CLOVER PLOVERS – Just hatched Killdeer Chicks!

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

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

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

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

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

Killdeer courting in the parking lot at Stage Fort Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piping Plovers are camouflaged in coastal hues of sand and driftwood

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

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

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

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

Follow this link for more photos of Killdeers and chicks

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

MORE SHOREBIRDS NESTING AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!!

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

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

Piping Plover eggsKilldeer, Good Harbor Beach Gloucester

Clear Evidence of the Destructive Force of Global Warming on the Massachusetts Coastline and How This Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife -By Kim Smith

Female Piping Plover Sitting on an Egg

The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.

The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.

Barrier Beach Erosion

Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.

You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.

In the photo of the male Piping Plover sitting on his nest from 2016 the metal posts are half buried.

Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.

Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.

Common Tern parent feeding fledgling

 

 

Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?

Female Monarch Depositing Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf

Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.

Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.

Masses of sea debris from the storm surge washed over the wildflower patches and are covering much of the pollinator habitat at the Lighthouse.

Broken Barriers

American Wigeon Migrating at Henry’s Pond

Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.

The newly rebuilt causeway between Niles Pond and Brace Cove was breached many times during the nor’easter. The causeway is littered in rocks and debris from the sea.

The causeway being rebuilt in 2014.

The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.

The footsteps in the sand are where the road ran prior to the storm.

Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.

Migrating Black-bellied Plover

Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.

To be continued.

Impassable Road to Plum Island

Snowy Owl Cranes Beach

FRIENDS OF LITTLE CHICK

Common Tern delivering breakfast to its fledgling.

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

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

Ruddy Turnstones

Ruddy Turnstones Photobombed

Common Tern fledgling squawking for breakfast.

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

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

Bonaparte’s Gulls

 

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

 

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

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

FIRST LOOK BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS!

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

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

Breakfast – Piping Plovers eat insects and small invertebrates

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

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

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING 2 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Leaving the possible nesting site

PIPING PLOVERS -5 GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

Returning to the depression

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

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

Digging in!

PIPING PLOVERS NESTING GOOD HARBOR BEACH GLOUCESTER COPYRIGHT KIM SMITH

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

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

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

RARE AND ENDANGERED PIPING PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Yet another bird that was nearly hunted to extinction for its beautiful feathers, as of 2012 when the most recent study was concluded, there were only 3,600 breeding Piping Plovers along the Atlantic Coast.

piping-plover-on-nestPiping Plover’s are a softy colored, mostly tan and white, pint-sized shorebird and like their nests and eggs, exquisitely camouflage with colors of sand and pebbles. This also makes them highly vulnerable to disturbances by humans; even if when people are trying to avoid their nesting sites, it is very easy to unwittingly crush eggs and chicks.

Piping Plovers have been observed on Good Harbor Beach this spring and could quite possibly nest here. The Gloucester DPW, working in conjunction with the Conservation Commission, MA Department of Wildlife, and Mass Audubon have cordoned off a roughly 200 feet by 200 feet area between the GHB bridge and boardwalk number three (the large rock that was exposed several storms ago lies within the area).

This area of the beach may be closed off for as long as eight weeks, possibly longer. If the nest is disturbed, the Piping Plovers will abandon the first and create a new nest, which will extend the time of beach closure.

It is to everyone’s benefit, plover and people alike, to heed the signs and to please keep dogs on leash at all times.

Are dogs allowed on the beach at this time of year?

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You can see from the photos of different Piping Plover nests from several regions of the country how perfectly the pebble-lined nests and babies meld with their surroundings–a good thing to keep them safe from predators, but not such a good plan for nests in well-trafficked areas.

The male selects the nesting site, defending it from other males. He scrapes a nest in the sand and both the male and female toss stones and bits of shell into the depression. Both the male and female incubate the eggs. It takes about 25 days to incubate the eggs and another three to four weeks for the chicks to fledge.

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Like the Killdeer, Piping Plovers cleverly display a broken wing, a trick designed to distract predators from their nests and babies. Both Killdeers and Piping Plovers are in the same family, Charadriidae. The Piping Plover’s scientific name, Charadrius melodus, and common name, comes from its lovely melodic piping bird song.

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ALL IMAGES EXCEPT THE LAST TWO, COURTESY GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH