around in the rough surf while casting about for food is a site I won’t soon forget. It was beautiful to see the Wigeon’s surf dance but also a window into their daily struggle for survival. I marveled at the ducks’ resilience. Roughly a third of migrating birds that winter each year in the mainland of the United States do not survive the journey.
The pair has not been since that morning foraging in the choppy waves. Perhaps they took a cue, of winter weather yet to come.
For many weeks during the late winter and early spring of 2017, a male and female American Wigeon made Rockport their home, and now we have had these two feisty boys. I wonder if the Wigeon’s winter range is expanding northward or if we are merely a stopover on their southward migration. Most of the migration occurs further west and south so I think we are pretty fortunate to have this dynamic duo visiting our shores.
The best kind of invasion–an usual bird invasion! The flock of male and female Black Scoters was fairly far offshore at daybreak. Later in the day I checked back on the scoters and they were continuing their southerly directed swim along the shoreline, but a little closer to the rocky coastline. Oh how I wish we could see them really close-up!
Male Black Scoters sport a distinctive orange-knobbed bill
I call them little because they are the smallest of the three scoters we would see in our area, the other two being Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters. Even from far off shore I could hear their soft whistling calls.
The little Black Scoter breeds in the northern tundra, wintering along both the East and West coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. This beautiful little duck is a species thought to be in decline, namely because of its susceptibility to oil spills and pollution.
The beautiful collection of ducks currently migrating along our shores could also be called ‘A Study in Black and White,’ with a touch of orange, too.
Swimming inshore with the diminutive, albeit more ubiquitous, Buffleheads are Common Goldeneyes. Both sea ducks are members of the Bucephala genus; their name is derived from the ancient Greek word boukephalos, which means bullheaded and is in reference to their bulbously-shaped heads. During courtship rituals, male members of the Bucephala genus puff out their head feathers, making them appear even more buffalo-headed.
How can you tell the two apart when side by side? Goldeneyes are larger than Buffleheads and they have a circular white patch on their cheek, behind the bill.
Female (left) and Male Buffleheads
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has re-vamped their website. From here you can read more about Long-tailed Ducks, but I thought the following was particularly interesting while learning how to distinguish the different plumages. “Unlike most ducks, which molt twice per year, the Long-tailed Duck has three distinct plumages each year, achieved in a complex series of overlapping partial molts. The Definitive Basic Plumage is never worn in its entirety, as portions of Alternate are retained through the summer and elements of the Supplemental are acquired before all of Basic Plumage is obtained. Therefore change in plumage seems continuous from April to October. Unlike other waterfowl, the Long-tailed Duck wears its “breeding” or Alternate Plumage only in the winter. It gets its “nonbreeding” or Basic Plumage in the spring and wears it for the breeding season. Most other ducks wear the nonbreeding plumage only for a short period in the late summer.”
Male and Female Long-tailed Ducks in nonbreeding plumage.
The male Surf Scoter’s well-defined stark white patches against ebony feathers lends this sea duck its common name, “Skunk-headed Coot.” But it is the scoter’s bulbous-at-the-base orange, black and white patterned bill that I find interesting and almost comical. The female is a plainer dull blackish-brownish with light colored patches, one behind each eye and at the base of the bill.
The number of, and locations of, Brant Geese appear to be increasing as they are readying for the long migration to the Arctic breeding grounds. Brants migrate the greatest distance of any North American goose.Brant breakfast.
A lone Canada Goose joined the scene for a moment, but his presence was not welcome by the Brants. His appearance provided a terrific opportunity though to compare the size difference between the Brant and the Canada Goose. You can see in the photo below, the Brant is quite a bit smaller, but that didn’t prevent one from chasing away the Canada Goose.
The avian northward migration is heating up! The following are just three of the fascinating species of wild birds readily seen at this time of year, found all around Cape Ann. Look for Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at coves, bays, ponds, quarries, and marshes.
Currently migrating along Cape Ann’s shoreline is a beautiful brigade of Brant Geese. They usually turn up at about this time of year, late winter through early spring, and I have been looking for them in all the usual places. Brants thrive in Cape Ann coves, devouring sea lettuce while riding the incoming and outgoing waves. I see them eating and pecking for food atop barnacle-crusted rocks and am not sure if they are eating seaweed caught on the rocks or tiny crustaceans.
Brants eating bright green sea lettuce.
In the 1930s a terrible disease devastated eel grass and the Brant population plummeted. Surviving Brants adapted to sea lettuce and as the eel grass recovered, so too is the population of Brants recovering.
Brants are wonderfully vocal, making a funny “cronk” sound. I was walking past a flock of geese off in the distance and wasn’t paying much attention. Thinking they were Canada Geese, I ignored them until hearing their vigorous cronking.
They fight with each too, over rocks and food. Tomorrow if I can find the time I will try to post photos that I took of a Brant scuffle.
Brants feeding on the rocks are knocked off by the incoming tide, but then quickly get right back up again.
Brants migrate the furthest north of any species of goose, as far north as Hedwig territory.
The Greater Scaup breeds as far north as Snowy Owls and Brant Geese, and Ring-necked Ducks are also passing through, not traveling quite as far, but on their way to the Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests. Greater Scaups travel in flocks, sometimes forming rafts of thousands. You can see why in the photos Greater Scaups are colloquially called Bluebills.
Three male Scaups and a Red-breasted Merganser
The most significant threat to Greater Scaups is habitat loss, oil, and sewage pollution. Nearly eighty percent winter over in the Atlantic Flyway where they are subjected to heavy metals in foods and habitat.
The two species are closely related (Aythya collaris and Atythya marila); both are small diving ducks and both are vulnerable to becoming poisoned by lead from diving for food and incidentally eating the lead shot and lures that continues to cause problems in our wetlands.
READ MORE HERE
Legions of fans visit local, national and international museums to see icons of American 20th century art by Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. Some of this art was inspired by Gloucester, MA. One more Hopper or Homer Gloucester scene in any collection would be welcome, but in Gloucester it would be transformative.
The City of Gloucester boasts a world class museum that would be the ideal repository for a major Hopper and Homer of Gloucester. It hasn’t happened, yet. It should! I feel not enough of a case has been made for having originals right here in the city that inspired some of their most famous works and changed their art for the better.
Edward Hopper Captain’s House (Parkhurst House), one of the few original Hopper works remaining in private hands, is slated as a promised gift to Arkansas’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Crystal Bridges opened in 2011 and will have acquired 4 examples of Hopper’s art — 2 paintings, 1 drawing and 1 print–with this gift. (I think Arkansas would have been ok with 3.)
The only known Winslow Homer seascape painting still in private hands is a great one inspired by Gloucester. Bill and Melinda Gates own Lost on the Grand Banks, 1885. I saw it at the auction house back in 1998 just before the sale. What a fit for Gloucester and Homer if it found its way back here!
Edward Hopper’s Gloucester Street also went to the west coast, purchased by Robert Daly. I’d love to see this one in person! The corner hasn’t changed much since 1928 when Hopper painted the street scene.
Hopper’s downtown Gloucester scene, Railroad Gates, is not on public display.
I’m surprised and hopeful that there are paintings of Gloucester by Hopper that could be secured. There are tens of drawings including major works on paper. I saw this Gloucester drawing, Circus Wagon, by Edward Hopper at the ADAA art Fair back in March 2016.
Davis House (25 Middle Street) was sold at auction in 1996.
I’m keeping tabs on most of them. The only way they’re going into any museum is through largesse. Why not Gloucester?
Homer and Hopper watercolors in private collections can’t be on permanent view due to the medium’s fragility. (Exciting developments in glazing and displays are being developed that go beyond the protective lift.) The Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, MA, cares for works of art as well as any institution.