FACTS ABOUT FOX KILLING AT DUXBURY BEACH AND DEBUNKING PIPING PLOVER MYTH #6

Let’s talk about the petition circulating in Duxbury to prevent wildlife officials from taking foxes and coyotes that are eating Piping Plover eggs. Many friends have sent links to the story and I apologize for taking over a week to respond.

Local persons are re-posting the story on their social media platforms unintentionally, and in the case of one, intentionally, inciting outrage at the Piping Plovers. This story has become sensationalized and taken out of context. I experienced a similar situation, that of a story about Piping Plovers being misrepresented, when last summer a Boston news channel interviewed me at Good Harbor Beach about our PiPls nesting in the parking lot. Instead of a feature about what a great job our DPW, Mayor’s administration, and community were doing in helping protect the nesting Piping Plovers that had been driven into the parking lot by dogs, it was edited as a story about GHB loosing income from lost parking spaces. In reality, our PiPl family had returned to the beach by the time all the parking spaces were needed.

Readers should know that fox and coyote hunting is permitted in Massachusetts. The 2019 hunting season dates are January 1st through February 28th, resuming November 1st and continuing through February 29th, 2020. Read More Here. Hunting is part of our culture. To be very clear, I love all animals, I LOVE foxes, and especially Red Fox. When one made a midnight visit to our backyard several weeks ago and snooped around the base of our Blue Princess holly, my husband and I were beyond excited about the prospect of them possibly denning in our garden.

Red Fox Coffins Beach

All that being said, it is sadly understandable why a number of beaches along the Northeastern Seaboard, beside Duxbury beach (including Crane Beach, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, other Massachusetts beaches, Rhode Island beaches, and New Jersey beaches) have had to resort to predator management programs. This is the course of last resort. Please bear in mind that Eastern Coyotes, Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Crows, and Red Foxes are not endangered, rare, or even threatened species, as are many of the region’s nesting shorebirds.

I have seen first hand at Coffins Beach a Red Fox mom and her kit digging in the sand and coming very close to where there was a Piping Plover nest. Last year, the only nest that was at Coffins Beach was believed by Greenbelt to have been predated by fox. In 2018, at Winthrop Beach, dogs off leash, and a skunk, caused the entire colony of 150 pairs of endangered Least Terns to abandon the established nesting area and move elsewhere. The year before that, again at Winthrop Beach, a Peregrine Falcon had killed numerous chicks, both Least Tern and Piping Plover.

 

Least Tern eggs are exposed in the sand, just as are the eggs of Piping Plovers, and many other species of shorebirds.

At Crane Beach, electric fencing is used during the night to keep fox and coyote away from the PiPl and Least Tern nests. The wire exclosures that we use at Good Harbor Beach to protect the nests will only be used for as long as avian predators do not realize they can perch on the edge of the wire and eat the adults as they move in and out of the exclosure to brood the eggs.

Peregrine Falcon eating a bird and a gull waiting to snatch a few morsels. 

In the case of the Peregrine Falcon, it was relocated to the western part of the state. However, relocating mammals is not a legal option in Massachusetts. Electric fencing is not possible at all beaches. Wire exclosures are no longer used at Crane Beach because Great Horned Owls learned they could prey upon the adult Piping Plovers as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.

Killing wildlife to protect other species of wildlife is a very sensitive topic and again, is the action of last resort taken.

People often say, why not let nature takes its course. But there is really very little that is natural about beaches that were once shorebird habitat that have now become public. The reason why we have predation by Red and Gray Fox, Eastern Coyotes, Skunks, Crows, and a variety of gull species at public beaches is because they are attracted to the garbage left behind by people and there is nothing natural about that!

I urge everyone to read the following to gain a better understanding of why some beaches have had to to turn to predator management programs:

Duxbury Beach and Predator Management

Recently questions have come up regarding the predator management program on Duxbury Beach.  This is a controversial and oftentimes upsetting topic but is one of the challenges that the Duxbury Beach Reservation faces when trying to balance the many uses of the beach.

As landowners and stewards of Duxbury Beach for over 100 years, the Reservation strives to maintain a balance between protecting the natural resources of the beach, including habitat for wildlife, preserving the barrier which shelters the communities behind it, and providing use of the beach for recreational purposes including over-sand vehicles.   In order to provide use of the beach for recreation, habitat and species conservation regulations must be adhered to including predator management mandates by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Many residents of the South Shore have visited Duxbury Beach since childhood and have likely seen big changes to the beach – both through dune and infrastructure projects and in how the beach must be managed under local, state, and federal law.

Duxbury Beach is unique is many ways, including the nesting habitat it affords to rare and protected shorebirds.  Unfortunately, Piping Plover conservation, which is regulated under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, can come in to conflict with human interests, including development and recreation.  In order to provide greater options for beach managers working to adhere to state and federal guidelines for plover protection while providing recreational opportunities, the state of Massachusetts has a Habitat Conservation Plan under the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  The Plan allows certain “risky” activities while providing mitigation to ensure the plover population is better protected overall.  The Duxbury Beach Reservation received a sub-permit under this statewide plan to allow recreational driving on the back road and front beach in closer proximity to young plover chicks.

Under this permit allowing recreational driving, the Duxbury Beach Reservation is responsible for continuing an intensive monitoring program and providing mitigation.  As stated by Mass Wildlife, the only form of mitigation acceptable under the US Fish and Wildlife permit is lethal predator control, because it has the highest likelihood of offsetting the potential loss.

Predator management is not the Reservation’s first option and is carefully considered each year and on a case by case basis.  The predator management program has been in place on Duxbury Beach for 8 years.  For comparison, predator management has occurred on beaches in the state of Massachusetts for over 13 years.  The plan on Duxbury Beach has undergone continuance debate and study throughout its tenure, with examination by multiple agencies and several opportunities for public comment.

The Duxbury Beach predator management program design was and continues to be based on extensive data collected on the beach on predator presence and egg and chick loss to ensure the program targets those species that are responsible for heavy losses.  Fox have been removed 3 of the past 8 years that a predator management program has been in place, and every year the number removed has been far, far fewer than the numbers suggested on social media.  This targeted removal during a limited time of year has been successful in providing two rare and protected species, the Piping Plover and Least Tern, a window of opportunity to nest and raise young on some of the little remaining nesting habitat on the east coast.  It has also afforded thousands of visitors the chance to come and enjoy the beach.

Instituting a predator management program is controversial, challenging, often upsetting, and may even seem counter-intuitive to many.  Why remove one species so that another may succeed?  Aren’t there other options?

While it may seem simple to “let nature take its course” we do not operate in an entirely “natural” system.  With the removal of large predators, such as wolves, from this area by the mid-20th century, mid-sized predators, including fox, coyote, and raccoons, were able to extend their ranges and increase in population in these areas.  There are communities of hundreds of homes flanking Duxbury Beach that provide ample habitat for species like red fox that can do very well in suburban and even urban areas while other species, like the plovers and terns, have had habitat regularly destroyed by development.

Today, the largest cause of plover and tern egg and chick loss on Duxbury Beach, and many other beaches statewide, is predation by species whose populations are not in jeopardy.  Unfortunately, the common predators on Duxbury Beach, including the larger mammals (fox and coyote) and avian predators (crow and gull) are more likely to be attracted to the beach due to trash. There are staff on Duxbury Beach in the summer to pick up trash on the beach, road, and parking lots in the hopes of making the beach less attractive to animals like fox.  With communities at the far end of the beach it is impossible to limit the attractiveness of Duxbury Beach to predators with large ranges. There are very few suitable denning spots on the beach and most of the large mammals come to the beach from mainland Duxbury and Marshfield where they find ample denning spots under houses, sheds, etc.

Unfortunately, relocation of individual predators is not an option for multiple reasons:

  • It is illegal under Massachusetts law to capture and relocate wildlife off your property
  • Conflict, stress, or death caused due to intrusion into an existing individual’s territory
  • Harm to the individuals removed from their territory and a struggle to find food and shelter. Humans do not always recognize appropriate habitats for wildlife and put them in bad locations.
  • Spread of disease
  • Disruption of ecological processes by introducing a new species or more individuals to an area
  • The problem is not solved, but moved to a new location

Many have questioned why Duxbury Beach does not use “wire cages” around plover nests as are sometimes seen on other beaches.  These cages are predator exclosures and are oftentimes an unsuccessful and harmful tool. Unfortunately, predators (including fox, raptors, crow, and others) can target exclosures and kill adults when they switch off the nest. This is more detrimental to plover conservation than losing eggs or chicks because of the loss of future reproductive potential of the breeding adult. Predator exclosure use is highly dependent on beach, nesting site, and predator suite.   On Duxbury Beach it is not typically feasible to use exclosures, however, it is carefully considered. In addition, exclosures do not work for Least Tern nests as they are colonial nesters and fly to and from the nest.

In some cases, electric fencing can be used around plover and/or tern nesting areas. While this is only helpful in detracting large, mammalian predators, it does work on some beaches. Unfortunately, given the span, configuration, and location (dynamic beach), electric fencing is not feasible on Duxbury Beach.

This is not an easy topic and one that is discussed and voted on annually by the Reservation’s board. The Reservation will continue to collect and analyze data and assess all possible options for conservation and site management in order to protect the natural resources of the beach and maintain the protective barrier, while providing access for recreation where possible.  The Reservation will also continue to work with state and federal regulators to find the best options for protection on Duxbury Beach in order to adhere to the laws we must operate under.  We appreciate everyone who has taken the time to learn more about the work and understand that we are doing our upmost to strike a balance between the many uses of Duxbury Beach.

If you are interested in learning more about statewide shorebird conservation efforts or predator management work, we recommend reaching out to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Thank you for your help!

 

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

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

He invites Mom to come inspect.

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

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

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

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

Dad invites Mom to inspect the parking lot nest scrape.

She begins laying eggs in the parking lot.

 

TWO-DAY-OLD LEAST TERN CHICKS

Clamoring for dinner, feed Me, feed Me!

In only one day’s time, you can see the teeny shorebirds gaining strength. As Dad approaches with dinner, the two-day-old Least Tern chicks stretch and flap their wings and open wide their beaks. The noisiest and flappiest is fed first. After depositing a minnow in one beak, off he flies to find dinner for the second sibling.

Camouflaged!

The polka-dot fluff balls blend perfectly with the surrounding sand and rocks. The brilliant red inside the chicks mouth makes it easier for the adult terns to find them against the monochromatic pebbly beach habitat.

Waiting for dinner.

The tern parents will share feeding their chicks and fledglings non-stop for weeks; the chicks won’t be on their own for another two months.

For the first several days after hatching, Least Tern chicks keep fairly close to Mom in scooped out scrapes and natural divots in the sand, or well-hidden hidden behind rocks and beach vegetation.

Tiny Least Tern Chick camouflaged in the sand, flanked by an adult Least Tern and Piping Plover male passing by (right).

The Rosetti’s Piping Plover fledglings (three!) sharing the nesting site with the Least Tern Rosetti’s family.

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING TONIGHT

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

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

PIPING PLOVER SYMBOLIC FENCING RECOMMENDATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information is unambigulously posted at Revere Beach

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

Treading lightly.

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

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

On the Agenda:

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

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

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

July 9, 2018

Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.

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

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

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

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

4). Increase trash collection.

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

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

Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Smith

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

 

LEAST TERN ONE DAY OLD CHICKS!

The Rosetti’s Least Terns hatched both eggs and both chicks are doing beautifully!

Least Tern eggs are astonishingly well camouflaged on a pebbly beach, making them nearly impossible to see. It’s easy to understand why the species is threatened, and in some regions, endangered. Least Terns nest on sandy beaches with little vegetation, the same type of beach habitat that people love. Piping Plovers and Least Terns often nest in association with each other. In Massachusetts, the Least Tern is considered a Species of Special Concern.

Mom and Dad Least Terns take turns brooding the eggs. Here they are changing places. Least Terns are monogamous and the Rosetti’s Least Terns are especially good parents.

Least Terns are semi-precocial. Like Piping Plovers, which are fully precocial, Least Terns are mobile after one or two days and can leave the nest.

Unlike Piping Plovers, they cannot feed themselves and will be fed for the next eight weeks by Mom and Dad, a diet consisting mostly of tiny fish.

Tiny minnows, for tiny chicks. Dad does most of the feeding while Mom mostly broods the babies during the first few days. As the nestlings grow, the parents feed the chicks increasingly larger fish.

First day venturing away from the nest, and then returning to Mom for warmth and protection.

Just as the eggs are perfectly camouflaged, so too are the tiny chicks.

Almost as adorable as are Piping Plover chicks are Least Tern chicks. However, they are much, much harder to film and to photograph. Least Terns are shyer of humankind than are Piping Plovers. Anyone who has seen PiPl in action know that they have a high tolerance for people and may come right up to you especially if you are standing perfectly still and are perfectly quiet. Least Terns on the other hand are elusive and skittish. The nestlings quickly take cover behind a rock or clump of beach vegetation when disturbed. The Mom and Dad when both courting and nesting will let you know if you are too close by dive bombing and if you still can’t take a hint, will poop on your head. If either happens, then you know for sure you are way too close and are interfering with the chicks feeding. Back away and observe from a more considerate (considerate-to-the-Terns distance that is). Unfortunately, I recently observed a fellow photographer repeatedly being dive-bombed by a nesting pair of Terns, and that person has a humongously long telephoto lens. She would have gotten perfectly lovely photos from a distance more respectful of the Terns.

 

FISHING FOR SEX

FISHING FOR SEX

Or is it Sex for Fish? –The Quid Pro Quo Courtship of the Least Tern

While learning more about Piping Plovers on North Shore beaches I happened to be on Winthrop Shore Beach on an afternoon in May when dozens and dozens of Least Terns were pairing up in an elaborate dance of courtship and mating. It was fascinating to observe their courtship feeding and I was so curious to learn more.

That very same afternoon, the “Rosetti’s” Piping Plovers were mating, too. Well known to the area is a pair of Plovers that nest every year directly in front of Café Rosetti’s, a fabulous Italian restaurant located on the main boulevard that runs along the beach. The Rosetti’s Plovers are very successful and each year they fledge a clutch of chicks. This year was no exception!

For the past several months I have been documenting through film and photographs the Rosetti’s Plovers and the Rosetti’s Terns, along with a family of PiPl at Revere Beach (more about the Winthrop and Revere Beach’s PiPl in future posts). Both species of birds are on the state and federal threatened species list. Piping Plovers and Least Terns began nesting on the area’s urban beaches as a direct result of the Boston Harbor cleanup, a wonderful, and very surprising to all involved, turn of events. In some regions, both species share the same habitat, as is the case with Winthrop Shore Reservation.

The more we learn about how and why Plovers (and other species of threatened shorebirds) successfully nest on other north of Boston much loved and much utilized beaches, the more we can help our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers successfully nest in years to come.

During the breeding season Least Terns perform courtship displays in the air and on the ground. In dramatic aerial display, a fish-carrying male is chased by the female, sometimes up to four females.

On the ground, the male parades his fish to a prospective mate. With fish dangling from his bill, he bobs his head from side-to side, then opens and closes his wings over the female.

The male mounts the female, still with fish dangling. During copulation he passes the fish to the female.

The funniest thing is, when the female allows the male to mount, she sometimes snatches the fish and flies away before mating has occurred.

No privacy, and lots of piracy!

The male continues to feed the female throughout the incubation period. Both parents incubate the eggs however, the female does about eighty percent of the brooding, while the male provides most of the fish for she and the chicks.

When one adult Least Tern feeds another, whether during courtship when the pair are first becoming established, or during the incubation period, this behavior is called “courtship feeding.”

The courtship feeding display perhaps provide the female tern the assurance that her male mate will be a good provider of fish for both she and the young. Both male and female Least Terns feed the chicks for the first several months after hatching; the better the fisherman, the stronger the chicks. Studies have shown too that courtship feeding provides the female with considerable nutritional benefit. The number of eggs, and weight of the eggs, are determined by the female’s nutritional status and how much food is fed her by her mate.

In Massachusetts, Least Terns primarily eats fish, including Sand Lance, Herring, and Hake. They also eat insects and crustaceans.

And we have a nest, with two eggs!

Read more about Winthrop Shore Reservation here.Winthrop Shore Reservation Nesting Bird Observers

42 PAIRS OF PIPING PLOVERS NESTING AT CRANES BEACH!

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

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

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

Dear Readers,

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

July 9, 2018

Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.

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

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

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

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

4). Increase trash collection.

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

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

Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Smith

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

Piping Plover chicks coming in for some snuggles.

REMINDER: ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING TONIGHT AT 6:30

PIPING PLOVERS ARE ON THE AGENDA

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING

THURSDAY, JULY 12TH AT 6:30 PM

3RD FLOOR CITY HALL

Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Chick Three Days Old 

PIPING PLOVERS ON THE ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING AGENDA THURSDAY NIGHT

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING

THURSDAY, JULY 12TH AT 6:30 PM

3RD FLOOR CITY HALL

PIPING PLOVERS ARE ON THE AGENDA

PIPING PLOVER UPDATE – WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

 Pip, the day before he was killed.

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

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

Recent PiPl sightings at the Good Harbor Beach nesting area.

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

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

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

 

PIPING PLOVER UPDATE SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS

Dear Readers,

So sorry this PiPl update is so terribly brief but I am leaving shortly to go film Fiesta.

On the evening of the day our GHB Piping Plover Family were terrorized off Good Harbor Beach (between Tuesday 9:30 pm and Wednesday 4:40am), two were seen at Cape Hedge Beach by Rockport resident Gail Borgman.

The following morning, Thursday, I met Boston PiPl monitor Laurie Sawin at GHB. She had come all the way from Boston to check on the Cape Hedge report. We headed over to Cape Hedge to check on the sighting and met Gail and her husband there. Sure enough, a PiPl was going back and forth between the sandy beach and rocks at Cape Hedge! We didn’t stay long because of the downpour.

This morning, I met Essex Greenbelt Dave Rimmer’s assistant, Dave McKinnon. We were contemplating removing the symbolic fencing, when one, and then two PiPl entered the roped off nesting area. At first we thought it was the Mama and Papa, but it could also have been two males.

The symbolic fencing will remain at least for another few days. Although it is late in the season for nesting there is the possibility that the PiPl will re-nest. I guess we will all just stay tuned as to what our remarkable PiPls will do next!

We don’t know what terrorized the PiPl Tuesday night. There has been a great deal of dog tracks around the nesting area , as seen by all the morning volunteers, over the past week, as well as evidence of a party Tuesday night. A hypodermic needle was found on the beach by one of Coach Latoffs players early Wednesday morning. Friends, it is going to take a village if the PiPl re-nest. Please, please, if you see anything suspicious at GHB–bonfires, dogs, heavy drinking, and anything else along those lines, please, please call the police. Thank you!

Piping Plover Cape Hedge Beach June 28, 2018

OUR LITTLE PIP IS MISSING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LITTLE PIP ZING ZANGING AROUND THE BEACH

What are these things called wings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dip-diving in the tide pools for breakfast!

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

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

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

Same for the Seagull Breakfast Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

Fifteen-Day-Old Piping Plover Chick and Mama 

 

WHAT DO PIPING PLOVERS EAT?

“What do Piping Plovers eat, especially the chicks?” is one of the questions most frequently asked of our volunteer monitors. 

Piping Plover chicks eat everything the adults eat, only in smaller bites, and pretty much anything they can catch. We’ll often see the chicks pecking repeatedly in one spot. Unlike Mama and Papa PiPl, they don’t always eat the insect in one swallow. The chick will chase after the insect and eat it in several beakfulls.

Piping Plovers forage at the shoreline, in the intertidal zone, and at mud and sand flats. While running, they scan the immediate area, and then peck at the prey it locates. When by the water’s edge and in the sand flats, they eat sea worms, tiny crustaceans, and mollusks. When around the wrack line, they find teeny insects including spiders, beetles, ants, and insect larvae.

Here’s our little Pip at eight days old feeding on a winged insect. Piping Plover chicks begin pecking and looking for food within hours after hatching.

If you would like to be a Piping Plover volunteer monitor, please contact kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov. Thank you, and the PiPl thank you, too 🙂

SHOUT OUT TO GLOUCESTER’S ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER JAMIE LEVIE

How terrific to see Officer Jamie Levie at Good Harbor Beach bright and early this morning- and a quiet peaceful morning it was. Officer Teagan Dolan was at GHB yesterday morning, too. Our sincerest thanks to ACOs Jamie and Teagan, and to Chief John McCarthy for the stepped up patrols at Good Harbor Beach and for all their kind assistance with our GHB PiPl family.