WINGED WONDER OF THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH MARSH

When talking about wild creatures on the Good Morning Gloucester podcasts, we often comment about how there seems to be so many more herons and egrets foraging and nesting on our shores. I think it is a combination of factors, most notably because our waterways have never been cleaner and because of global climate change. Whatever the reason, to see such grand beauty on a daily basis, we on Cape Ann are most certainly the beneficiaries.

Great Egret Good Harbor Beach

BEAUTIFUL DOE AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Well hello there beautiful doe of the dunes.

This graceful, slender beauty leisurely strolled, and then pranced, up to me while I was filming PiPls. I stood very still as she came closer and closer, trying not to move a muscle. With great curiosity, she spent a few minutes looking at me. The doe came so close, I could have reached out my hand and touched her.

After the once over from her, and a magical moment for me, she then proceeded to walk a few feet away and take a very long pee in a tide pool. I was filming, not photographing at this point, and so it was captured on film. I don’t know why I think this was funny, I guess because while I was thinking, this is so beautiful, perhaps she was wondering if I was a tree and a suitable place to go pee.

Dancing along with the waves at the shoreline, she was heading back to the dunes when a photographer boxed her into a corner, forcing her to cross the creek and go up the rocky incline to Sherman’s Point, and then cross the road. I prayed she would not get hit by a car (FYI, the photographer had a huge telephoto lens!)

Half an hour later I was further down the beach and happily surprised as the doe came in from the road. She had circled all the way around, her tongue was hanging out and she was out of breath. After a few sips of water at the creek, the elegant White-tailed doe of the dunes crossed the marsh and made her way back home.

Beautiful sunrise yesterday morning, too.

Doe Tracks – I have been making a photographic record of all the different types of animal prints that we see at Good Harbor Beach in the morning. Usually, the deer tracks are in the softer sand and not as clearly defined.

WHEN A DEER COMES PRANCING ALONG THE BEACH!

Well hello there beautiful doe of the dunes.

This graceful, slender beauty leisurely strolled, and then pranced, up to me while I was filming PiPls. I stood very still as she came closer and closer, trying not to move a muscle. With great curiosity, she spent a few minutes looking at me. The doe came so close, I could have reached out my hand and touched her.

After the once over from her, and a magical moment for me, she then proceeded to walk a few feet away and take a very long pee in a tide pool. I was filming, not photographing at this point, and so it was captured on film. I don’t know why I think this was funny, I guess because while I was thinking, this is so beautiful, perhaps she was wondering if I was a tree and a suitable place to go pee.

Dancing along with the waves at the shoreline, she was heading back to the the dunes when a photographer boxed her into a corner, forcing her to cross the creek and go up the rocky incline to Sherman’s Point, and then cross the road. I prayed she would not get hit by a car (FYI, the photographer had a huge telephoto lens!)

Half an hour later I was further down the beach and happily surprised as the doe came in from the road. She had circled all the way around, her tongue was hanging out and she was out of breath. After a few sips of water at the creek, the elegant White-tailed doe of the dunes crossed the marsh and made her way back home.

Beautiful sunrise yesterday morning, too.

Doe Tracks – I have been making a photographic record of all the different types of animal prints that we see at Good Harbor Beach in the morning. Usually, the deer tracks are in the softer sand and not as clearly defined.

WHAT IS THAT BUTTERFLY ON THE BEACH THAT LOOKS LIKE A SMALL MONARCH?

There are several butterflies that people often mistake for Monarchs. Among them are two members of the Vanessa genus and they are Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.

Monarchs are on the wing at the dunes at Good Harbor Beach, attracted to the Common Milkweed growing abundantly throughout. For the past several months, we have had an influx of Red Admirals. They aren’t seen in the dunes as much as are the Monarchs; you’ll find them right on the sand at the beach. They are drinking moisture found in the sand, especially at the wrack line, seeking minerals and salt. Red Admirals are commonly referred to as the ‘Friendly Red Admiral’ because they alight on people’s skin, drinking salty human perspiration.

When wings are folded Red Admirals are beautifully disguised against beach and bark textures; when their wings are open they flash bright red-orange bands across their upper and lower wings, which sometimes leads people to believe they are a ‘small’ Monarch.

Red Admiral

Monarch

THANK YOU PIPL VOLUNTEERS!

We PiPl volunteer monitors had a sweet get together last night to celebrate our three fledged Piping Plovers. Not everyone could attend and I didn’t take the photo until several had already departed. Despite the fact that the City prematurely dismantled the Piping Plover refuge, it didn’t dampen our spirits. It was super to talk to fellow volunteers and learn more about them while sharing a beautiful cake that Heather Hall had made, with some fantastic Sangria, made by Laurie Sawin.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all our fantastic volunteers for your hours of dedication. It was a great year for PiPls at Good Harbor Beach. We hope our Mama and Papa return next year, and if they do, we will be even more prepared!

WHY IT IS A TERRIBLE AND POINTLESS IDEA TO DESTROY THE PIPING PLOVER HABITAT AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

There are several reasons as to why it is vitally important to leave the Piping Plover refuge in place at GHB. PiPl chicks and fledglings are like human babies in that they eat and eat all day and evening, rest, and then resume eating. Their appetites are voracious. Not only are they growing but they are building their fat reserves for the journey south.

Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers forage at the shoreline and also within the enclosure. Because this area is not raked or disturbed by human foot traffic, plants have a chance to grow. The plants attract insects, which in turn becomes food for the shorebirds.

On hot summer days, when the beach is jam packed, especially at high tide, the young birds and adults do not have access to the shoreline.They forage exclusively on the insects in the enclosed roped off area.

Each morning we find the family together within the enclosure, either foraging or sleeping, or at the shoreline in front of their refuge.

What will happen to the family now that the roping was removed prematurely? We don’t know. It’s been suggested that they will simply leave and try to find refuge at other beaches. Will they be able to maintain their family bond or will they become separated? If, for example, the fledglings find their way to Winthrop Beach where there are other PiPls nesting, the adults at that beach will surely attack them and chase the fledglings out of their territory. The nesting PiPl at Winthrop would be disrupted and the GHB fledglings won’t be eating and fattening up, but expending energy flying and fighting.

I am documenting PiPls at several other north shore beaches. Nowhere else are the PiPl refuges being dismantled. As a matter of fact, just this past week, the Department of Conservation and Recreation actually increased an area to create additional habitat for a new young family.

We monitors have spoken with and made friends with many of the local homeowners along Nautilus and Salt Island Roads. Every resident we have met is 100 percent for the PiPs and many have become valued monitors. Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer is for leaving the roping up as long as the Piping Plovers are at GHB.

We are having a difficult time trying to understand who or what is driving the rush to destroy the PiPls habitat.

Even on the slenderest blade of grass, insects are found.

Insects provide food for PiPls at all stages of their lives. Note this little guy is stretching for all he’s worth and his left foot is on tiptoes trying to reach a bug on the leaf.

Food is plentiful within the enclosure because of the vegetation that grows when this area of the beach is not raked. 
Morning wing stretches in the safety of the enclosure.
Resting behind the mounds of sand that form inside the enclosure.

PIPING PLOVER PARTY!

Come help us celebrate our three fledglings. Everyone is invited!

We’d like to say thank you to everyone who has lent a hand (or simply been a well-wisher) in seeing our three beautiful PiPl chicks fledge. Heather is having a special cake made and we will have some beverages. Feel free to BYOB (beverage).

When: Sunday, July 14th, at 7:30 pm.

Where: Good Harbor Beach, somewhere between the volleyball corner and boardwalk no. 3

Rain date: Sunday, July 21, at 7:30pm

WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!

36 Day Old Piping Plover Fledglings 

Our Piping Plover fledglings (all three present!) at 40 days old this morning, readying to fly and sleeping in the enclosure.

ROMANTIC CANDID MOMENT OF YOUNG COUPLE BECOMING ENGAGED AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

On my way to PiPl monitoring, I stopped to take a few photos of the rising sun. A couple were in my frame and I thought how striking a pose silhouetted with the sun coming up behind the two. It quickly became apparent that the man was proposing!

After some time had gone by (because I didn’t want to barge in on their moment), I asked if they would like the photos and they said yes. We shared email information. At this point they would like to remain nameless, but you can see from the silhouetted moment just how sweet to happen upon this scene.

Popping the question

Yes

BREAKING: LARGE MARINE MAMMALS OFF GOOD HARBOR BEACH – DOLPHIN OR WHALE OR BOTH? AN OSPREY SWOOPS IN TO FEED, AND PIPL UPDATE

On my morning PiPl check, I met up with a super nice gentleman, Bill, who walks the beach every morning. He loves wildlife (including PiPls), is a Coast Guard veteran, was a fisherman, and grew up on a marsh. Bill pointed out the whale (or he thought possibly a large dolphin), breaching and blowing blow holes off in the distance. Bill mentioned there had been a crowd along the back shore earlier and that there is tons of good bait fish off the coast right now.

Can a marine specialist please help us identify what we are looking at. Please comment in the comment section if you have a moment. Thank you so much!

Editor’s Note – Piping Plover volunteer monitor Val Cabral shares that this is a Humpback Whale. Thank you Val for writing!

How exciting at see an Osprey swoop in and snatch up a large fish precisely where the whales were fishing. All were too far away to get some really fine shots, but you can at least get an idea from the photos.

PiPl Update- all three fledglings are doing beautifully on this, their 39th day 🙂 The three spent the hours of five to seven mostly foraging in the area front of the enclosure, and also preening within the enclosure. Papa was on the scene, too.

July 10, 2019 Good Harbor Beach Sunrise

I wonder what kind of fish is bringing out the whales and the Osprey?

DON’T MESS WITH MAMA (OR PAPA) – YOUR DAILY PIPING PLOVER SMACK DOWN

These beautiful shorebirds, so small you can hold one in the palm of your hand, and so softly hued, they melt into summer shades of driftwood and sand, are actually tough as nails. You would have to be mighty fierce to battle hungry gulls and crows twenty times your size, an ever shrinking habitat, extremes in weather, and oddest of all, unmated males of your own kind.

We usually refer to our disrupter as the Bachelor; in WWE terms, I think he would be called a heel. Daily, there are impromptu smack downs, mostly Papa defending the chicks, but Mama often rescues the chicks, too. Even on the 38th day of our fledgling’s lives, the Bachelor went after one of the chicks this morning. The heel snuck up and then moved aggressively towards an unsuspecting fledgling, sleepy-eyed in the sand. Papa was nearby, gave the Bachelor the business, and down the beach they both flew.

Unmated males pose a problem not only at Good Harbor Beach, but at Piping Plover nesting sites everywhere. Early in the season, I imagine it may be good for the success of the species to have a few extra males present in case the male of a mated pair is killed. But why do they continue to harass throughout the summer, especially when the female may even have left the area? Papa’s and Mama’s defense of the chicks against the Bachelor’s villainous behavior is perhaps demonstrating to the young birds life lessons in how to defend their own future broods.

The Bachelor this morning, hiding behind a sand castle, waiting to pounce on a resting fledgling.

The sleepy 38-day-old fledgling.

Several mornings ago I observed the family feeding together in the intertidal zone, but wait, there were six, not five. Mom looked up from finishing her bath and quickly realized the Bachelor had wormed his way into the family’s territory. She went straight at him, but he held his ground. Papa heard the commotion and full on charged, chasing the Bachelor all the way down to the snack bar.

Mama taking a bath.

She looks up and recognizes it’s the Bachelor.

She flies straight at him, even wrassling for a moment, but the Bachelor refuses to leave.

Papa gives chase up the beach.

CONGRATULATIONS TO GLOUCESTER AND TO OUR CHICKS! 37 DAYS OLD AND OFFICIALLY FLEDGED!!!

Saturday marked the thirty-five-day old milestone in a Piping Plover’s life, when USFWS considers a chick fully fledged. At five weeks, a chick has by far the greatest chance of surviving and going on to become a breeding adult. That we fledged three from Good Harbor Beach is nothing short of astounding considering the very many potential threats. The average success rate per nest of four is 1.2 fledglings.

Gloucester’s citizens are proof positive of what a community can accomplish when we work together to effect change.

FLYING! One, two, three, lift off!

What did the chicks have going in their favor this year?

Number One was the change in the dog ordinance, which was to disallow dogs on the beach after March 31st.

Number Two was enforcing the new dog ordinance. Because of the ordinance change, and stepped up enforcement, the adults moved back to the beach to nest, and relatively early in the season. By helping the birds nest earlier in the spring, by the time the Fourth of July weekend arrived, the fledglings were bigger, stronger, and much better at following the parent’s voice commands that alert them to danger.

Number Three was the weather. With cooler than usual temperatures, there were fewer beach goers, which allowed for fewer disturbances.

Number Four, last but not least, was an amazing corp of volunteers who have dedicated hours upon hours to keeping watch over the babies, from sunrise til sunset. Our volunteers are truly the envy of other communities where PiPl nest. I am filming at several locations and staff at these beaches wish they had volunteers as dedicated as are ours.

With a happy, heartfelt thanks to a fantastic group of dedicated volunteer PiPl monitors, to Essex Greenbelt Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer for his continued help, to our Gloucester City Councilors for having the collective wisdom to vote to change the ordinance, to Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard for his ongoing assistance, to ACO Officers Teagan and Jamie, to Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, to Mayor Sefatia and her administration, to the DPWs Mike Hale and Joe Lucido, and to everyone in the community (and beyond) who have expressed their interest, their support, and who have loved learning about these tiniest, but most spunkiest, of sweet little shorebirds as we have watched them grow in their fascinating life story journey. 

The photos are from July Fourth weekend, at 35 and 36 days old. These past several mornings at daybreak I find the three fledglings, Mom, and Dad foraging and preening together on the tidal flats and wrack line in front of the enclosed area. They move back within the roping when the tractor comes through, preen for a bit, head back down to the tidal flats, or fly off to the creek. The family is continuing to stay together, but are dispersed during the day when feeding. There is a wide variety of insects and small sea creatures to forage from at Good Harbor Beach as the PiPls plump up for their southward migration.

Bath time and drying wings

Morning wake up calisthenics – right wing stretches, then left wing, shimmy shake, and then off to forage.

Every morning the beach rake drives over the wrack line where the fledglings and adults are foraging. It was very scary when the chicks were younger. At thirty-five-days old, the birds can fly away to escape the heavy equipment but usually choose to run instead. PiPls are better camouflaged when they don’t fly, and that is why they often run at top speed to escape danger, rather than flying.


Resting and preening in the morning within the enclosed area.

Because the area inside the enclosure is not raked, a nutritious buffet of insects can be found within the roping. The enclosed area not only provides good food, but is where the family spends most of their time when the tide is high and the beach is full of visitors. Dave Rimmer has let us know he fully supports keeping the roping in place as long as the PiPl family is at Good Harbor Beach. This is a tremendous relief to we volunteers because we see the many ways in which the PiPl family are continuing to utilize this important habitat.

MYSTERY CHICK AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH THIS MORNING

There were not one, not two, not three, but four chicks feeding together at the wrack line at day break this morning. The mystery chick appears to be about the same age as our brood, exhibiting all the same behaviors, although it is not a Piping Plover fledgling. I think it is a Semipalmated Plover fledgling.

The chick was sopping, soaking wet and very disheveled, but feeding as vigorously as our family finding Good Harbor Beach ants, beetles, mollusks, and sea worms to be excellent breakfast fare.

When Papa Plover voiced danger warnings, the little visitor listened as attentively as did our brood of three. At one point Papa ran towards him, I thought to scare him away, but Papa was really after the Bachelor and kept on charging.

How could such a little fledgling fly from their northern breeding grounds at such an early age I wonder. He was so drenched, he appeared to have “washed” ashore, not flown. Semipalmated Plovers breed as far south as Newfoundland so perhaps he only traveled across the Gulf of Maine.

Evocative light at daybreak this morning.

HAPPY JULY FOURTH PIPING PLOVER UPDATE – MOM RETURNS!

Just a very brief update from my morning 5-7am shift- I was happy to see Mom has returned to looking after the chicks. It’s really a relief because the beach was so crowded today with beach goers, beginning very early this morning. The chicks (all three!) spent most of the day at the creek with volunteer monitors keeping a watchful eye on the babes throughout the day.

Mom keeping watch while occasionally pausing to forage and to preen.

Thirty-three-day old Piping Plover chick.

Dad on alert for crows and the Bachelor.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY PIPING PLOVER UPDATE – MOM RETURNS!

Just a very brief update from my morning 5-7am shift- I was happy to see Mom has returned to looking after the chicks. It’s really a relief because the beach was so crowded today with beach goers, beginning very early this morning. The chicks (all three!) spent the day at the creek with volunteer monitors keeping a watchful eye on the babes throughout the day.

Mom keeping watch while occasionally pausing to forage and to preen.

Thirty-three-day old Piping Plover chick.

Dad on alert for crows and the Bachelor.

HAPPY THIRTY-TWO-DAYS OLD LITTLE CHICKS (ALL THREE)!

Almost entirely fledged, our Good Harbor Beach chicks are taking short flights around the creek and sandy beach. USFWS considers Piping Plovers fledged at 35 days, which will bring us to Saturday.

Nearly as large as the adults, the chicks still take direction and heed the parent’s warning piping calls alerting them to approaching danger. Every morning I typically find both adults protecting and monitoring the chicks, but this morning, only Papa was seen and that has been the case reported all day by fellow volunteers. Female Piping Plover parents often depart earlier than their male counterparts and that was the case with our family with the one surviving chick in 2017.

*Edited -found Mama this morning (a day after she disappeared), supervising all three chicks. Both parents still present and still on duty. Happy Fourth everyone!

What will happen at thirty-five-days? Will the chicks suddenly begin migrating southward? I don’t think it will be as precise as all that. The family maintains a loose association for an undetermined amount of time. Another PiPl family that I am documenting at a different location, where the chicks are four days older, is still hanging out together and the four siblings often nap together, within close proximity to Mom and Dad.

Under Dave Rimmer’s advice, the City has agreed to keep the roped off area in place until after the busy Fourth of July weekend (thank you!). By keeping the area within the rope protected, we are continuing to provide a safe harbor and good foraging habitat for the fledging birds, which will surely be needed this weekend.

Thank you to everyone who is watching out for our sweet little PiPl family

 

PiPl sandwich

Going, going, gone!

Thirty-two-day Old Piping Plover Chicks

Papa supervising this morning