PIPING PLOVERS DAY TWO AND TINIEST OF WING BUDS

Briefest update just to let everyone know the hatchlings are all doing beautifully. So many thanks to everyone who is volunteering ❤

One-day-old teeny tiny wing buds

We are having an informal get together at Good Harbor Beach Sunday afternoon at 4:00 for anyone interested in becoming a Piping Plover monitor and learning more about the PiPls. Meet at Boardwalk #3. We hope to see you there!

FIRST LOOK – OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPNG PLOVER CHICKS (ALL FOUR!) HATCHED!!!

Only hours-old, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover chicks were learning to navigate the varied terrain–climbing mini hummocks, falling into divots, somersaulting, tripping over dried bits of beach grass and seaweed, running for short bits, and just generally stumbling and tumbling. In one photo you can even see a chick already eating a tiny ant. After an afternoon of exploring, all four seemed pretty tuckered out and were taking turns snuggling under both Mama and Papa. 

Weighing about as much as a nickel at the time of hatching, Piping Plover chicks are able to feed themselves but are unable to regulate their body temperature. They need to tuck under Mom and Dad to warm up.

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 

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.

The “Bachelor”

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.

Piping Plover Smackdown

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.

Kevin Mazzeo, Phil Cucuru, Kenny Ryan, Joe Lucido, and Steve Peters were immediately on the job, placing a barricade around the nest.

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.

Mama on the parking lot nest


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.

MassWildlife Intern Jasmine Weber and local resident Aunt Terry Weber

On a sunny June afternoon, the chicks began hatching. By early morning the following day, on June 9, all four perfect tiny 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.

The chicks spent the rest of their first day on the beach exploring their new territory, feeding on tiny insects, and warming under Mom and Dad.

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.

Meadow Anderson Poster

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.

Dave McKinnon

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.

Animal Control Officers Jamie and Teagan

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

Piping Plover Fledgling

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.

Addendum

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.

Nature’s camouflage palette – pale blue gray eggs, mirroring the hues of sand, fog, and rain, and dotted with speckles the color of dried seaweed.

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.

As of early May 2019, I think we can confidently change the name of the story from The Good Harbor Beach Parking Lot Plovers to The Good Harbor Beach Plovers.

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

PIPING PLOVER MOTHER’S DAY WEEKEND UPDATE

HAPPY NESTING AND HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY FRIENDS!

Mama on the nest

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.

Pippi and Papi changing places. You can see all four eggs are present and accounted for.

The Bachelor is still around, and he is clearly unhappy, skulking in sandy depressions, and causing Papa to give him chase down the beach.

Big Papi lying in wait and readying to ambush the Bachelor

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.

Piping Plover Dad nesting at a neighboring beach

THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS UPDATE

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.

Fly-by-night female

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

Papa

Mama

Bachelor

Sawhorses and police tape in the parking lot, with thanks to the DPW staff

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.

REMINDER – ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING TONIGHT AT 6:30PM: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA

PLEASE NOTE THE CHANGE OF MEETING PLACE. THE MEETING WILL BE HELD AT THE FRIEND ROOM AT THE SAWYER FREE LIBRARY

PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA: PLEASE NOTE CHANGE OF MEETING LOCATION FOR THE ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY NIGHT

Animal Advisory Committee Meeting Thursday, August 23rd, at 6:30. This meeting is being held at the Friend Room at the Sawyer Free Library. 

 

Lest anyone has forgotten, a beautiful pair of Piping Plovers tried to establish a nest on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April. Time and time again, they were disrupted by dogs–dogs off leash on on-leash days, dogs running through the nesting area, and bird dogs chasing the birds up and down the shoreline. This was witnessed multiple times during the month of April by the Piping Plover volunteer monitors.

Piping Plovers face many man made problems and natural predators however, the two greatest threats at Good Harbor Beach are dogs and crows. Changing the ordinance on Good Harbor Beach to help the Piping Plovers will at the very least allow them to nest in their natural environment. Our parking lot nesting pair were extremely stressed having to defend both territories, the parking lot nest and their roped off territory. Please let Mayor Sefatia and city councilors know that you support the change in ordinance to restrict dogs on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April.

Thank you for your help!

 

The following series of photos shows why it is so critically important to not allow dogs on Good Harbor Beach during shorebird nesting season, which begins April 1st on most Massachusetts beaches.

Early April and our returning Good Harbor Beach Dad begins making nest scrapes.

He invites Mom to come inspect.

She tries the nest on for size and approves! Mom appears plump and ready to begin laying eggs.

Mid-April and after days of dogs running through the nesting area, the Piping Plovers are discovered standing on the white lines in the GHB parking lot.

Dad begins making nest scrapes on the painted white lines in the parking lot gravel.

With fewer cars in the lot during the month of April, the PiPl determine the lot is safer than the beach. They give up trying to nest on the beach and concentrate solely on the parking lot nest.

Dad invites Mom to inspect the parking lot nest scrape.

She begins laying eggs in the parking lot.

 

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING TONIGHT

Animal Advisory Committee meeting tonight at 6:30 at City Hall: Piping Plovers on the Agenda

Photo of Great Blue Herons, because we share the shore with herons, too 🙂

PIPING PLOVER SYMBOLIC FENCING RECOMMENDATIONS

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY AUGUST 2ND AT 6:30PM AT CITY HALL: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA.

Dogs romping within the clearly posted and cordoned off nesting area in April, forcing the Piping Plovers off the beach and to nest in the parking lot. 

This past spring and summer we had a tremendously difficult time with our nesting bird symbolic fencing. The posted and roped off area is referred to as “symbolic” because it is not an actual physical barrier, but a visual warning to let people know to keep themselves and their pets out of the cordoned off area. People often ask, why can’t more permanent fencing be placed around the nesting area? After nearly thirty plus years of working with Piping Plovers, biologists have established that physical fences placed on the shoreline and in the wrack area are all too easily washed away with high tides, create safety issues and, too, you wouldn’t want to trap dogs and predators within a nesting area.

The difficulty with our metal posts is that they were knocked about and pushed down with nearly every high tide, dragging the roping into the sand as well. The rope and posts needed almost daily righting.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which successfully protects Piping Plovers and other endangered birds at dozens of Massachusetts beaches have come up with what appears to be a good fencing solution for areas within tidal zones. DCR uses long, narrow fiberglass rods which can be pushed easily into the sand. The poles are strung with two rungs of roping, and in some places three rungs. I measured the distances between the poles at Revere Beach; they are placed about every twenty to twenty four feet.

In early spring, before the Piping Plovers and Least Terns have nested, historic nesting areas are roped off. After a nesting pair establishes a territory, a second row of poles and roping are added around the perimeter of the nesting area. The fiberglass poles can be adjusted without too much difficulty.

Wooden poles are used to post the nondescript, but informative endangered species signs. According to DCR staff, the only time they have complications with the fencing is when the wooden posts are tied into the fiberglass poles and the tide takes both down.

I don’t understand why the fiberglass poles are less likely to shift in the tide, but they don’t shift and appear to work very well in the tidal zone–perhaps because they are flexible and less rigid. If anyone knows the answer to that, please write.

PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER MONITOR GOOD HARBOR BEACH NESTING AREA FENCING RECOMMENDATION:

  1. Symbolic fencing of the two historic Piping Plover nesting areas roped off between March 15th and April 1st (boardwalk #3 and boardwalk #1).
  2. Fiberglass poles placed every twenty feet to twenty four feet.
  3. One to two rungs of roping.
  4. Wooden posts with endangered species signs installed at the same time and in place by April 1st, but not attached to the fiberglass poles.
  5. When active nest scrapes are identified, adjust exisiting fencing, and add a second row of fencing around the perimeter.
  6. To the outer perimeter of fiberglass poles, use three rungs of orange roping attached to the poles, extending all around the perimeter. One rung at 12 inches above ground, one rung at about 24-30 inches above ground level, and the top rung at four feet above ground level.
  7. Piping Plover volunteers monitor fencing and adjust as needed.

This photo, taken at Good Harbor Beach in early April, shows why it is so important to have the signs and roping in place by April 1st. People and dogs were playing in the nesting area while the PiPl were trying to nest. The top photo shows that a second, and even a third rung of roping, placed at dog height, may help to keep dogs out of the roped off area.

Examples of symbolic fencing areas at Revere Beach and Nahant Beach. Notice the double row of fencing and the double and triple rungs.

Information is unambigulously posted at Revere Beach

Piping Plover chicks finding shelter in the roped off nesting area on a hot summer day.

Treading lightly.

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY AUGUST 2ND CITY HALL AT 6:30PM: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA

Please come and show your support for endangered and threatened shorebirds in Gloucester. Thank you!

On the Agenda:

  1. Open session for public comments.
  2. Approval of meeting minutes from 7/12/18.
  3. Review of ACO reports and citations.
  4. Piping Plover protections: ordinance recommendations.
  5. Clark and First Parish Cemetery -dog walking.
  6. Event planning
  7. Grants
  8. Annual report

The chicks of threatened birds such as Piping Plovers and Least Terns evolved to blend perfectly with their surrounding shoreline nesting habitat. This trait helps afford protection from hungry predatory birds flying overhead, birds such as hawks and owls. Because they are so well camouflaged, the shorebird nestlings are at great risk from fast moving pets and unknowing beach goers.

PIPING PLOVER RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR FROM THE PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER MONITORS ~

July 9, 2018

Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,

We, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, are submitting our short list of recommendations regarding the Piping Plovers nesting at Good Harbor Beach. Our goal is to have in place by next April 1, 2019, measures and ordinances that will greatly increase the likelihood that the hatchlings of this tiny threatened shorebird will have a fighting chance at surviving life on Good Harbor Beach.

Piping Plovers began nesting at Good Harbor Beach in 2016. Each year, the PiPl are coming earlier and earlier. In 2016, they arrived mid-May, in 2017 they arrived at the beginning of May, and this year, they arrived on April 3. It would appear that the same pair is returning to Good Harbor Beach, as the male marks his territory and attempts to build a nest scrape only several feet from the previous year’s nest (at Boardwalk #3 nesting area). More Plovers than ever were seen at Good Harbor Beach this spring, and if not for constant interruptions in the Boardwalk #1 nesting area, we would have had two pairs nesting on the beach.

Why are the birds arriving earlier and earlier? We can presume that the pair are more experienced travelers and that Good Harbor Beach is their “territory.” Does this mean we will eventually have dozens of pairs nesting on Good Harbor Beach? No, because the PiPl are very territorial and they will defend a fairly large area, preventing other PiPl from nesting in their site.

This year the PiPl pair hatched four chicks. All four chicks were killed by crows, gulls, and dogs. All three are human-created issues, and all three can be remedied. The following are the four recommendations and actions we wish to see take place.

Recommendations

1) Change the dog ordinance to not allow dogs on the beach after March 31.

Currently, dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 to May 1. The Piping Plover volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Ken Whittaker, and Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin, all agree that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1, but that it would be safe for Piping Plover fledglings and other migrating shorebirds for dogs to return after September 15.

This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest on the beach (as opposed to in the parking lot), with far less interruption, shorebirds will nest earlier in the season, which will help with the chicks survival rate, and the chicks will be stronger by the time Good Harbor fills with summer crowds.

This is a very logical and simple solution. Disallowing dogs on Massachusetts coastal beaches where shorebirds are nesting, beginning April 1, is the norm. Allowing them to return after September 15, and in many cases after September 30, is also very common. For Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds, protecting their habitat and sharing the shore is a matter of life and death.

2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.

Poles, with threatened species signs, and a triple row of roping of nesting sites, to be in place no later than April 1. Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer will assist with this measure.

3) Enforce the existing ordinances regarding dogs (and littering) at all times throughout the year.

Only enforcing dog ordinances at Good Harbor Beach during nesting season is creating hostility toward the Piping Plovers.

Additionally, we do not recommend extremely high fines as we feel that may become an impediment to issuing and collecting the fines. We know of at least one example where the magistrate dismissed the tickets issued to a woman who claimed to have a service dog. This woman was running rampant on the beach and throughout dunes with her service dog off leash throughout the entire time the PiPl were nesting, from April through May. Despite the fact that former dog officer Diane Corliss caught the woman on camera with her dog off leash on the beach, and in the dunes, all her tickets that were issued by the animal control officer were dismissed. This is neither fair to the officers who are working hard to keep the dogs off the beach or to the plover volunteers who are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep the PiPl safe.

4). Increase trash collection.

When no barrels are placed at the entrances to the beach, people dump bags of trash there anyway. When barrels are in place, people put trash in the barrels however, when the barrels become full, they again resort to leaving bags of trash behind, only next to the barrels. In either scenario, gulls and crows are attracted to the trash. Both gulls and crows rip open the bags and the trash is blown throughout the parking lot and marsh, soon finding its way onto the beach and into the ocean. Hungry gulls and crows waiting for people to leave their trash behind eat tiny shorebirds.

A friend who lives on a North Carolina beach shares how her community keeps their public beaches looking pristine. Not only do they have barrels, but every few weeks, police patrol the beach and hand out fines for littering. This is taken as a wake up call, everyone is good for a bit of time, but then become slack about littering again. Out come the officers for another round of ticketing.

Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Smith

cc Paul Lundberg, Steven LeBlanc, Val Gilmam, Ken Hecht, Melissa Cox, Jen Holmgren, Scott Memhard, Sean Nolan, Jamie O’Hara, Dave Rimmer, Ken Whitakker

 

42 PAIRS OF PIPING PLOVERS NESTING AT CRANES BEACH!

July 9th 2018 – From the Trustees “The Piping Plovers at Crane Beach are doing great this year! 42 pairs have nested making this the third highest amount of nesting Piping Plover pairs since 1986. So far 42 chicks have spread their wings and flown. Many more chicks are still on the beach and we are waiting on more nests to hatch. Please remember to keep your distance and give these protected birds their space.”

I love how the pale seashell coral pink in the clam shells mirrors the orange hues of the PiPl’s beak and legs. I don’t know why this photo strikes me as funny, but it just does. Tiny birds with huge personalities!

FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR

Dear Readers,

Last Tuesday we sent our letter to Mayor Sefatia and the City Councilors with a short list of recommendations, based on the past three years of daily Piping Plover monitoring by myself and our core group of volunteer monitors. We purposefully kept the recommendations modest out of consideration to both the Piping Plovers and to our Good Harbor beach going community. Please find below the recommendations suggested by the Piping Plover volunteer monitors.

July 9, 2018

Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,

We, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, are submitting our short list of recommendations regarding the Piping Plovers nesting at Good Harbor Beach. Our goal is to have in place by next April 1, 2019, measures and ordinances that will greatly increase the likelihood that the hatchlings of this tiny threatened shorebird will have a fighting chance at surviving life on Good Harbor Beach.

Piping Plovers began nesting at Good Harbor Beach in 2016. Each year, the PiPl are coming earlier and earlier. In 2016, they arrived mid-May, in 2017 they arrived at the beginning of May, and this year, they arrived on April 3. It would appear that the same pair is returning to Good Harbor Beach, as the male marks his territory and attempts to build a nest scrape only several feet from the previous year’s nest (at Boardwalk #3 nesting area). More Plovers than ever were seen at Good Harbor Beach this spring, and if not for constant interruptions in the Boardwalk #1 nesting area, we would have had two pairs nesting on the beach.

Why are the birds arriving earlier and earlier? We can presume that the pair are more experienced travelers and that Good Harbor Beach is their “territory.” Does this mean we will eventually have dozens of pairs nesting on Good Harbor Beach? No, because the PiPl are very territorial and they will defend a fairly large area, preventing other PiPl from nesting in their site.

This year the PiPl pair hatched four chicks. All four chicks were killed by crows, gulls, and dogs. All three are human-created issues, and all three can be remedied. The following are the four recommendations and actions we wish to see take place.

Recommendations

1) Change the dog ordinance to not allow dogs on the beach after March 31.

Currently, dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 to May 1. The Piping Plover volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Ken Whittaker, and Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin, all agree that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1, but that it would be safe for Piping Plover fledglings and other migrating shorebirds for dogs to return after September 15.

This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest on the beach (as opposed to in the parking lot), with far less interruption, shorebirds will nest earlier in the season, which will help with the chicks survival rate, and the chicks will be stronger by the time Good Harbor fills with summer crowds.

This is a very logical and simple solution. Disallowing dogs on Massachusetts coastal beaches where shorebirds are nesting, beginning April 1, is the norm. Allowing them to return after September 15, and in many cases after September 30, is also very common. For Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds, protecting their habitat and sharing the shore is a matter of life and death.

2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.

Poles, with threatened species signs, and a triple row of roping of nesting sites, to be in place no later than April 1. Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer will assist with this measure.

3) Enforce the existing ordinances regarding dogs (and littering) at all times throughout the year.

Only enforcing dog ordinances at Good Harbor Beach during nesting season is creating hostility toward the Piping Plovers.

Additionally, we do not recommend extremely high fines as we feel that may become an impediment to issuing and collecting the fines. We know of at least one example where the magistrate dismissed the tickets issued to a woman who claimed to have a service dog. This woman was running rampant on the beach and throughout dunes with her service dog off leash throughout the entire time the PiPl were nesting, from April through May. Despite the fact that former dog officer Diane Corliss caught the woman on camera with her dog off leash on the beach, and in the dunes, all her tickets that were issued by the animal control officer were dismissed. This is neither fair to the officers who are working hard to keep the dogs off the beach or to the plover volunteers who are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep the PiPl safe.

4). Increase trash collection.

When no barrels are placed at the entrances to the beach, people dump bags of trash there anyway. When barrels are in place, people put trash in the barrels however, when the barrels become full, they again resort to leaving bags of trash behind, only next to the barrels. In either scenario, gulls and crows are attracted to the trash. Both gulls and crows rip open the bags and the trash is blown throughout the parking lot and marsh, soon finding its way onto the beach and into the ocean. Hungry gulls and crows waiting for people to leave their trash behind eat tiny shorebirds.

A friend who lives on a North Carolina beach shares how her community keeps their public beaches looking pristine. Not only do they have barrels, but every few weeks, police patrol the beach and hand out fines for littering. This is taken as a wake up call, everyone is good for a bit of time, but then become slack about littering again. Out come the officers for another round of ticketing.

Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Smith

cc Paul Lundberg, Steven LeBlanc, Val Gilmam, Ken Hecht, Melissa Cox, Jen Holmgren, Scott Memhard, Sean Nolan, Jamie O’Hara, Dave Rimmer, Ken Whitakker

Piping Plover chicks coming in for some snuggles.

REMINDER: ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING TONIGHT AT 6:30

PIPING PLOVERS ARE ON THE AGENDA

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING

THURSDAY, JULY 12TH AT 6:30 PM

3RD FLOOR CITY HALL

Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Chick Three Days Old 

PIPING PLOVERS ON THE ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING AGENDA THURSDAY NIGHT

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING

THURSDAY, JULY 12TH AT 6:30 PM

3RD FLOOR CITY HALL

PIPING PLOVERS ARE ON THE AGENDA

PIPING PLOVER UPDATE – WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

 Pip, the day before he was killed.

You may be asking, “where are the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers now?” Surprisingly, they are still around! After the night the last chick was killed (tracks point to a skirmish with a dog and several people in the nesting area), two Piping Plovers were reported at Cape Hedge Beach the following evening. Rockport resident Gail, who first reported the sighting, and PiPl volunteer monitor Laurie Sawin and I, found one at Cape Hedge the next morning, and by the next day, two had returned to the roped off area at #3 boardwalk!

Everyday since, either Greenbelt’s Dave McKinnon, my husband Tom, Deborah Cramer, or myself have spotted at least one in the cordoned off #3.

Recent PiPl sightings at the Good Harbor Beach nesting area.

Our thoughts are to leave some part of the roping up as long as the Piping Plovers are still using it as a sanctuary during high tide when the beach is crowded. For a second and even more important reason, many of us would like to see part of the cordoned off area stay in place for the simple reason it is helping with dune recovery.

You may recall that during late winter we had back to back nor’easters, which had a devastating effect on Good Harbor Beach in that much of the beach’s sand was washed away. The beach dropped about ten feet, which now causes the tide to come up high to the edge of the bluff. Beach grass and beach vegetation will help prevent future washouts. Because the area around #3 has been roped of since mid-April, a fantastic patch of beach grass has begun to take hold!!! If we leave a narrow strip roped off from the public, about ten to fifteen feet wide, running the length of the beach and around the creek bend, this simple step alone will have a marked impact on the overall health of the dune habitat.Beach plants help prevent erosion while also providing shade and shelter for tiny shorebirds.

A pair of one-day-old Least Tern chicks finding shade.

 

OUR LITTLE PIP IS MISSING

I am so very sorry to write that Little Pip and Mama went missing overnight.

When super PiPl volunteer monitor Heather Hall left last night at 9:30 the beach was quiet and peaceful. The Plover Family had a good evening, despite the fact that a Burmese Mountain dog was off leash on the beach and the owners weren’t too happy about being asked to leave.

When I arrived at 4:50am, the beach was eerily quiet. Except for the gulls and crows, there were only the singular calls from Papa Plover. Back and forth he went, from feeding in the tide pools to running into the nesting area and piping for Mama and Pip.

A most heartfelt thank you to all our wonderful PiPl monitors, who are just the kindest people you will ever want to meet. Sunburns, neglected families, missing appointments, late for work–thank you for guarding our little PiPl family from sunrise to sunset. These dedicated volunteers fully understand what it means for a species to be threatened and on the brink of extinction. We all fell in love with our PiPls, it’s hard not to. If you see a volunteer, please stop and thank them for their good work. Please know too, that without their tireless dedication, we would not have known for sure how the other three chicks perished.

By understanding that the chick’s deaths are human-caused, whether it be garbage-attracting gulls and crows or dogs on the beach, we will be much, much better equipped next year to better help nesting shorebirds. It is my understanding that there was a bonfire and party at the rock last night, which I can imagine how terrified that must have made our PiPl family. We can only learn from these past incidents and are determined to make positive steps for the future. For example, imagine if Mama and Papa had been allowed to nest when and where originally intended. The chick would have been a full week older, with just that much more critical development to better adapt to situations such as warm weather night time beach partygoers.

Thank you and a huge shout out to Joe Lucido, Phil, Mike, Tommy, Kenny, Newt, Cindy, and the entire DPW crew. We know you were rooting for the PiPl family and your kind assistance made a difference at every turn.

Thank you to Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker and to Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer. These two have been working together and behind the scenes since the PiPl first arrived on April 3rd, consulting with wildlife agencies, installing roping, installing the wire exclosure, coordinating the crazy monitor scheduling, and much more.

Big Hug and thank you to all our PiPl monitors and friends of the Piping Plovers who I know are just heartbroken tonight.

 

LITTLE PIP ZING ZANGING AROUND THE BEACH

What are these things called wings?

Pip grows rounder, stronger, and more capable of catching tiny sea creatures daily. We love watching the development of his wings especially. Soon his flying feathers will begin to grow. In the meanwhile, periodically throughout the day he does wonderfully zany-looking zing-zang-up-down-sideways-zig-zag mini flight tests throughout the day.

The Piping Plover’s soft sandy feather colors and patterns blend seamlessly with the surrounding beach habitat, but camouflage alone is not enough to keep the birds safe. The ability to fly to escape predatory danger is equally as important to Piping Plovers.

Massachusetts state wildlife biologists consider a Piping Plover fully fledged at 24 to 28 days, whereas federal wildlife biologists have determined a Piping Plover chick to be fully fledged at about 35 days. Judging from our observations of Little Chick last year, he did not fully fledge until five weeks old (35 days). He could manage brief sustained flight up to that time, but until he reached that five week milestone he was still at risk from predators, including and especially dogs and raptors.

Seventeen-day-old Pip needed lots of warming snuggles on this chilly Tuesday morning.

HAPPY TWO-WEEK-OLD BIRTHDAY TO OUR LITTLE PIP!

Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Little Pip made the two-week-old milestone on Saturday!!!

To survive two whole weeks is an important date for a Piping Plover chick. Pip’s chance of fledging has improved exponentially.

Every day he grows a little stronger, a bit taller and rounder, and noticeably faster. Less sleepy-eyed when waking up from snuggling under Mom or Dad, out he zooms from the warm wing of the parents like a jet-propelled rocket. And now he does this fascinating thing with his wings. Just as did Little Chick last year, at top speed, he zings and zangs with wings aflutter and aflap, seeming airborne for a few seconds. He won’t be able to sustain flight for another several weeks, but won’t it be marvelous when he does!

Piping Plover chicks and parents communicate with a wide range of piping calls. We are more likely to hear Mama and Papa’s shrill, urgent notes warning of pending danger. But more often, both chicks and parents communicate in soft, barely audible gentle notes. At about twelve days old, our Little Pip appeared to understand, and respond more quickly, to the piping calls of the parent’s commands. He now flattens level with the sand when Mama and Papa pipe danger notes, or when a predatory bird flies overhead.  

Dip-diving in the tide pools for breakfast!

This insect was so large, from a distance I at first thought Pip was eating seaweed. He swallowed the bug in one gulp!

Pip continues to snuggle under wing, but will do so less and less frequently as he develops and is better able to thermoregulate. I recall our Little Chick last summer attempting to snuggle under Papa Plover even at thirty-days-old, which by the way, looked terribly silly, but sweet, to see a chick nearly as large as the parent try to snuggle under its wing.

*   *   *

Two weeks ago Saturday, our lone surviving chick hatched in the parking lot at Good Harbor Beach. Despite being driven off the beach by dogs running through the nesting area (sadly finding the lot to be the least dangerous place to nest), Mama and Papa PiPl successfully hatched four chicks from four eggs. This would not have been possible without a whole lot of help from Gloucester’s DPW, Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker, and a core group of super dedicated volunteers.

After spending the first day in the parking lot, the family of six–Mama, Papa, and four one-day-old chicks made the epic journey across the width of the parking lot, through the landscape of tall dune grass, tumbling down the steep slope of the dune, and into the roped off nesting area. Had Papa and Mama pre-planned this route? I think yes.

Life for a Piping Plover chick, especially at Gloucester’s most well-loved and highly trafficked of beaches, is impossibly tough. The first chick to perish was eaten by a gull, the second was taken out by a dog off leash in the nesting area, and the third, by a crow. In one way or another, the trail as to why these tender little shorebirds perished leads to the heavy footprint left by people.

Morning meet and greet of the Crow Breakfast Club, held every day on Nautilus Road following a warm sunny beach day.

Same for the Seagull Breakfast Club

Gloucester does not have a seagull and crow problem, but we do have a littering, as well as a lack of trash barrels problem. If the crows and gulls were not finding the mounds of trash littering the beach, and piled at the entryways to the beach, each and every single morning, they would simply find somewhere else to forage. Bright and early, every morning the DPW crews arrive to clean the beach, but what happens before they arrive? For the first three hours of daylight, the crows and gulls devour a smorgasbord of tantalizing treats, feasting on loose garbage strewn the entire length of the beach, in the parking lot, and at all the entrances to the beach. Forget placing the garbage in bags if the bags are not contained in barrels; the birds, rats, and coyotes knowingly rip right through them. The plastic cups, bottles, to-go containers, and accoutrements blow freely through the dunes and marsh and eventually, all is carried into the ocean.

The trash problem holds true throughout the city. If folks stopped feeding the crows and gulls, and we solve the garbage problem, we will rid ourselves of ninety percent of the issues surrounding gulls, crows, coyotes, and rats. Carry in, carry out works to a degree, but barrels are sorely needed at locations such as the entrance to the footbridge. Additionally, residents would ideally place their garbage, in barrels, the morning of trash collection (as opposed the the night before), dumpsters always kept tightly covered, and littering laws strictly enforced.

A friend from North Carolina shared that the beaches in her community are pristine. How do you do it I asked? Two simple solutions. Number one is barrels and number two is enforcing littering laws. Every few weeks, police patrol the beaches and hand out fines for littering. After a few weeks or so, people become lax about littering, and out come the police handing out another round of fines. Would this be a money-maker for the City of Gloucester I wonder?

Plastic glistening in the morning sun – Good Harbor Beach, before the DPW arrives.

Dogs off leash at Good Harbor Beach continue to frustrate us all. Despite stepped up enforcement, local residents and out-of-towners continue to flaunt the rules and the No Dogs signs. Every single day, we monitors see dog owners with their dogs, and dog tracks, at Good Harbor Beach.

Dune fencing, which is slated to be replaced after the Piping Plovers leave, is going to help to keep the dogs (and people) out of the dunes. I hope well placed signs that speak to the fragility of the dunes will also accompany the new fencing. If you can imagine, people allow their dogs to run freely through the dunes and also use the dunes as their personal bathroom. Sometimes the scofflaws don’t even bother to climb the dunes, but run right through the nesting area and stand in broad daylight at the base of the dunes, in full view of all, to relieve themselves.

Note the beach grass growing at the base of the dunes where the roping has been in place since mid-April. I hope this area continues to be roped off, even after the PiPls depart. Growing sturdy patches of dune grass will help tremendously with the ever increasing problem of beach erosion.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is coming into bloom at the Good Harbor Beach dunes. The many species of wildflowers found growing in the dunes provides myriad species of wildlife with both food and shelter.

Why?

Fifteen-Day-Old Piping Plover Chick and Mama