CLOVER PLOVERS – Just hatched Killdeer Chicks!

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

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

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY – BROUGHT TO YOU BY PIPING PLOVER DADS!

Fifteen-day-old Piping Plover chicks

Last year I posted a similarly titled post, Happy Father’s Day! Brought to You By Papa Plover,with a photo of Papa PiPl snuggling our one remaining chick, Pip.

This year we have a sweet photo from yesterday of our Papa PiPl snuggling all three chicks, not just one chick as was the case last year on Father’s Day. I wrote, “Whenever folks stop by to ask questions at the nesting area and they see the little chicks snuggling under the adult PiPl, they almost automatically assume it is the Mama Plover. Half the time it is the female, and the other half, the male. Mom and Dad share equally in caring for the chicks, generally in twenty minute to half hour intervals. They are always within ear shot and while one is minding the chicks, the other is either feeding itself, grooming, or patrolling for predators. Last year, as is often the case, the Mama Plover departed Good Harbor Beach several weeks before the chick fledged, leaving Little Chick entirely under Papa’s care.”

But there is more to the story about what makes Piping Plover males Super Dads. Papa is not only an excellent Dad in that he is a fifty/fifty caretaker of the chicks, but male Plovers are also fierce defenders of their family. Our Papa is no exception. He is always on high alert, especially when it comes to the Bachelor and his antics. Between gulls, crows, other avian predators, human caused disturbances, and even danger from one of their own kind, it’s not easy being a Plover Dad.

Papa Plover warming the three chicks. They were fifteen days old on Saturday morning.

The Bachelor tries to camp out in the protected area. Papa is having none of it and leaps up to give chase to the Bachelor.

Papa and the Bachelor smack down over command of the protected area.

Male Piping Plovers fight, and even bite, competing males for mates and for nesting territory.

 

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER CHICKS ARE TWO WEEKS OLD TODAY!

Two weeks ago today, four tiny Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach. Nesting got off to a rocky start, with the mated pair first attempting to nest at the beach, then at the parking lot, but then thankfully, returning to their original nest site.

The relative peace on the beach, excellent parenting by Mama and Papa PiPl, cooler than average temperatures, vigilant monitoring by a corps of dedicated volunteers, outpouring of consideration by beach goers, as well as support from the DPW, City administration, and City Councilors has allowed the chicks to attain the two-week-old stage of maturity. With each passing day, we can see the chicks are gaining in strength and fortitude and listening more attentively to their parent’s voice commands. Adhering to Mama and Papa’s piping calls is an important milestone in their development. The parents continuously pipe commands and directions, warning of danger and directing the chicks to come to a stand still. The tiny shorebird’s best defense is its ability to blend with its surroundings when motionless.

The chicks spent the early morning warming up and foraging at the protected area. Afternoon found them camped out at the creek.

Snapshots from the morning

 

There was a group of young people stationed near the PiPl protected area enjoying the beach on this fine sunny afternoon. All was good though as the chicks were perfectly safe, foraging far down the creek. With gratitude and thanks to everyone who is helping to keep our PiPl family safe.

Snapshots from the afternoon

GREAT EGRET OF THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH SALT MARSH

A grand Great Egret has been hanging out at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. He has been dining on small fish mostly. The photos are from Sunday but I didn’t spot him either yesterday or today; perhaps he has moved on. 

The long breeding plumes are called aigrettes.

Cape Ann is part of the Great Egrets breeding range, particularly House Island. This Egret is in full breeding plumage, advertising to a potential mate how fit and desirable he is to other Great Egrets. These same beautiful feathers, and humanity’s indiscriminate killing of, are what caused the bird to become nearly extinct. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the long breeding plumes, called aigrettes, of many species of herons and egrets were prized as fashion accessories to adorn women’s hats. Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to hunt or harm in any way gorgeous birds such as the Great Egret, and egrets and herons are making a comeback.

Fine dining in the marsh
Dagger-like bill

 

HAPPY TEN-DAY-OLD BIRTHDAY TO OUR PIPING PLOVER CHICKS!

Today our little chicks, all three, turn ten-days-old. This is a milestone in that their chances of survival are greatly improved when they reach the age of ten-days-old.

The family of five spent the morning foraging, mostly in the protected area, and venturing to the shoreline only occasionally. A Mourning Dove made his way through the dune edge into the protected area and Mama was having none of it. She flew at the Dove, but it attacked back. Papa suddenly appeared out of nowhere and really gave the Dove the business, buzzing it several times. The Dove flew off and then returned. Both parents left the chicks briefly and both attacked the Dove simultaneously. It’s always dramatic when you see how these pint sized shorebirds go after the much larger birds, and usually win.

Our Papa and Mama will fight to the death for their chicks, and because of that the chicks have survived ten whole days. Additionally, the Piping Plover family could not have survived this long without the vigilance of tender hearted volunteer monitors. They are a tremendous bunch of people and if you would like to join our group, please contact Alicia Pensarosa and sign up for a shift. Everyone is welcome. Weekends, especially, volunteers are needed.

Thank you to all the volunteer monitors. Two volunteers deserve an extra huge shout out and they are Heather Hall and Laurie Sawin. These two daily spend hours upon hours monitoring the chicks. Thank you sweet ladies for all your time and devotion ❤

Bug Breakfast

Big Chair, Tiny Bird

Papa keeping a watchful eye on the family this morning.

CHICKS MADE THEIR FIRST FORAY DOWN TO THE CREEK TODAY!

Our Good Harbor Beach PiPls made their first journey down to the creek this morning. They left the protected area about 11:00am, just as the soccer tournament was heating up. The family traveled along the dune fencing, crossed the back road, and spent the better part of the day foraging in the creek tidal flats and in the vegetation at the marsh edge.

For volunteers who have never seen this behavior before, in 2016 the chicks hatched over Fiesta weekend, when the beach was very busy. At only two days old, the PiPl family began making the epic journey to the creek from the protected area. This is harrowing for them and we lost a chick during the 2016 trek. Volunteers can best help the chicks by following along, from a safe distance that does not impede their movement. Keep an eye on stray balls and let folks in the vicinity know what is happening, if possible. They typically return as the tide is coming in or at dusk.

I believe easy access to the creek is one reason why our GHB PiPls choose to nest at the No. 3 boardwalk over the No. 1 boardwalk area. The creek is closer to No. 3 and gives the birds a secondary option for feeding when the main beach is super crowded.

The hatchlings are eight days old and are nearing the ten-day-old milestone. They are growing visibly stronger and increasingly more independent everyday. I have lots of photos to share and will provide a longer update after the weekend. 

Chicklet tracks

Creek tide flats

Mom calling for a chick, which is hiding in the vegetation at the edge of the marsh 🙂

Seven-day-old Piping Plover Chicks

PIPING PLOVER CHICKS FIVE-DAYS-OLD AND ALL PRESENT AND ACCOUNTED FOR :)

Our little Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover family of five all appear to be doing well. The three chicks made the five-day-old milestone today. They are becoming increasingly independent, so much so that is is occasionally difficult for the PiPl volunteers to find. We monitors have had it relatively easy up to this point. With the cooler temperatures, the chicks have spent a great deal of time tucked under Mama and Papa. This first warm day of June, they were zooming from one length of the beach by the No. 3 boardwalk, all the way to the creek end, in and out of the cordoned off area, and to the shoreline. The chicks were also observed by monitor Laurie Sawin running up into the edge of the dunes and taking shelter from the heat and sun under the beautiful native flowering Beach Pea.

Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard has provided laminated information about Piping Plovers, on a clipboard that any PiPl monitor can access via Cape Ann Coffees, which is around the corner from Good Harbor Beach at 86 Bass Avenue. The information can be picked up and dropped off by asking at the counter. Many, many thanks to Rick and Dorthe Noonan, proprietors of Cape Ann Coffees, for volunteering to keep the information at their wonderful coffee shop.

Gloucester Animal Advisory Committee chairperson Alicia Pensarosa reminds everyone to follow this link to sign up if you are interested in becoming a Piping Plover volunteer monitor: https://signup.com/client/invitation2/secure/2801244/true#/invitation

The weather prediction for the weekend is blue skies and seventies, so much help will be needed, especially during the mid-day when the beach is most congested. If you have any questions or comments, please email Alicia at gloucesterAAC@gmail.com.

 

Three-day-old PiPls waking up at sunrise, foraging in the wrack zone, and taking turns warming up under Mom and Dad

Looking for the well-camouflaged PiPl chicks makes my head spin!

Four-day-old chick

Five-day-old PiPl chick venturing into the dunes.

Great news from our PiPl friends at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge-as of May 31st, they have 39 pairs, 25 active nests, and their first chick is projected to hatch on June 6th! 

 

 

WE LOST A CHICK LAST NIGHT

So sorry to have to post that we lost one of our little chicks last night. It’s impossible to know what happened; there were not tracks or signs of unusual activity. Could it be the chick became separated from the family in the heavy fog and last night’s thunderstorm? We’ve seen chicks survive on similar nights and we lost one in 2017 after a thunderstorm. They are only three days old today so I imagine the rough weather is rough on the chicks, too.

Three-day-old chicks this morning

SWEETEST ONE-DAY-OLD PIPING PLOVER CHICKS AND HOW TO SIGN UP TO VOLUNTEER

We had a terrific informal Piping Plover informational gathering at Good Harbor Beach this afternoon. If you would like to sign up to volunteer, please follow this easy link. We would love to have you join us.

http://bit.ly/2Vsw2Wd  

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com or leave a comment in the comment section.

Today the chicks are two days old; the photos are from yesterday at daybreak. It was foggy and overcast and the chicks mostly wanted to warm up under Mama and Papa.

All four chicks are doing fantastically, feeding well and venturing further and further from the upper wrack zone. Because of the cool temperatures, the beach has been relatively quieter this past spring, which has been ideal not only for our GHB PiPl family, but for nesting and hatching PiPl families all around the state.

Pint-sized mountain climbing

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.

BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU STEP

This beautiful nest of Least Tern eggs was located outside a cordoned off area. I guess they didn’t get the 411; no one told the Terns they are supposed to lay their eggs within the protected area 🙂

Aren’t they so perfectly camouflaged. I nearly stepped on them.

There is just something so positive and optimistic, so life-affirming, about a nest of eggs.

Nesting Least Terns

 

A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E HOURS OLD PIPING PLOVER CHICKS!

These sweet Piping Plover chicks are only hours old. All four are healthy, vigorous, and already feeding themselves and stretching their wing buds. They sure were giving their Mom and Dad reason to panic as they ran hither and thither, not yet understanding the adults piping voice commands. A dog ran through the nesting area and a pair of Crows added to the parent’s stress. After both parents briefly left the chicks to distract the dog and give chase to the Crows, calmness was restored and three snuggled under Mom while the fourth kept dad on the run.

*Note–I have been following and filming half a dozen PiPl nests around the state and just to be clear in case of any confusion, these are not our Good Harbor Beach PiPls 🙂

 

There have been quite a few PiPl chicks hatching around New England beaches. The cool, overcast weather will benefit the hatchlings tremendously. The beaches are relatively quieter, with fewer people, dogs, and trash that attracts avian predators, which will help allow the babies to reach that critical one week old age.

Finding insects in the wrack zone

Tiny wing buds

Adorableness

#GloucesterMA in national news: Audubon feature article by Deborah Cramer ode to city, Kim Smith, piping plovers, volunteers, GMG and Greenbelt

Deborah Cramer wrote an outstanding feature for Audubon published May 2019. This feel good – feel proud story is a great read inspiring efforts near and far. It takes a city.

“…(Kim) Smith, a photographer and filmmaker, had inspired much of the effort. While not everyone can be on the beach every day, her images, videos, and blog offered the entire city an up-close portrait of the birds’ daily lives.”– Deborah Cramer

 Read the article here

“How Plover Chicks Born in a Parking Lot Spurred a City to Make its Beach Safer: The dramatic ups and downs of a piping plover family in Gloucester, Massachusetts, show what it takes to protect a threatened species” By Deborah Cramer published by Audubon May 23, 2019.

national Audubon  story Deborah Cramer on Gloucester piping plovers Kim Smith and volunteers published May 23 2019.jpg

PIPING PLOVER WEEKLY UPDATE – ONE-DAY-OLD CHICKS AND NESTING AROUND MASSACHUSETTS!

One-day-old chicks foraging at the shoreline on a foggy Memorial Day Monday

It was a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in more ways than one. Piping Plover chicks have been hatching all around Massachusetts this past week and I was fortunate to observe two nests with a total of six one-day-old chicks zooming around beaches. We’re so blessed that our Good Harbor Beach pair are also on a relatively early track, which greatly increases the chicks chance of surviving.

Mama and Papa spent the weekend on the crowded beach incubating their eggs and foraging. Ironically, I think they benefitted from beach goers picnics (minus the gulls and crows). Papa spent a busy Monday morning pecking at the sand and devouring mouthfuls of large tasty black ants.

Anteater

Many more hatchlings to come!

CRANE BEACH PIPING PLOVER UPDATE FROM TRUSTEES OF RESERVATIONS JEFF DENONCOURT

 

Trustees of Reservations ecologist Jeff Denoncour kindly shares information about the Piping Plovers at Crane Beach and he wrote two days ago with an update for us on their Piping Plover population. “Unfortunately the weather has been pretty inclement this year making it tough to monitor and really nail down the number of pairs. That mixed with an abundance of birds and a lot of loss due to storms and high tides and a bit of predation its really hard for me to get an accurate pair count right now. I am estimating that we have more than 33 plover pairs.

So far we have discovered 36 plover nests, but right now we only have 19 active nests. 3 of the 36 nests are renests, which is why I’m saying we have 33 or more pairs. Some pairs have been scraping consistently in areas but have not laid eggs.

Our first nest is due to hatch tomorrow.”

I sent him an email this morning and hopefully we’ll have news of hatchlings!

If you would like to learn more about the outstanding work of the Trustees of Reservations Shorebird Protection Program go here.

Least Tern (left) and Common Tern Crane Beach

PIPING PLOVER WEEKLY UPDATE -SIX PLOVERS AND THREE WILLETS! Plus Semi-palmated Plovers, Yellow Legs, a Least Sandpiper, and More Black-bellied Plovers

Six Piping Plovers (Saturday morning 5/18/19)

Five Semi-palmated Plovers (Monday morning 5/20/19)

Four Piping Plovers (Sunday night, Monday morning 5/19/19)

Three Willets (Saturday morning 5/18/19)

Two Black-bellied Plovers (Monday morning 5/20/19)

Two Yellow Legs (Tuesday morning 5/13/19)

One Least Sandpiper (Monday morning 5/20/19)

Sometime during Friday night, three additional Piping Plovers and three Willets arrived to Good Harbor Beach.

The three new PiPls made for a total of six spotted at sunrise on Saturday morning–our mated pair, the Bachelor, two new boys and a new girl. While Mama was on the nest, five foraged at the tidal flats. There were several territorial skirmishes before two flew off. I wasn’t able to wait to see if they returned.

Winsome Willets

Saturday morning also found three Willets foraging at the tidal flats. Although I didn’t see them later in the day, I did hear their wonderfully distinct calls. I wonder if they will stay. Willets breed in our area and I am fairly certain there was a nesting pair at the Good Harbor Beach salt marsh last summer, the first time I have ever seen Willets regularly there.

New girl on the scene

New boy on the scene

Sunday late afternoon/early evening four PiPls were at Good Harbor Beach. One on the nest, and three were foraging at the flats. More smack downs between the boys and I didn’t see the pretty female.

Papa Plover defending his nesting territory

Early Monday, and the four PiPls are still here, plus five Semi-palmated Plovers, one Least Sanderling, and two Black-bellied Plovers. The two Black-bellied Plovers were not the same as the two we saw last week. They  were frightened off by a flock of seagulls in flight and didn’t stay long. The Least Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, and Semi-palmated Plover breed in the tundra across extreme northern North America. Yellow Legs breed in the boreal forests, wetlands, and meadows of the far north. All four species are finding lots to eat at their Good Harbor Beach stopover.

Yellow Legs

Black-bellied Plover

Least Sandpiper

Semi-palmated Plover

Good eating at Good Harbor

May’s Full Flower Moon brought several very high tides, but our PiPl nest is tucked up safely near the dune edge. In the photo you can see how close the seaweed came to the nest.

High tides and beautiful sunrise Saturday morning

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

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

A trio of Black-bellied Plovers was foraging at Good Harbor Beach late Wednesday afternoon. They were only there very briefly; Black-bellied Plovers flush easily and the three skittishly flew off together when a happy group of noisy kids came along.

We will never see Black-bellied Plovers nesting. They are migrating north, to breed along the Arctic coast, from Baffin Island, Canada to western Alaska. Just like Piping Plovers, Black-bellied Plover males build nest scrapes and both male and female incubate the eggs.

The eggs look very similar to Killdeer eggs (Killdeers are also a species of plover), the eggs of both species are darker than Piping Plover eggs, and both are more heavily spotted at the large end.

Piping Plover Eggs

Black-bellied Plover eggs , left Killdeer eggs, right

So many species of shorebirds nest in the Arctic. We are so fortunate that Piping Plovers and Killdeers nest on our shores, providing a wonderful window into the life stories of these amazing and resilient creatures.