FUN 411 UPDATE ON ETM, THE CUMBERLAND ISLAND BANDED PLOVER

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

PIPING PLOVERS – PARKING LOT NEST OR BEACH NEST?

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.

Standing at the crossroads- parking lot nest or beach nest?

Papa and Mama courting at the parking lot nest scrape Tuesday.

Mama (left) and Papa( right) in the parking lot nest scrape.

The painted white lines provide camouflage.

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!

Mama and Papa mating on the beach Wednesday afternoon.

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.

Painted Lady flying in off the water into the dunes.

EXCITING NEWS FOR OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PLOVER FANS!

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.

Ornithological Summary

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

WHERE DO PIPING PLOVERS GO IN BAD WEATHER?

A question often asked is “where do the birds go when the weather is inclement?”

The answer depends on what type of bird. Some birds, like perching birds, have it a bit easier than seabirds and shorebirds because their little toes reflexively cling tightly to a branch or limb. But many, many birds lose their lives in hurricanes and super storms.

Extreme weather events are especially harmful to threatened and endangered shorebirds. Wave action, high winds, and storm surges destroys coastal habitats and flooding decreases water salinity. Birds, especially young birds, are blown far off course away from their home habitats. A great deal of energy is expended battling the winds and trying to return home.

In the case of Piping Plovers, for the most part, business continues as usual during average inclement weather. You won’t see them sit in a tree or dune shrub because they will lose their primary advantage against predators, that of the safety afforded them by the camouflage of their sandy beach coloring.

Piping Plovers and Dunlin taking shelter behind the landmark rock at Good Harbor

Perhaps they’ll find a rock on the beach, or ridge in the sand, to crouch behind and out of the path of the wind. Piping Plovers are much harder to find in inclement weather because their feathers mirror shades of rain and snow and fog. Drenching rain, spring snow squalls, and biting summer sand storms won’t stop these indefatigable creatures, we see them foraging during every type of weather event.

Even Piping Plover chicks, weighing not much more than nickel, have the ability to withstand harsh summer sandstorms.

Nearly freezing and made worse by whipping wind.

 

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS ARE AGAIN MAKING NEST SCRAPES IN THE PARKING LOT

Our little Piping Plover family has for the second year in a row been shunted into the parking lot. Saturday morning at 7am they were seen courting and nest scraping on the beach. After a full morning of plenty of dogs off leash romping on the beach, they were nest scraping in the parking lot. By nightfall, they were mating in the parking lot.

Piping Plover Good Harbor beach nest scrape April 13, 2019

This behavior is precisely what happened last year. The PiPls would begin their morning courting and nest scraping on the beach but by the end of each warm April weekend day, especially off leash days, they were found courting and nest scraping in the parking lot.

Piping Plover parking lot courtship Good Harbor Beach April 2019

Sadly, there is a contingency that endlessly denies that the people not following the leash laws have any responsibility. They expertly spread misinformation and twist words around and this is not helping the Piping Plovers successfully nest and fledge chicks. It’s heartbreaking really because nesting in the parking lot very adversely affects the health of the parents and chicks for a whole host of reasons. The adults will be expending twice as much energy, guarding a nest scrape in both the parking lot and on the beach. Last year, the birds maintained their territory on the beach the entire time they were brooding eggs in the parking lot. Intelligently so, when you think about it, because the beach nest is the precise location they marched their chicks to only one day after hatching.

To help quell the endless misinformation and falsehoods being perpetuated on a social media site –

Piping Plover monitors are not dog haters. Many of us are dog owners (some with multiple dogs) and most of us love all animals, wild and domestic.

I have, as well as have many of our PiPl advocates, been addressing not only the issue of people not following the leash laws at Good Harbor Beach, but problems around littering and trash collection and how these issues adversely affects Piping Plovers and all wildlife. Before there was the Animal Advisory Committee list of recommendation and the city’s Piping Plover Plan, I presented a list of recommendations, which included how to help the PiPl in regard to littering. This plan was presented on July 9, 2018. We fully recognize the threat gulls and Crows pose to the chicks. The focus of late has been the dogs on the beach because they are the greatest disrupters to courtship and brooding and because the PROBLEM IS STILL NOT RESOLVED, despite the ordinance change. There were dogs off leash all over Good Harbor Beach at the time of this writing (Saturday night) and only a very few gulls and Crows. We recognize that compliance with the ordinance won’t happen overnight, but rather than helping, misinformation is continually spewed.

To address the controversy over “other predators.”

As we have posted many times (including photos of), there are Eastern Coyotes and Red Fox on our local beaches. We see their easily recognized tracks in the sand. But one coyote or one fox, which is the most set of tracks that we ever see on a beach on a given morning at dawn or an evening at dusk, does not in any way equal the disruption to Piping Plovers while they are courting and brooding to that which is caused by several hundred dogs romping on the beach on a single day.

ADULT BIRDS ARE NOT IN DANGER OF BEING EATEN BY FOX, COYOTES, AND DOGS BECAUSE THEY CAN FLY AWAY FROM MAMMALIAN PREDATORS.

Crane Beach, which has by far many more natural predators than does GHB, successfully fledges chicks every year.

Crow in the dune this morning at daybreak. I have posted often about the problem of gulls, Crows, and litter and how the issue negatively impacts Piping Plovers.

ADULT PIPING PLOVERS AND GULLS FEED SIDE BY SIDE ALONG THE SHORELINE.

Gulls and Crows threaten Piping Plover chicks, but we are not even at the chick stage yet. Folks might want to know that because of the restaurants lining the boulevard at Revere Beach, the community has a much, much greater problem with gulls and Crows than we could ever imagine, literally hundreds, if not thousands, on any morning or afternoon. And yet, Revere Beach successfully fledges chicks each year in the exact same locations, and only doors down from where the restaurants are located.

Winthrop Shores Reservation Beach, a densely packed neighborhood with rows upon rows of of triple decker homes facing their beach has a problem with house cats on the beach, and yet this community manages to successfully fledge chicks year in and year out, in the exact same locations.

What do these three very different types of beach habitats have in common, and what are these three beach communities doing right that we are not doing? Perhaps it is because the citizens respect their community’s leash laws.

Repeatedly claiming disbelief at the number of dogs we are encountering at Good Harbor Beach, I have been pressured and cajoled into sharing photos of dogs on the beach, and when I do, there is public objection on their part. I invite all the negative PiPl Facebook commenters who we NEVER, EVER, EVER see at Good Harbor Beach, to come lend a hand. You were invited to work with us on solving the dogs on the beach issue and our invitation was ignored.

Additional note- Today, Sunday, a former off-leash day, there were fewer dogs on the beach than yesterday, a former on-leash day (as of 12pm). Puzzling, but we are not questioning the PiPls good fortune! Huge shout out to ACOs Teagan and Jamie for their hard work, to to all the people who did not bring their dogs to the beach today, to Gloucester’s DPW for installing the unmissable new signs, and to all the folks who came to GHB today, read the signs, and departed (we saw that happen)!

Our GHB Piping Plovers are weighing their options. Perhaps if we can keep the dog disturbance to a minimum, they will abandon their nest scrape in the parking lot and stay on the beach.

List of Articles and Links Provided That Explain How Dog Disruptions on Beaches Harm Piping Plovers

Very briefly gorgeous sunrise this morning, before the heavier clouds descended

GLOUCESTER GETS IT RIGHT WITH THE NEW DOG SIGNS!

The bright yellow and prominently positioned No Dog signs went up this afternoon. One is placed at each entrance–the footbridge, the parking lot and Whitham Street. They are also positioned to hide the ultra confusing blue signs.

I think the signs will be of immeasurable help in getting people to understand the ordinance change. Thank you so much to Gloucester’s DPW Mike Hale and to the City for getting it right!

EVEN THE BACHELOR HAS RETURNED TO GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

The Bachelor has returned and he was up to his old tricks this morning, trying to horn in on Mama. Neither Papa nor Mama were having any of it and all three took off down the beach with the mated pair pursuing the unmated male. A confrontation (PiPl style) then ensued where both males puffed out their chests and repeatedly ran towards each other, until the bachelor backed down and flew away.

The photos were taken far down the beach, but at least you can see all three, with the two males positioned for battle. Disputes between PiPls, over territory and mates, take place where ever the shorebirds nest.

REMINDER: The new Good Harbor Beach ordinance is in place prohibiting dogs during shorebird nesting season. No Dogs are allowed at Good Harbor Beach anytime of day or night from April 1st to October 1st.

City Councilor Scott Memhard forwarded the following three photos. They are of the signs that Mike Hale is having made for Good Harbor Beach–note that they measure a whopping 24″ by 36″!

Scott has been working with Laurinda and Patti from the Cape Ann Photography Club on the glass box signs. Scott posted the flyers and the Club has changed the date at the footbridge entrance. We’re looking forward to seeing the changes at the other glass box display cases. Thank you Scott for your tremendous follow through!

Folks are disbelieving of the fact that there were a plethora of dogs Good Harbor Beach on Saturday , with nearly as many on Sunday. The photos aren’t that great and I wasn’t planning on posting the images but because people (who know better) are saying outlandish things, here are two batches from Saturday. The first batch are only some of the dogs because when you are standing at the Whitham Street entrance, it is impossible to document the dogs at the footbridge end, and vice versa.

Saturday morning – approximately 10:30am to 12:30pm on Saturday April 6, 2019

Saturday afternoon at approximately 4:15

Dogs on beach photos posted at www.kimsmithdesigns.com

HAPPY NEWS- OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS HAVE RETURNED – A SECOND CHANCE FOR OUR COMMUNITY TO GET IT RIGHT!

This morning we found Papa and Mama in precisely the same nesting areas as last Friday. ACOfficers Teagan and Jamie pointed them out. It was too wet and drizzly for my camera, so we don’t have photographic evidence, but we could clearly see they were courting, Papa fan bowing his tail feathers and Mama inspecting the nest.

Papa and Mama courting (photos taken last week)

We don’t know where they disappeared to while the weekend disturbances to the nesting area were taking place, but I do know this is a gift and a second chance for our community to get it right.

It will take our entire community working together to help mitigate some of the threats the PiPls daily face.

Gloucester’s DPW has installed dune fencing, which is helping to restore the dunes. Protecting the dunes benefits both people (our beloved beach) and wildlife.

Improved trash collection and heavier fines for littering helps keep predators such as gulls, crows, foxes, and coyotes from scavenging the beach for garbage left behind by people, and makes for a much more pleasant beach going experience.

The Gloucester City Council passed an ordinance to prohibit dogs from Good Harbor beginning April 1st.

Now it is up to the citizens of Gloucester to respect its ordinances and laws by not littering, not trampling through the dunes, and by not bringing dogs to the beach during shorebird nesting season.

And for the City to enforce these laws.

I frankly blame myself for being caught off guard. It had been so quiet on the beach the previous week, I thought people were getting the information that the ordinance has changed to prohibiting dogs on the beach. But the warm weather brought out both locals and out of towners and they have not gotten the information that the rules have changed.

Today is Tuesday. In order to be prepared for the very real possibility of another warm weekend day in April (five days from now) we need an IMMEDIATE CALL TO ACTION

  1. SIGNS, SIGNS, SIGNS! We need to remove the ultra-confusing blue sings. Replace with simple, easy to read LARGE and PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED NO DOG signs.
  2. Very Important: The locked glass door signs with the May 1st date need to be updated before the weekend. Folks are using this as a reason to bring their dogs on the beach.
  3. Update the City’s website with the ordinance change. The City is aware of this and we pray this simple change can be accomplished before the weekend. Folks are also using the incorrect information posted there as a reason to bring their dogs on the beach.
  4. WE NEED HELP with enforcement from the GDP. There is only one dog officer on duty each weekend day and they are covering the entire city.
  5. Staff the parking lot booth at Good Harbor Beach. This will prevent dogs from coming in through the lot (and bring in $$).
  6. In addition to staffing the booth, position staff or volunteers at the footbridge and at the Whitham Street entrance, before people even have a chance to walk on the beach with their dogs.
  7. Be active, you can help by speaking to folks when you see them coming onto the beach with their dogs or when littering.

The following two photos (photos are not posted here, please see kimsmithdesigns.com) are posted to show as an example as to why we need help from uniformed officers in enforcing the ordinance. This family was politely told that the ordinance had changed and that the ACOfficers were issuing tickets. The father’s response was “we’ll keep the dog in our pocket.” Moments later, the mother and daughter were taking their dog on a romp, off leash, at the creek.

Folks don’t understand that if we had chicks on the beach, this would pose an incredible threat. Even the smallest dog is no match for a tiny shorebird chick crouched down in the sand, unable to fly away, and at risk of being stepped on. Our Piping Plover parents often bring the teency weency chicks down to the creek to feed on hot crowded summer days.

Please be reminded that it was constant unrelenting dog disturbance that drove the PiPls into the parking lot last April. Knowing what we know, and in learning from last year’s debacle, it  would be a crime if we let that happen again for a second year in a row.

The Piping Plover is the littlest of shorebirds struggling against extremes- loss of habitat, rising sea level, natural predators, and human-created predators and disturbances. We have been given a gift, to be able to witness part of the life story of the Piping Plover here on our Good Harbor Beach.

To better understand what is happening on the beach and in response to recent comments–

Two of the three birds went missing during the day on Saturday. There are no coyotes or foxes roaming Good Harbor during the busiest part of the day while the beach is teeming with thousands of people and hundreds of dogs. 

Coyotes and foxes do not pose a threat to adult birds, only to the eggs and hatchlings because adult birds can fly away, and eggs and hatchlings cannot.

Piping Plovers feed alongside gulls, and many other species of shorebirds. Gulls and Crows eat baby chicks and eggs, not adults. One of the most astonishing scenes you will see when observing the dynamics between the gulls and the PiPls is to watch this tiny shorebird chase a gull away from its nest and chicks, biting and nipping the gulls tail fathers and even latching on. Both parents get involved and they will chase the gull far down the beach.

List of Articles and Links Provided That Explain How Dog Disruptions on Beaches Harm Piping Plovers

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS ARE MISSING

All three Piping Plovers were last seen early Saturday morning.

We were only been able to locate one by day’s end on Saturday, only one all day Sunday, and none today, Monday. I scoured the beach and creek this morning at daybreak, and friends were again there this afternoon searching. If anyone has seen or knows differently, please, please email us at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you.

Papa Plover spent a good part of Sunday morning fruitlessly piping plaintive calls for Mama.

Sunday afternoon, ACOfficer Teagan and I found Papa all alone at the No. 1 nesting area, standing on one leg and tucked up by the dune.

I found this beautiful feather Sunday morning near some Piping Plover tracks and think it is a PiPl feather. The feather measures just shy of 6cm. A reader wrote to say she thinks it’s a Common Loon feather. I’ve never seen a Common Loon at Good Harbor Beach but they are all around and it could have washed ashore.

CONSTANT STEADY STREAM OF DOGS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH, FROM DAWN TO DUSK

We could write that there were at least two hundred dogs at Good Harbor Beach today, but only those of us who were there for any length of time would believe it. There was a constant steady stream, from sunrise, to when I last checked at 4:00pm. For the most part, the folks that we spoke with were without a clue that the rules have changed. Suffice it to say, we need to do a better job getting the word.

For readers who may have missed the information. The new ordinance prohibits dogs at Good Harbor Beach at any time of the day or night from April 1st to October 1st.

There are people who are not getting the information–they don’t read local blogs, local papers, or are not on Facebook. There has to be a more effective way to let folks know. If you are reading this post, please share it with your friends and please let them know of the ordinance change. And if you have a suggestion, or experience on how to get information of this nature across, we would be so appreciative if you would share. Thank you!

Just saying, if 200 tickets had been issued x $300.00, that would equal $60,000.00, which is more than enough money to pay people to stand at all three entrances to the beach and let folks know about the rule change; one person at the footbridge, one at the parking lot entrance, and one person at the Whitham Street entrance. This would be a very effective way to get the word out, and may only be necessary in the early days of the rule change. It’s not fair to expect the monitors to shoulder this responsibility as people can behave in an extraordinarily entitled manner and are often aggressive and hostile in their response when told of the ordinance change.

The following photos are just several of dozens taken today. The owner appeared to have five dogs with her. While she was whipping the ball with several of her dogs at the low tide line, these two tore away and ran repeatedly through the nesting area.

No Dogs at Good Harbor Beach from April 1st to October 1st.