PIPING PLOVERS DRIVEN OFF THE BEACH

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

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

Piping Plover nesting signs at Good Harbor Beach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papa Plover bowing in the courtship dance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama PiPl and one-day-old chick

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