Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming! New short film created for Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Cooperators. Turn up the volume to hear the chicks peeping and Dad Plover piping.
Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming! New short film created for Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Cooperators. Turn up the volume to hear the chicks peeping and Dad Plover piping.
Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming! New short created for Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Cooperators. Turn up the volume to hear the chicks peeping and Dad Plover piping.
On Tuesday I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at the Harwich Community Center on Cape Cod. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, Roseate Terns, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention.
I was invited by Carolyn Mostello, event organizer, to create a short film, Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming, for the “Strange and Unusual” section. The film features our three little chicks SWIMMING in the tidal creek (see next post). I also provided a group of photos of the late hatching chicks for DCR. The film and the photos were well-received, which was gratifying to me, to be of help in documenting and sharing these wonderful stories.
Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Essex Greenbelt, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Mass Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
In the morning, each region gave the 2019 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.
Trustees of Reservations Coastal Ecologist Jeff Denoncour presented on behalf of the north of Boston region, of which Gloucester is a part. Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer and intern Fionna were in attendance as well. Both Crane Beach and Parker River are having a fantastic year and the numbers are up across Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. There are still many young chicks yet to fledge on Massachusetts beaches so the final count has not been determined.
The afternoon session was filled with outstanding lectures presented by conservation biologists and all the programs were tremendously informative.
I met Beth Howard from Mass Audubon, who has been involved with care taking the L Street Piping Plovers and Paige Hebert from Mass Wildlife who has been helping manage Roseate Terns. The DCR staff managing the shorebirds at Nahant, Salisbury, Winthrop, and Revere Beach were all there and they are just a stellar group of young people.
It was a great day! Many attendees expressed congratulations for Gloucester fledging three chicks. Last year after attending the meeting I wrote the following and it’s wonderful that our hope for Gloucester’s Plovers was realized this year: “After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.”
I stopped by on my way home from work, fully expecting to see all three chicks hatched. Dad was sitting on the nest and two fluffy chicks were zooming in and out. He left the nest for a moment and wonderful luck of luck, the third chick was making its appearance!!
When I write messy, it is because while the third chick was hatching, the two older ones needed to thermoregulate, or cuddle, beneath the parent’s wing. There was a great deal of seeming disorder going on beneath the canopy provided by Dad’s fluffed out feathers.
Because the two older siblings were running in and out of the nest, as well as the parents leaving to discard the remaining chick’s eggshell pieces, I had a longer window into the third chick’s hatching (by mere seconds, I mean). Plus the twelve-hour-old chicks were just as adorable as could be!
From a nest of three eggs, two chicks hatched at dawn and the third, at day’s end. During both times, I had my movie camera on a tripod zoomed in on the nest and was able to film and simultaneously take still photos. A very unforgettable and happy day!!!!!!!!!!
As many of our readers know, this summer while finishing up with editing my Monarch film, I have also been continuing to document our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. To make the best and most informed documentary, I have also been filming at other north of Boston beach locations. During our last heat wave, we posted about about how PiPl parents protect their eggs during extreme temperatures. The chicks that you see hatching in the photos are the same eggs that survived the heat wave! and are from a very, very special Piping Plover pair. More about these two parents in an upcoming post; for now I just have time to write about the chicks hatching.
Witnessing a beautiful family of Piping Plover chicks hatch is a day I won’t soon forget. Not only struck by the sheer beauty of it all, I was highly aware of the formidable challenges these valiant little birds face at every stage of development. Even hatching was messy and challenging.
On my way into work, I had been checking daily on the nest and knew the hatching day was soon approaching. Arriving at dawn on the twenty-fifth day from when the pair had begun brooding all three eggs, it was apparent and wonderfully exciting to see something was going on in the nest. Mom was on the nest and she was unusually active, moving around and adjusting the eggs repeatedly. She popped up for a split second and I could see an egg cracking. A miracle truly, that the eggs were viable, as it was so late in the season and the heat had been so extreme.
Enthralled, I watched as two chicks hatched over an hour period, but then had to leave to be on site for a job installation that couldn’t wait. I hated to leave wondering, not knowing how the third chick would fare, and just prayed that it would still be light out when I stopped back on my way home from work that night.
Part two tomorrow.
During this heat wave I have been concerned about one of the Piping Plover families that I am documenting. They are nesting in an exposed site and it is late in the season. I wondered if their eggs were at risk of becoming overheated. As of Saturday, my worries were for naught.
Both the Mom and Dad are sitting high on the nest. Typically when brooding eggs, Piping Plovers fluff out their brood feathers and the eggs are entirely hidden. During these 90-degree-plus days, the parents are continuing to sit on the nest to keep predators from seeing the eggs from overhead, but they are raising their bodies enough to allow air to flow beneath.
Both parents are struggling in the heat; they are overheated and panting while minding their nest, yet despite their obvious discomfort, they are determinedly continuing to brood.
Allowing for air circulation is really a pretty genius way of managing their eggs and I am keeping my hopes up that the pair will be successful ❤
We PiPl volunteer monitors had a sweet get together last night to celebrate our three fledged Piping Plovers. Not everyone could attend and I didn’t take the photo until several had already departed. Despite the fact that the City prematurely dismantled the Piping Plover refuge, it didn’t dampen our spirits. It was super to talk to fellow volunteers and learn more about them while sharing a beautiful cake that Heather Hall had made, with some fantastic Sangria, made by Laurie Sawin.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all our fantastic volunteers for your hours of dedication. It was a great year for PiPls at Good Harbor Beach. We hope our Mama and Papa return next year, and if they do, we will be even more prepared!
There are several reasons as to why it is vitally important to leave the Piping Plover refuge in place at GHB. PiPl chicks and fledglings are like human babies in that they eat and eat all day and evening, rest, and then resume eating. Their appetites are voracious. Not only are they growing but they are building their fat reserves for the journey south.
Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers forage at the shoreline and also within the enclosure. Because this area is not raked or disturbed by human foot traffic, plants have a chance to grow. The plants attract insects, which in turn becomes food for the shorebirds.
On hot summer days, when the beach is jam packed, especially at high tide, the young birds and adults do not have access to the shoreline.They forage exclusively on the insects in the enclosed roped off area.
Each morning we find the family together within the enclosure, either foraging or sleeping, or at the shoreline in front of their refuge.
What will happen to the family now that the roping was removed prematurely? We don’t know. It’s been suggested that they will simply leave and try to find refuge at other beaches. Will they be able to maintain their family bond or will they become separated? If, for example, the fledglings find their way to Winthrop Beach where there are other PiPls nesting, the adults at that beach will surely attack them and chase the fledglings out of their territory. The nesting PiPl at Winthrop would be disrupted and the GHB fledglings won’t be eating and fattening up, but expending energy flying and fighting.
I am documenting PiPls at several other north shore beaches. Nowhere else are the PiPl refuges being dismantled. As a matter of fact, just this past week, the Department of Conservation and Recreation actually increased an area to create additional habitat for a new young family.
We monitors have spoken with and made friends with many of the local homeowners along Nautilus and Salt Island Roads. Every resident we have met is 100 percent for the PiPs and many have become valued monitors. Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer is for leaving the roping up as long as the Piping Plovers are at GHB.
We are having a difficult time trying to understand who or what is driving the rush to destroy the PiPls habitat.
Insects provide food for PiPls at all stages of their lives. Note this little guy is stretching for all he’s worth and his left foot is on tiptoes trying to reach a bug on the leaf.
36 Day Old Piping Plover Fledglings
On my morning PiPl check, I met up with a super nice gentleman, Bill, who walks the beach every morning. He loves wildlife (including PiPls), is a Coast Guard veteran, was a fisherman, and grew up on a marsh. Bill pointed out the whale (or he thought possibly a large dolphin), breaching and blowing blow holes off in the distance. Bill mentioned there had been a crowd along the back shore earlier and that there is tons of good bait fish off the coast right now.
Can a marine specialist please help us identify what we are looking at. Please comment in the comment section if you have a moment. Thank you so much!
Editor’s Note – Piping Plover volunteer monitor Val Cabral shares that this is a Humpback Whale. Thank you Val for writing!
How exciting at see an Osprey swoop in and snatch up a large fish precisely where the whales were fishing. All were too far away to get some really fine shots, but you can at least get an idea from the photos.
PiPl Update- all three fledglings are doing beautifully on this, their 39th day 🙂 The three spent the hours of five to seven mostly foraging in the area front of the enclosure, and also preening within the enclosure. Papa was on the scene, too.
July 10, 2019 Good Harbor Beach Sunrise
These beautiful shorebirds, so small you can hold one in the palm of your hand, and so softly hued, they melt into summer shades of driftwood and sand, are actually tough as nails. You would have to be mighty fierce to battle hungry gulls and crows twenty times your size, an ever shrinking habitat, extremes in weather, and oddest of all, unmated males of your own kind.
We usually refer to our disrupter as the Bachelor; in WWE terms, I think he would be called a heel. Daily, there are impromptu smack downs, mostly Papa defending the chicks, but Mama often rescues the chicks, too. Even on the 38th day of our fledgling’s lives, the Bachelor went after one of the chicks this morning. The heel snuck up and then moved aggressively towards an unsuspecting fledgling, sleepy-eyed in the sand. Papa was nearby, gave the Bachelor the business, and down the beach they both flew.
Unmated males pose a problem not only at Good Harbor Beach, but at Piping Plover nesting sites everywhere. Early in the season, I imagine it may be good for the success of the species to have a few extra males present in case the male of a mated pair is killed. But why do they continue to harass throughout the summer, especially when the female may even have left the area? Papa’s and Mama’s defense of the chicks against the Bachelor’s villainous behavior is perhaps demonstrating to the young birds life lessons in how to defend their own future broods.
Several mornings ago I observed the family feeding together in the intertidal zone, but wait, there were six, not five. Mom looked up from finishing her bath and quickly realized the Bachelor had wormed his way into the family’s territory. She went straight at him, but he held his ground. Papa heard the commotion and full on charged, chasing the Bachelor all the way down to the snack bar.
Mama taking a bath.
Papa gives chase up the beach.
Saturday marked the thirty-five-day old milestone in a Piping Plover’s life, when USFWS considers a chick fully fledged. At five weeks, a chick has by far the greatest chance of surviving and going on to become a breeding adult. That we fledged three from Good Harbor Beach is nothing short of astounding considering the very many potential threats. The average success rate per nest of four is 1.2 fledglings.
Gloucester’s citizens are proof positive of what a community can accomplish when we work together to effect change.
FLYING! One, two, three, lift off!
What did the chicks have going in their favor this year?
Number One was the change in the dog ordinance, which was to disallow dogs on the beach after March 31st.
Number Two was enforcing the new dog ordinance. Because of the ordinance change, and stepped up enforcement, the adults moved back to the beach to nest, and relatively early in the season. By helping the birds nest earlier in the spring, by the time the Fourth of July weekend arrived, the fledglings were bigger, stronger, and much better at following the parent’s voice commands that alert them to danger.
Number Three was the weather. With cooler than usual temperatures, there were fewer beach goers, which allowed for fewer disturbances.
Number Four, last but not least, was an amazing corp of volunteers who have dedicated hours upon hours to keeping watch over the babies, from sunrise til sunset. Our volunteers are truly the envy of other communities where PiPl nest. I am filming at several locations and staff at these beaches wish they had volunteers as dedicated as are ours.
With a happy, heartfelt thanks to a fantastic group of dedicated volunteer PiPl monitors, to Essex Greenbelt Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer for his continued help, to our Gloucester City Councilors for having the collective wisdom to vote to change the ordinance, to Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard for his ongoing assistance, to ACO Officers Teagan and Jamie, to Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, to Mayor Sefatia and her administration, to the DPWs Mike Hale and Joe Lucido, and to everyone in the community (and beyond) who have expressed their interest, their support, and who have loved learning about these tiniest, but most spunkiest, of sweet little shorebirds as we have watched them grow in their fascinating life story journey.
The photos are from July Fourth weekend, at 35 and 36 days old. These past several mornings at daybreak I find the three fledglings, Mom, and Dad foraging and preening together on the tidal flats and wrack line in front of the enclosed area. They move back within the roping when the tractor comes through, preen for a bit, head back down to the tidal flats, or fly off to the creek. The family is continuing to stay together, but are dispersed during the day when feeding. There is a wide variety of insects and small sea creatures to forage from at Good Harbor Beach as the PiPls plump up for their southward migration.
Bath time and drying wings
Morning wake up calisthenics – right wing stretches, then left wing, shimmy shake, and then off to forage.
Every morning the beach rake drives over the wrack line where the fledglings and adults are foraging. It was very scary when the chicks were younger. At thirty-five-days old, the birds can fly away to escape the heavy equipment but usually choose to run instead. PiPls are better camouflaged when they don’t fly, and that is why they often run at top speed to escape danger, rather than flying.
Because the area inside the enclosure is not raked, a nutritious buffet of insects can be found within the roping. The enclosed area not only provides good food, but is where the family spends most of their time when the tide is high and the beach is full of visitors. Dave Rimmer has let us know he fully supports keeping the roping in place as long as the PiPl family is at Good Harbor Beach. This is a tremendous relief to we volunteers because we see the many ways in which the PiPl family are continuing to utilize this important habitat.
There were not one, not two, not three, but four chicks feeding together at the wrack line at day break this morning. The mystery chick appears to be about the same age as our brood, exhibiting all the same behaviors, although it is not a Piping Plover fledgling. I think it is a Semipalmated Plover fledgling.
The chick was sopping, soaking wet and very disheveled, but feeding as vigorously as our family finding Good Harbor Beach ants, beetles, mollusks, and sea worms to be excellent breakfast fare.
When Papa Plover voiced danger warnings, the little visitor listened as attentively as did our brood of three. At one point Papa ran towards him, I thought to scare him away, but Papa was really after the Bachelor and kept on charging.
How could such a little fledgling fly from their northern breeding grounds at such an early age I wonder. He was so drenched, he appeared to have “washed” ashore, not flown. Semipalmated Plovers breed as far south as Newfoundland so perhaps he only traveled across the Gulf of Maine.
Just a very brief update from my morning 5-7am shift- I was happy to see Mom has returned to looking after the chicks. It’s really a relief because the beach was so crowded today with beach goers, beginning very early this morning. The chicks (all three!) spent most of the day at the creek with volunteer monitors keeping a watchful eye on the babes throughout the day.
Just a very brief update from my morning 5-7am shift- I was happy to see Mom has returned to looking after the chicks. It’s really a relief because the beach was so crowded today with beach goers, beginning very early this morning. The chicks (all three!) spent the day at the creek with volunteer monitors keeping a watchful eye on the babes throughout the day.
Nearly as large as the adults, the chicks still take direction and heed the parent’s warning piping calls alerting them to approaching danger. Every morning I typically find both adults protecting and monitoring the chicks, but this morning, only Papa was seen and that has been the case reported all day by fellow volunteers. Female Piping Plover parents often depart earlier than their male counterparts and that was the case with our family with the one surviving chick in 2017.
*Edited -found Mama this morning (a day after she disappeared), supervising all three chicks. Both parents still present and still on duty. Happy Fourth everyone!
What will happen at thirty-five-days? Will the chicks suddenly begin migrating southward? I don’t think it will be as precise as all that. The family maintains a loose association for an undetermined amount of time. Another PiPl family that I am documenting at a different location, where the chicks are four days older, is still hanging out together and the four siblings often nap together, within close proximity to Mom and Dad.
Under Dave Rimmer’s advice, the City has agreed to keep the roped off area in place until after the busy Fourth of July weekend (thank you!). By keeping the area within the rope protected, we are continuing to provide a safe harbor and good foraging habitat for the fledging birds, which will surely be needed this weekend.
Thank you to everyone who is watching out for our sweet little PiPl family ❤
Going, going, gone!
Thirty-two-day Old Piping Plover Chicks
Papa supervising this morning
Our chicks are 26 days old today. We’ve nearly made it to the four-week-old milestone!
Although state guidelines say piping Plover chicks have fledged by 25 days, that simply is not the case with our chicks. They cannot fly more than a few feet and are still swimming across the creek to the other side (about ten feet wide at mid-tide). If they could fly across, they would.
Every morning I find the chicks thermoregulating under Mom or Dad. Throughout the day, the parents guide the chicks up and down the beach to the most safe locations for foraging. And in the evening, they return to the protected area to snuggle under Mom or Dad, spending the night as a family unit.
The Federal guidelines are much more accurate when comparing my own observations and documentation. USFWS mandates protection up to 35 days. We PiPl monitors are going with protecting our family to 35 days, at five weeks old.
Thank you to all our wonderful Piping Plover volunteer monitors. Without a doubt, our chicks would not have made it this far if not for your time, patience, and dedication.
Volunteer monitor Laurie Sawin spent time with the family on Wednesday, sharing her binoculars and teaching the young conservation-minded kids all about Piping Plovers and their habitat. The kids were so interested and considerate of the birds, it was a joy to meet them!
People love the portable new signs, both beach goers and the volunteer monitors. The signs provide an opportunity for beach guests to ask questions and learn about the PiPls, and they also provide a reference for the monitors. Many thanks to volunteer monitor Heather Hall for sharing a photo online of the signs used at PiPl protected areas in Ontario.
On Saturday our Good Harbor Beach PiPl chicks turned three weeks old. They remind me so much of toddlers, with their indefatigable spirits, high energy and great appetites, adventuring, tumbling and bumping themselves throughout the day, flopping their tired selves down and wanting to be cuddled and protected, and then picking themselves up to start all over again.
Our chicks are spreading their wings! Their flight feathers have not yet grown in nonetheless, it doesn’t stop them from testing their wings. They stretch wide and take little leaps in the air, often ending with a face plant.
And sometimes, lift-off!
The chicks spend a good part of the day at the creek. On Saturday they crossed the creek and much to PiPl monitor Laurie Sawin’s dismay it appeared as though they were trapped on the other side and might have been swallowed up by the incoming tide. Instead, all three chicks swam across the creek to the safety of the shore.
We are stymied by the decision to shrink the Piping Plover’s protected area and are working toward re-establishing the size of their designated area. It’s really much too soon to be shrinking the roped off area and to have raked over the mini mounds of sand they sleep on every night. The chicks are all over the beach at all times of day and the protected area not only provides safety from people and pets, the un-raked areas provide a feast of good eating.
It clearly takes a village to raise a family of chicks at a popular city beach and we have a corps of wonderfully dedicated volunteers. We could really use help over these final ten days before the chicks are fully fledged. The weather has warmed and the beach has become much busier. Please contact Alicia Pensarosa if you would like to help. You can also directly sign up here. Thank you so much, and even more importantly, the PiPls thank you, too ❤