Category Archives: Birds of New England

Salem State University Keynote Speaker Kim Smith Spotlights Plight of the Monarch Butterflies

Salem State keynote spotlights beauty, plight of monarch butterflies

 

Smith, who spoke on campus Thursday, April 12, makes nature films and contributes to the daily blog Good Morning Gloucester. She also helps communities and individuals build gardens specifically aimed at attracting butterflies, bees and beneficial bugs.

On behalf of the Earth Days Planning Committee, Carol Zoppel, a campus librarian and co-chair of Earth Days Week, presented Smith with the Friend of the Earth Award.

“Salem State University’s Earth Days committee would like to recognize Kim Smith for her artistic and advocacy work on behalf of wildlife through her films, photo, gardens, and writings,” said Zoppel. Smith received her award and a framed poster of her program.

READ COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE

…Smith also reflected on our involvement with these creatures.

“I think compassion for all living creatures is really important,” said Smith. “Right here in our own backyards and beaches we have small winged creatures like Monarchs and Piping Plovers that are struggling to survive.”

She added, “Our actions and how we chose to live our lives has tremendous impact.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP THE PIPING PLOVERS

TIPS FOR OBSERVING AND HELPING PIPING PLOVERS

Thank you to all the friends of our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, to dog owners who are staying away from Good Harbor Beach, and to all who are advocating for the PiPl.

Early this morning I found both Mama and Papa feeding in the intertidal zone, along with the “Bachelor.” The second pair has not been seen since they were chased off the beach last weekend. There seemed to be fewer dogs on the beach this morning and I am so grateful to the dog owners who are helping to watch over the Plovers.

Yesterday was a much needed quiet day for the Plovers; it was cold and rainy, and an on-leash day. There were folks with dogs off-leash, though they weren’t near the PiPl. But there were fresh tracks running through the nesting area.

Here is why, at this very critical time during Piping Plover breeding, it is imperative to keep dogs and people out of the nesting area. The Plovers are actively courting. What does that mean exactly? 

  • The Plovers first stake out a territory. For the third year in a row, they have chosen the area around the big rock, by boardwalk #3.
  • Both male and female vigorously defend the territory from other Piping Plovers, as well as other species of large and small birds.
  • Throughout an average quiet day, the male PiPl builds many “nest” scrapes for the female to inspect. If the female is interested, the male displays an involved courtship dance. If she continues to be interested, he will mate with her by jumping on her back where they join together cloaca to cloaca, but for only mere seconds. During that time the male fertilizes the female’s egg.
  • Piping Plover courtship requires a tremendous amount of energy, and each courtship episode takes about twenty minutes, from nest scrapings to mating. If the birds are constantly interrupted by dogs tearing through, and people walking through, the nesting area, courtship and mating are delayed, over and over again.
  • If the Piping Plovers are allowed to mate early in the season, the chicks will be born that much earlier. The earlier the chicks hatch the greater their chance of survival, especially in the case of Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester’s most beloved and heavily trafficked beach.
  • In addition to repeated courtship interruptions, we are having an unseasonably cold April. The Piping Plovers are spending a great deal of energy just trying to keep warm. This is evidenced by how often they stand on one leg to thermoregulate.

Papa Plover defending all things Mama Plover.

Papa Plover energetically building shallow teacup-sized nest scrapes.

Papa Plover inviting Mama Plover to inspect.

Male Plover cloaca. All birds have a cloaca, the V-shaped vent from where sperm, eggs, and pooh are emitted. During courtship, the male’s cloaca swells considerably.

Meet “the Bachelor,” the bird bane of Papa’s existence.

How You Can Help the Piping Plovers

1) Under no circumstances is it acceptable to enter the Piping Plover nesting area.

2) Keep ALL dogs far away from the nesting areas. A Piping Plover’s brain does not differentiate between a dog on- leash versus a dog off-leash. When a dog, off-leash or on-leash, comes within twenty feet of a PiPl, they immediately stop what they are doing, whether foraging, courting, mating, or resting.

3) During courtship, the Piping Plovers tolerate one or two quiet persons, from a distance, but crowds of three or more put them in panic mode.

4) Help spread the word about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers.

5) Sign up to be a Piping Plover volunteer ambassador by emailing Ken Whittaker at kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov

Thank you, but most importantly, the Piping Plovers will thank you too when chicks hatch and chicks fledge!

The good news is that I found one pair, and they are definitely a couple, in the #3 nesting area. The bad news is that while down to #1 nesting area to look for the other PiPl, dogs and their owner were in the #3. I ran down the beach to find a man scooping up his dog’s poop in the nesting area. The tracks show they were inches from where the Papa PiPl had built a nest scrape. And No Sign of the PiPl. So grateful for the dog owners that are keeping their dogs away from the nesting sites, but it is not a few dog owners ignoring the law, it is every day, off and on all day long – dogs off-leash on on-leash days, dogs in the dunes, and dogs in the nesting sites. #pipingplover #gloucesterma #shorebirds #endangeredspecies #barrierbeach

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

GOOD HARBOR BEACH SLAMMED WITH STORM DAMAGE – CAN THE PIPING PLOVERS SURVIVE OFF-LEASH DOGS AND HISTORIC HIGH TIDES?

Good Harbor Beach was slammed hard again by yesterday’s April storm. The high tide was hitting the edge of the dune, with more water surging through the openings in the dunes, dumping sand several feet deep ten feet down the boardwalks.

Half the newly installed Piping Plover signs were were buried in the sand, as well as the ropes.

The DPW was on the scene digging out the snack bar boardwalk, beach entrance #2.

Fresh dog and owner tracks on the dune side of the fence. Why?? Our beaches are in trouble folks. Please keep off the dunes.

With so many dogs and people trampling the Piping Plovers nesting area over the weekend, followed by the fierce storm and historic high tides, I wonder if the PiPl will even return to the nesting areas. A total of five had been here since April 3rd (what appear to be two nesting pairs and one bachelor) but I could only find one lone male this morning.

CHECK OUT GLOUCESTER’S DPW PHIL CUCURU SHOWING EXTENSIVE STORM EROSION: GOOD HARBOR BEACH RESTORATION UPDATE

Thank you to Phil Cucuru for the Good Harbor Beach information and news of restoration plans to begin soon, after the public school’s April vacation. During the week when the school children are off premises, the DPW turns its attention to the school buildings and grounds. As soon as vacation is over the DPW will be resume work at Good Harbor Beach and all the Gloucester Beaches.

We lost about three to four feet –in depth– from Good Harbor Beach (Wingaersheek, as well). As you can see in the above photo, Phil is pointing to where the sand came up to the #3 sign prior to the March storms. This is why the tide is coming in so high and so close to the bluffs, and why the big rock has become even more exposed.

Up until the March storms, the metal fence posts were nearly completely buried beneath sand that had built up, with only about 3 inches protruding above the sand. Now they are completely exposed, with a sheer bluff, rather than a gently sloping dune.

Plans have been in place since last year to restore the dune fencing this coming summer! I was so happy to hear this update about the dunes from Phil because the fencing helps to create areas of vegetation on the beach, at the base of the bluffs, and fencing helps to keep people and pets out of the dunes and from trampling the fragile habitat, especially the wildflowers and beach grass so necessary for a strong, healthy, and vital dune ecosystem.

All three boardwalk accesses to the beach were severely damaged. Believe it or not, the storm surge was so strong, it broke away huge sections of the boardwalks, and pushed them twenty and thirty feet back into the dunes. Boardwalk number two is nearly destroyed, which is especially frustrating because the DPW completely redid boardwalk #2, and made wider for handicap accessibility, last spring. The surging ocean water poured all kinds of debris into the dunes as well, and widened the walkways onto the beach. Phil said that in twenty years of working for the DPW he has never seen the likes of the March nor’easters and, with that, such extensive damage to Gloucester beaches.

Phil measuring for repairs.Good Harbor Beach footbridge torn from its footings and in the marsh.

The day before the first nor’easter Phil and fellow crew members added steel braces to help shore up the bridge but unfortunately, nothing was safe from the power of the late winter storms. Plans too are being developed to repair the footbridge, with the goal of full restoration by Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks again to Phil Cucuru for the updates, so glad to hear the good news!

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

HELPING PIPING PLOVERS AND A HUGE SHOUT OUT TO GREENBELT’S DAVE RIMMER AND DAVE MCKINNON

Help arrived for the Piping Plovers yesterday afternoon when Greenbelt’s Dave McKinnon installed the symbolic posts and informative signage. Roping will come next week, but at the very least, cordoning off the nesting area informs the community to tread lightly and where to keep out. Two nesting areas have been identified. The signs are posted between boardwalk 3 and the footbridge, as well as between boardwalks 1 and 2.

So many thanks to Dave Rimmer and Dave McKinnon. I happened to meet up with them yesterday morning and initially Dave R. thought they would not be able to help until next week. What great relief when I read the email from Dave R. that Dave M. would be back later in the day to install the posts and signs!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

REMINDER: TOMORROW IS AN OFF LEASH SATURDAY, WHICH IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY TOUGH ON THE PIPING PLOVERS. PLEASE DOG OWNERS, IF YOUR DOG IS NOT UNDER VOICE COMMAND, THEN THE RULE IS, THE DOG IS NOT ALLOWED ON THE BEACH. PLEASE TRY TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS THREATENED SPECIES OF SHOREBIRDS NEEDS EVERYONE’S HELP. THANK YOU!

I wrote the above because yesterday I got a very disturbing call from a friend, a person who is usually mild mannered and not easily angered. He was calling to say that he had just observed a woman with her “birder” dog chasing the Plovers up and down the beach over and over again. When he spoke with her about the Plovers, she said she was aware of the threatened birds, but that she couldn’t control her dog because he “was having a bad day.” All I can write, is please, please, please do not allow your dog to chase the Piping Plovers. It may be fun and games for you and your dog, but allowing the PiPl to nest is a matter of survival for these beautiful and tiniest of shorebirds.

Two adorable sweet dogs, off leash today, on an on leash day.

Currently there are four PiPl at Good Harbor Beach. One very bonded pair (excellent possibility that it is our Mama and Papa Plover from the past two summers) and two unattached males. The above photo is of one of the two bachelors.

FENCING IS URGENTLY NEEDED FOR THE NESTING PIPING PLOVERS!! PLEASE SHARE THIS POST

The Piping Plovers are nesting between Good Harbor Beach entrance #3 and the footbridge area. They have been here for eight days, since last Tuesday, and courtship is fully underway.

Greenbelt has not yet put up the posts and roping that the PiPl so desperately need to keep safe. In the mean time, would it be possible for dog owners to spread the word and let fellow dog owners know that on off-leash days it would be so very helpful to the Plovers if folks allowed their dogs to play from #3 entrance to the Good Harbor Beach Inn? That encompasses most of the beach. This would create a safe nesting zone for the PiPl.

Please share if you would. Thank you so very much for your kind help.

Foggy Morning Plovers Courting

Papa creates a variety of nest scrapes by digging shallow miniature teacup-size craters in the sand.

He pipes his love call to Mama, inviting her to come inspect the potential nest site.  

And adds some dried bits of seaweed to the nest to make it extra appealing to her.

With a flourish of her wings she says NO.

Nest inspecting is very tiring and Mama takes a nap in between inspections (even though Papa is doing all the work!)