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.
The Bachelor this morning, hiding behind a sand castle, waiting to pounce on a resting fledgling.
The sleepy 38-day-old fledgling.
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.
She looks up and recognizes it’s the Bachelor.
She flies straight at him, even wrassling for a moment, but the Bachelor refuses to leave.
Papa gives chase up the beach.
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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.
Resting and preening in the morning within the enclosed area.
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.
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