OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS COPING WITH WINDSTORMS AND COLD TEMPERATURES

All three PiPls, Mom, Dad, and the Bachelor, are finding drifts of sand, clumps of dry beach grass, and this morning, even a clam shell, to hunker down behind to get out of the way of the harsh winds. They are also doing a great deal of standing and hopping around on one leg.

I hope the wind dies down and soon so we can all enjoy more seasonably spring-like weather!

Mama taking a nap behind a clump of beach grass, and standing on one leg.

Papa standing on one leg even while doing wing stretches.

And what Piping Plover scene would be complete without a bachelor (an unmated male). I hope we get a “new girl” this summer!

Why do birds stand on one leg? “The short answer is that for the simple reason that you put your hands in your pockets when cold, birds stand on one leg to conserve heat. Birds also stand on one leg to relax muscle fatigue in the retracted leg.

The long answer is that birds’ legs have a blood flow referred to as “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs are next to the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries act as a heat exchanger and warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet are closer to environmental temperature and thus don’t lose as much heat as they would if they were at body temperature. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.

Birds that have short legs, such as Mourning Doves, do not need to stand on one leg because they have fleshy feet and they can snuggle down so that their warm belly presses against their feet.” Reposted from “Why is Little Chick Missing a Leg.”

If you see Gloucester’s dog officers, Teagan and Jamie, please thank them and let them know what a great job they are doing. Off and on throughout the day, they are walking the beach, talking to the dog owners who continue to bring their dogs to the beach, and handing out tickets.

 

BREAKING: TWO EGGS IN THE NEST – HUGE SHOUT OUT TO GREENBELT’S DAVE RIMMER AND MIKE CARBONE FOR INSTALLING THE PIPING PLOVER WIRE EXCLOSURE

Piping Plover Eggs Good Harbor Beach Parking Lot

A second egg was laid yesterday by our Parking Lot Plover family. The second egg is an indication by the PiPl that they are committed to the nest, which means it is time to put up the wire exclosure. If the exclosure is installed earlier, the risk of the PiPl abandoning the first egg is far greater. We immediately called Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer to let him know about the second egg. 

Dave and his assistant Mike Carbone arrived early this morning to set up the exclosure. Roughly six feet in diameter and made of wire with four inch spacing, the exclosure’s four inch openings are the ideal size to let PiPl in and out, and to keep large predatory birds and small mammals from entering. With thanks and gratitude to Dave and Mike for coming so quickly to exclose the nest.

   

After installing the exclosure the fear is that the PiPl will abandon the nest site. Our Mama Plover returned to the nest a short time after the exclosure was installed!

And thanks again to dog officer Teagan Dolan, who stopped by to check on the Piping Plovers and has been regularly ticketing 🙂

How You Can Help the Piping Plovers

1) Under no circumstances is it acceptable for people or dogs to enter the Piping Plover nesting area.

2) Please drive slowly and cautiously when in the parking lot. Our Mama and Papa PiPl are now residing between the parking lot and nesting area #3.

3) Keep ALL dogs off the beach and out of the parking lot. The parking lot is considered part of the beach according to Gloucester Police Chief McCarthy. A Piping Plover’s brain does not differentiate between a dog on-leash versus a dog off-leash. When a dog, off-leash or on-leash, comes within twenty feet of a PiPl, they immediately stop what they are doing, whether foraging, courting, mating, nesting, or resting. Please call the following number to report any dog sightings or dog related incidences at Good Harbor Beach: 978-281-9746.

4) When observing, please bear in mind that Piping Plovers tolerate one or two quiet persons, from a distance, but crowds of three or more put them in panic mode. Large groups of people hovering near the PiPl also attracts crows and gulls, a nesting shorebird’s natural enemy because they eat both baby chicks and eggs.

5) Help spread the word about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers.

6) Sign up to be a Piping Plover volunteer ambassador by emailing Ken Whittaker at kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov

Thank you, but most importantly, the Piping Plovers will thank you too when chicks hatch and chicks fledge!

BREAKING: PLOVER EGG IN THE PARKING LOT AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Nest with egg in the parking lot at Good Harbor Beach

Thanks to our awesome DPW, who has barricaded the area, and to my husband Tom, who discovered the egg, our PiPlover egg is protected from cars and trucks. I checked on the PiPl this morning before work at about 6:30 to 7am and the PiPl were courting in the #3 nesting area. A dog off leash ran by and they quickly flew. I checked for an egg in their nest scrape in the parking lot before leaving and the egg had not yet been laid. Tom discovered the single egg at 11am and immediately spoke to Phil Cucuru, who was working on the boardwalks.

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

We are all going to work together to help our PiPl pair, despite this most difficult of all locations. One thing the pair has going for it is that this is relatively early in the season. If all four are laid within the upcoming week, we could have chicks by mid-June, a full two weeks earlier than last year. Dave Rimmer, from Greenbelt, will be placing the exclosure around the egg shortly. The DPW is placing a second tier barricade around the nest.

Please, please please, do not allow your dog in the GHB parking lot or on the beach. There were umpteen dogs, off leash and on, at Good Harbor Beach this past week, despite the fact that there should be no dogs after May 1st. I asked each person who had brought their dog where they were from–it seemed fairly equal–half were from out of town and half were local.

Our Mama and Papa are still mating in the nesting area. Whether the parking lot is their alternate plan or the only plan, at this point, please no dogs.

A second pair of PiPl arrived yesterday. Will they be staying or is GHB is just a stopover? The following may sound like a strange request, but part of the problem this weekend was kites. Just as we love dogs, there are few things more magical to a young child than flying a kite on the beach. The issue is, when folks are flying their kite over the nesting area, to a PiPl, a kite looks like a giant vulture looming overhead, ready to snatch them up. Please when flying a kite (or a drone) on the beach, please fly away from the nesting area, keeping the kite at least 500 yards away from the Plovers. Early in the season there was a pair of Turkey Vultures eating a dead seagull on the beach. It was amazing to film the PiPl reaction because as the Vultures flew overhead, all the PiPl, and the one Dunlin, foraging in the intertidal zone flattened to the sand in unison, and stayed that way long after the Vulture had disappeared over the horizon.Thank you to everyone for all that you are doing to help the PiPl. Special thanks to Joe Lucido, Phil Cucuru, and the tremendous support from the DPW crew, to PiPl monitor Heather Hall, who spent many hours at GHB this past weekend watching over the PiPl, and to my husband Tom, for his eagle eyes.

Mama and Papa courting in the nesting area in today’s early morning fog.

Tom Hauck Egg Photos 

 

MESSAGE FROM MAYOR SEFATIA REGARDING GLOUCESTER’S PIPING PLOVERS

Message from Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken  

The Piping Plover is a “threatened” species under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.  As such, the City, along with the Commonwealth, is required to protect them under the law.  Having said that, we are committed to making every effort possible to protect the nesting Piping Plovers at our beaches while, at the same time, maintaining public access.
Piping Plovers typically arrive from their southern wintering areas to our local beaches in late March or early April.  Males and females quickly form breeding pairs that begin the process of courtship and select a nest site throughout April and May. During these months, it is critically important to limit any disturbance of the birds and their habitat.Chicks can hatch from nests in late May and are immediately mobile and move out of the nest in search of food.  As chicks grow older and larger, they will roam from the dunes to the water’s edge in search of food. Chicks are very vulnerable to human disturbance and are susceptible to predators like gulls, foxes, and dogs.
While dogs are allowed to run free during this time of year on many of our beaches, that right does not supersede the requirements under federal law to protect the Piping Plovers on those beaches.  Unleashed dogs can pose a very real threat to Piping Plover adults and chicks.  As such, dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs and keeping them as far away from Piping Plover areas as possible.  The owner of any dog that adversely or negatively impacts the Piping Plovers and their habitats will be in violation of federal law and will likely face legal action.
Please keep a close eye or your dog during this Piping Plover season.A Piping Plover nest is a mere depression in the sand.
Male and female Plovers do not begin sitting on the eggs 24/7 until all are laid, which takes about a week. Especially during that time, the eggs are often left exposed and are extremely vulnerable to being stepped upon by people and dogs.

PIPING PLOVERS FORCED OFF THE BEACH FOR THE SECOND WEEKEND IN A ROW

Despite best efforts, the Piping Plovers were again driven off the beach.

Knowing an off leash weekend day was going to be tough on the PiPl, I spent most of Sunday at Good Harbor Beach. During the morning hours, it wasn’t so bad because most dog walkers were with their pooches by the water’s edge. As the tide came in, the situation quickly deteriorated. Countless dogs ran into the roped off area; I lost track after forty. The PiPl gave up on courtship and tried to forage. A pair of bird dogs chased all three Plovers up and down the beach repeatedly, when they finally gave up.

I searched for an hour and couldn’t find. As I was leaving, there were Mama and Papa, in the parking lot. Mama was sitting quietly on the painted white lines and Papa was desperately trying to dig a nest scrape in the course gravel. This exact same scenario happened last Saturday, on the off leash beach day.

Papa trying to scrape a nest in the gravel parking lot

I had hoped that by spending the day trying to keep dogs out of the #3 nesting area, the parking lot scene would not be repeated. Volunteers are desperately needed during this last week of off leash days. For the area around #3, where I was stationed, at least two are needed, because as you are trying to keep dogs out of one side, they are coming in from the opposite end.

Please email Ken Whittaker if you would like to help. His email address is: kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov

The worst days are going to be Thursday, Saturday, and Monday, the three last off leash days of April, with Saturday being by far the hardest.

High tides for the upcoming weekend off leash days:

Thursday April 26th – 9:03 am – off leash day

Friday April 27th – 10:01am – on leash

Saturday April 28th 10:54am – off leash day

Sunday April 29th 11:42am – on leash

Monday April 30th 12:27pm – off leash day

Our Piping Plover pair are resilient. They left the parking lot and returned to the beach at sunset, but again, the same pair of dogs chased them off the beach.

Mama and Papa Plover, and the little Bachelor, survived this past off leash weekend day, but as you can imagine, courting and nesting are again delayed. The most important thing for folks to understand is that the earlier in the season the Piping Plovers are allowed to nest, the earlier the chicks will hatch, which means they will have a thousand fold better chance of surviving.

Some good news—overnight four new additional Piping Plovers arrived! They are in a battle with one another over turf at the roped off area by boardwalk #1.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP THE PIPING PLOVERS -By Kim Smith

TIPS FOR OBSERVING AND HELPING PIPING PLOVERS

Thank you to all the friends of our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, to dog owners who are staying away from Good Harbor Beach, and to all who are advocating for the PiPl.

Early this morning I found both Mama and Papa feeding in the intertidal zone, along with our little Bachelor. The second pair has not been seen since they were chased off the beach last weekend. There seemed to be fewer dogs on the beach this morning and I am so grateful to the dog owners who are helping to watch over the Plovers.

Yesterday was a much needed quiet day for the Plovers; it was cold and rainy, and an on-leash day. There were folks with dogs off-leash, though they weren’t near the PiPl. But there were fresh tracks running through the nesting area.

Here is why, at this very critical time during Piping Plover breeding, it is imperative to keep dogs and people out of the nesting area. The Plovers are actively courting. What does that mean exactly? 

  • The Plovers first stake out a territory. For the third year in a row, they have chosen the area around the big rock, by boardwalk #3.
  • Both male and female actively defend the territory from other Piping Plovers, as well as other species of large and small birds.
  • Throughout an average quiet day, the male PiPl builds many “nest” scrapes for the female to inspect. If the female is interested, the male displays an involved courtship dance. If she continues to be interested, he will mate with her by jumping on her back where they join together cloaca to cloaca, but for only mere seconds. During that time the male fertilizes the female’s egg.
  • Piping Plover courtship requires a tremendous amount of energy, and each courtship episode takes about twenty minutes, from nest scrapings to mating. If the birds are constantly interrupted by dogs tearing through, and people walking through, the nesting area, courtship and mating are delayed, over and over again.
  • If the Piping Plovers are allowed to mate early in the season, the chicks will be born that much earlier. The earlier the chicks hatch the greater their chance of survival, especially in the case of Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester’s most beloved and heavily trafficked beach.
  • In addition to repeated courtship interruptions, we are having an unseasonably cold April. The Piping Plovers are spending a great deal of energy just trying to keep warm. This is evidenced by how often they stand on one leg to thermoregulate.

Papa Plover defending all things Mama Plover.

Papa Plover vigorously building shallow teacup-sized nest scrapes.

Papa Plover inviting Mama Plover to inspect.

Male Plover cloaca. All birds have a cloaca, the V-shaped vent from where sperm, eggs, and pooh are emitted. During courtship, the male’s cloaca swells considerably.

Meet “the Bachelor,” the bird bane of Papa’s existence.

How You Can Help the Piping Plovers

1) Under no circumstances is it acceptable to enter the Piping Plover nesting area.

2) Keep ALL dogs far away from the nesting areas. A Piping Plover’s brain does not differentiate between a dog on- leash versus a dog off-leash. When a dog, off-leash or on-leash, comes within twenty feet of a PiPl, they immediately stop what they are doing, whether foraging, courting, mating, or resting.

3) During courtship, the Piping Plovers tolerate one or two quiet persons, from a distance, but crowds of three or more put them in panic mode.

4) Help spread the word about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers.

5) Sign up to be a Piping Plover volunteer ambassador by emailing Ken Whittaker at kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov

Thank you, but most importantly, the Piping Plovers will thank you too when chicks hatch and chicks fledge!

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The good news is that I found one pair, and they are definitely a couple, in the #3 nesting area. The bad news is that while down to #1 nesting area to look for the other PiPl, dogs and their owner were in the #3. I ran down the beach to find a man scooping up his dog’s poop in the nesting area. The tracks show they were inches from where the Papa PiPl had built a nest scrape. And No Sign of the PiPl. So grateful for the dog owners that are keeping their dogs away from the nesting sites, but it is not a few dog owners ignoring the law, it is every day, off and on all day long – dogs off-leash on on-leash days, dogs in the dunes, and dogs in the nesting sites. #pipingplover #gloucesterma #shorebirds #endangeredspecies #barrierbeach

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PIPING PLOVERS DRIVEN OFF THE BEACH

Despite the case that posted signs were in place for Saturday’s off leash day, it was a complete disaster for the Piping Plovers.

When I was there early in the morning there was a large group of dog owners by the Good Harbor Beach Inn area and the dogs were playing by the water’s edge, away from the nesting sites, and it was wonderful to see!

Piping Plover nesting signs on the beach.

At noon I stopped by for a quick check on the PiPl, in between a meeting and babysitting, and it was a complete and utter disaster. There were dozens of dogs and people frolicking WITHIN the nesting areas, as if the signs were completely invisible. The nesting areas were so full of people and dogs, one of the pairs of PiPl had been driven off the beach and into the parking lot. They were trying to make nest scrapes in the gravel. Heartbreaking to see.

My husband and I put up roping as soon as I was finished babysitting. We ran out of rope for both areas and came back today to finish cordoning off the nesting sites. Hopefully the rope will help.

Perhaps because of climate change, and for reasons not fully understood, for the third year in a row, we now have a beautiful species of shorebird nesting at Good Harbor Beach. This year they arrived on April 3rd. Piping Plovers are a federally threatened species and it is our responsibility to do all that is humanly possible to insure their safety.

We live in coastal Massachusetts, which means we also have a responsibility in the chain of migration along the Atlantic Flyway to do our part to help all wildlife, particularly endangered wildlife.

Wouldn’t it be tremendous if the dog friendly people and all citizens of Gloucester would work together to change the leash laws to restrict dogs from our barrier beaches, Good Harbor Beach (and Wingaersheek, too, if birds begin nesting there as well), beginning April 1st?

Much, much better signage is needed as well as a wholehearted information campaign. And better enforcement of the current laws would be of great help as well however, if the laws are written such that dogs are allowed on the beaches during the month of April, which is the beginning of nesting season, then we are not being good stewards of species at risk.

We need help enforcing rules about keeping people and pets out of the dunes. The dunes are our best protection against rising sea level and are weakened terribly by trampling through the beachgrass and wildflowers.

It may be helpful for people to understand that the earlier the PiPl are allowed to nest, the earlier the chicks will be born, and the greater their chance of survival. Yesterday morning one pair mated and the female helped the male dig a nest, which means we could very well see eggs very soon (if they return to the nesting sites after yesterday’s debacle).

Papa Plover bowing in the courtship dance.

And here he is puffed out and high-stepping in the mating dance.

If the PiPl begin laying eggs now, and it takes about another month for hatching from the time the first egg is laid, the chicks would be a month old by the time July 4th arrives, when GHB becomes packed with visitors.

If the eggs and nest are destroyed, the nesting cycle will begin all over again and we will have chicks born over Fiesta weekend, with days-old chicks running around the beach on July 4th, as happened last year.

One-day-old Piping Plover chick – a marshmallow-sized chick with toothpicks for legs is super challenging to watch over on a typical Good Harbor Beach summer day!

I believe that as a community we can work together to help the Piping Plovers, as was done last year. It took a tremendous effort by a fabulous group of volunteers. The hardest thing that the volunteers had to deal with were the seemingly endless encounters with scofflaw dog owners. Especially difficult were the sunrise and sunset shifts because folks think they can get away with ignoring the laws at those times of day. I cannot tell you how many times I have had terrible things said to me when I tried to speak to people about keeping their dogs away from the PiPl nesting sites. Some folks do not want to be told that their dog cannot play there.

Rather than expecting volunteers and citizens to call the dog officer, when it is usually too late by the time they arrive, the dog officers should be stationed at the beach at key times, on weekends, and after five pm, for example.

Now that we know the Piping Plovers are here this early in the season, better rules, signage, and more information need to be in place. Gloucester is not the only north shore coastal Massachusetts area this year experiencing Piping Plovers arriving earlier than usual. We can learn much historically from how other communities manage these tiniest and most vulnerable of shorebirds. For example, after April 1st, no dogs are allowed at Crane Beach. Throughout the year, no dogs are allowed at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and at Revere Beach (also home to nesting Piping Plovers), which was the first public beach established in the United States, no dogs are allowed from April 1st to mid-September.

The female Piping Plover lays one egg approximately every day to every few days, usually until a total of three to four eggs are laid. The male and female begin sitting on the eggs when all are laid. Until that time, the eggs are extremely vulnerable to being stepped upon.

Currently the two nesting areas identified on Good Harbor Beach are taking up more space than will be the case once the PiPl begin to lay eggs. As soon as the first egg is laid, an exclosure will be placed over the nest and the overall cordoned off area will shrink some.

Mama PiPl and one-day-old chick

YOU DIDN’T THINK I’D ACTUALLY WANT TO LIVE IN THAT DUMP DID YOU?

YOU DIDN’T THINK I’D ACTUALLY WANT TO LIVE IN THAT DUMP DID YOU?
Dad Piping Plover spends considerable time showing Mom how good he is at nest-building.

Mom nonchalantly makes her way over to the nest scrape.

She thoroughly inspects the potential nest.

Dad again rearranges the sand. Mom pipes in, “Honey, I think I’d prefer that mound of dried seaweed over there, nearer the blades of seagrass. And can you please add a few seashells to the next one, rather than bits of old kelp.”

Rejected!
Here we go again!

Five Piping Plovers have been observed at Good Harbor Beach. They are battling over territory and beginning to pair up. The male builds perhaps a dozen nests scrapes in a single day–all in hopes of impressing the female. Hopefully, within the next week, they will establish a nest; the earlier in the season Plovers begin nesting, the greater the chance of survival for the chicks.

Dave Rimmer from Essex County Greenbelt reports that although many nest scrapes have been seen, no nests with an egg on any of Gloucester’s beaches have yet been discovered. He suggests that perhaps the cooler than usual spring temperatures are slowing progress.

Not one, but two, potential nesting sites have been roped off for the Piping Plovers. The second site is near the Good Harbor Beach Inn.

SHORT VIDEO CLIP: THE PIPING PLOVERS OF GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Work has begun in earnest sorting through all the Piping Plover footage and editing the documentary. In the mean time, I thought readers would enjoy this rare moment where we catch a glimpse of the new born chicks, with both mom and dad together.

Impossibly tiny—no larger than a marshmallow—moments after hatching a Piping Plover chick is on the move, running, tumbling, somersaulting, face-planting, and curious about every little thing in their brand new great big world. PuffPuff, FluffFluff, and TootsiePop are less than twenty-four hours old in this clip. Our East Gloucester neighborhood kids named the Plover family after spending an afternoon getting to know them, watching safely from outside the roped off area.

Dad Joe finds an impression in the sand and the chicks come running to warm under his protective wings. Piping Plover chicks can feed themselves at birth but can’t yet perfectly regulate their body temperature. They need Mom and Dad for protection and for the warmth they provide. After a few moments rest, Joe pops up and Joy zooms in to take his place. Watch how PuffPuff does a somersault and FluffFluff gives her a little bump out of their cozy nest. Mom runs off camera to create a new resting spot and the chicks are chided by piping calls to come join her.

In shades of bone and driftwood, note how beautifully the Plovers are camouflaged in the colors of the sand and dry beach grass. There isn’t a living thing that doesn’t pose a threat to these most vulnerable of creatures. For protection against predators they will soon learn how to stand perfectly still when Joe and Joy pipe commands, but for now, it’s willy-nilly around the beach, much to the parents great consternation.

Thanks to Esme, Lotus, Meadow, Frieda, and Ruby for naming the Piping Plover family!

piping-plover-chicks-babies-nestlings-male-female-copyright-kim-smithThe male Piping Plover is on the left, the female, on the right. The male’s little black forehead band makes it easier to distinguish between the two.