Category Archives: Birds of New England

Mom, Why are the Plovers in Jail?

Mama Plover sitting on an egg

This question was asked by a young child visiting the plover nesting area at Good Harbor Beach. Another asked, why are the Piping Plovers in a cage? And today while on plover wellness check, I overheard an adult telling her daughter that the little tufts of dried seaweed within the roped off area are all Piping Plover nests, filled with Piping Plover eggs.

In actuality, there is only one nest in the roped off area, and that nest is in the middle of the net and wire exclosure. The prefix ex in the word exclosure gives us a clue as to the meaning of the word. The contraption is designed to exclude other creatures, not to confine the plovers.

Wildlife monitors will place an exclosure over a nest to prevent people and dogs from accidentally stepping on the eggs and to prevent foxes, other mammals, seagulls, crows, and owls from eating the eggs. The holes in the wire are large enough for a Piping Plover to run freely in an out of the exclosure, and small enough to keep predators out.

What is Foxy Loxy up to? It’s morning and the young fox is very hungry He is foraging in the sand for plover eggs!

You can clearly see the Mom and Dad plover taking turns on the nest. About every twenty minutes or so, they exchange places. When there visiting the plovers with your children bring binoculars or your camera and watch this wonderful story unfolding right here our beautiful Good Harbor Beach.

The very slight depression in the sand in the photo above shows a Piping Plover nest scrape. The diameter of the scrape is about the size of a tennis ball. Sometimes the Dad plover tosses tiny bits of shells or pebbles in the scrape, but just as often as not, the scrape is unlined.

WHAT ARE THOSE CRAZY BIRDS RUNNING AROUND GOOD HARBOR BEACH PARKING LOT?

Killdeer Chick

Lost of folks are asking, are the Piping Plovers nesting in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot? The answer is no, the Piping Plovers are nesting on the beach near boardwalk #3. The mama and papa, and now chicks, that are running all around the GHB parking lot are a shorebird named Killdeers. Comparatively quite a bit larger, and more commonly seen, Killdeers are related to Piping Plovers, but are a different species.

Killdeer Chicks and Parent, Good Harbor Beach 2016

That I am aware of, this is the second year in a row Killdeers have chosen to nest at the Good Harbor Beach parking lot. It is frightening to see the babies zoom in and out between the cars. The mom and dad give vocal cues to the chicks, but still they run willy nilly. Killdeers have a fondness for human modified habitats, such as the GHB parking lot, and a willingness to nest close to people.

Like Piping Plover chicks, Killdeer chicks are precocial. That is a word ornithologists use to describe a baby bird’s stage of development at birth. Precocial means that shortly after hatching, the bird is fully mobile. Plover chicks are not completely mature, they still need parents to help regulate their body temperature, but they have downy feathers and can run and feed themselves within moments after emerging. The opposite of precocial is altricial. Birds that hatch helpless, naked, usually blind, and are incapable of departing the nest are altricial. Robins and Cardinals are examples of altricial birds.

Adult Kildeer

If you encounter the Kildeer family and would like to take a photo, or simply observe these adorable babies on-the-go, my advice is to stand quietly and don’t chase after them. Running after the chicks will put the parents into panic mode and they may lose sight of the other siblings. As the chicks mature, they will spend less time in the parking lot, and more time in the marsh and at the tidal river edge. Kildeer adults, and even the chicks, are actually good swimmers. Last year the Kildeer family crossed the tidal river and spent the second half of the season on the opposite side of the marsh.

Compare the Killdeer chick above, to the Piping Plover chick below.

Piping Plover Chick and Mom

Killdeer Family all grown up, September 2016

HOORAY!!! The Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers are Officially Nesting

Two Perfect Piping Plover Eggs!

After last week’s harrowingly warm weather, we lost all sight of the Piping Plover pair trying to establish a nest by the boardwalk #3 location. Thursday and Friday brought record temperatures of over 90 degrees, drawing unseasonably large crowds and literally, a ton of garbage, which was not only beyond disgusting, but in turn, attracted a plethora of seagulls and crows. Saturday, there was absolutely no sign of the Plovers, from one of end of Good Harbor to the other. Sunday, my husband Tom discovered a few tracks and Monday, I found a few as well, but nothing like we had seen earlier.

Thinking our Plover Pair were lost to us, lo and behold Tuesday morning I spied Papa Plover sitting in one location, for a very long time (half an hour is a long time for a plover to sit in one spot). Could there be an egg beneath Papa? Unfortunately, where Papa was sitting was on the edge of the roped off area, next to the party rock, with dog tracks only several inches away.

Dog tracks running through the roped off area and next to the Piping Plover nesting site.

I quickly called Dave Rimmer, director of land stewardship for Essex County Greenbelt. He came by immediately and confirmed yes, we have a nest!!!

An exclosure has been installed and the plover parents are adapting well to the protective wire frame.

The roping has been rearranged with the nest now in the center.

The Magical Month of May for Migrations in Massachusetts

May is a magical month in Massachusetts for observing migrants traveling to our shores, wooded glens, meadows, and shrubby uplands. They come either to mate and to nest, or are passing through on their way to the Arctic tundra and forests of Canada and Alaska.

I am so excited to share about the many beautiful species of shorebirds, songbirds, and butterflies I have been recently filming and photographing for several projects. Mostly I shoot early in the morning, before setting off to work with my landscape design clients. I love, love my work, but sometimes it’s really hard to tear away from the beauty that surrounds here on Cape Ann. I feel so blessed that there is time to do both. If you, too, would like to see these beautiful creatures, the earliest hours of daylight are perhaps the best time of day to capture wildlife, I assume because they are very hungry first thing in the morning and less likely to be bothered by the presence of a human. Be very quiet and still, and observe from a distance far enough away so as not to disturb the animal’s activity.

Some species, like Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Brant Geese, and Osprey, as well as Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs, are not included here because this post is about May’s migration and these species were seen in April.

Please note that several photos are not super great by photo skill standards, but are included so you can at least see the bird in a Cape Ann setting. I am often shooting something faraway, at dawn, or dusk, or along a shady tree-lined lane. As so often happens, I’ll get a better capture in better light, and will switch that out, for the purpose of record keeping, at a later date.

Happy Magical May Migration!

The male Eastern Towhee perches atop branches at daybreak and sings the sweetest ta-weet, ta-weet, while the female rustles about building a nest in the undergrowth. Some live year round in the southern part of the US, and others migrate to Massachusetts and parts further north to nest.

If these are Short-billed Dowitchers, I’d love to see a Long-billed Dowitcher! They are heading to swampy pine forests of high northern latitudes.

Black-bellied Plovers, much larger relatives of Piping Plovers, look like Plain Janes when we see them in the fall (see above).

Now look at his handsome crisp black and white breeding plumage; its hard to believe we are looking at the same bird! He is headed to breed in the Arctic tundra in his fancy new suit.

The Eastern Kingbird is a small yet feisty songbird; he’ll chase after much larger raptors and herons that dare to pass through his territory. Kingbirds spend the winter in the South American forests and nest in North America.

With our record of the state with the greatest Piping Plover recovery rate, no post about the magical Massachusetts May migration would be complete without including these tiniest of shorebirds. Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach.

The Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Pair Are Struggling and Need Our help

Good Morning Papa Plover!

Over the past several weeks, five Piping Plovers battling over nesting turf have been observed at Good Harbor Beach, from the creek end of the beach, all the way to the entrance by the Good Harbor Beach Inn. In the past three days, there hasn’t been activity in the roped off area nearer the GHB Inn. It appears only one pair has decided to call GHB their home for the summer and they seem to be zeroing in on the cordoned off area by boardwalk #3, same as last year.

Unfortunately, the “Party Rock,” the large exposed rock up by the wrack line, is this year not in the roped off area; the roping comes just short of enclosing the “Rock.” The past few evenings, even before the heat wave, folks have been setting up their hibachis, behind the rock, abutting the restricted area. This morning there were a group of six sleeping next to the rock. Needless to say, our Plover pair was super stressed. Early morning is when they typically mate and lay eggs, and neither are happening under duress.

Papa wants to mate with Mama, but she is too stressed.

Here are just a few things we can do to help the Plovers. Please write and let us know your ideas and suggestions, they are so very much appreciated. It would be terrific to put together all the suggestions to present to Mayor Sefatia and Chirs. Thank you!

  1. Post a No Dog sign at the footbridge. I think this is critically important.
  2. Post signs at entrances to the beach to help educate folks about the Piping Plovers, why respecting the restricted area is so important, and why removing trash is equally as vital to the survival of the plovers.
  3. Additionally, I would love to make a brochure about the Piping Plover life cycle that we could hand out to visitors at the parking entrance. Though when I suggested that idea to a friend, he thought the brochures may end up littering the beach. What do you think?
  4. Fix the fencing around the dunes. As it stands now, the rusty old fencing is nearly buried in the sand and actually dangerously invites tripping. If the fences were mended and signs posted about the fragility of the dunes, folks would stop cutting through the dunes to go to and from the parking lot. Right now, they are walking through the restricted area to access the dune trail. Visitors may also want to know that the grass and shrubby growth on that trail is teeming with ticks, another reason to keep off the dunes.
  5. If folks are setting up a cookout or planning a sleepover next to the nesting area (especially near the party rock), gently explain why it would be best to move further down the beach, away from the restricted area.

Mama Plover fishing for worms

I would be happy to meet anyone at Good Harbor Beach to show exactly what are the issues. Dave Rimmer from Essex Greenbelt mentioned that in other communities where Piping Plovers have nested on very busy beaches, a network of Piping Plover babysitters was established to help the chicks survive on the busiest of beach days. If we are so fortunate as to have chicks, I would love to get together a group of “Piping Plover Babysitters.”

Good Harbor Beach

You Didn’t Actually Think I’d Want to Live in That Dump Did You?

Dad Piping Plover spends considerable time showing Mom how good he is at nest-building.

Mom nonchalantly makes her way over to the nest scrape.

She thoroughly inspects the potential nest.

Dad again rearranges the sand. Mom pipes in, “Honey, i think I’d prefer that mound of dried seaweed over there, nearer the blades of seagrass. And can you please add a few seashells to the next one, rather than bits of old kelp.”

Rejected!

Here we go again!

Five Piping Plovers have been observed at Good Harbor Beach. They are battling over territory and beginning to pair up. The male builds perhaps a dozen nests scrapes in a single day–all in hopes of impressing the female. Hopefully, within the next week, they will establish a nest; the earlier in the season Plovers begin nesting, the greater the chance of survival for the chicks.

Dave Rimmer from Essex County Greenbelt reports that although many nest scrapes have been seen, no nests with any egg on any of Gloucester’s beaches have yet been discovered. He suggests that perhaps the cooler than usual spring temperatures are slowing progress.

An active Piping Plover nest scrape, with lots of PiPl tracks 🕊

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Not one, but two, potential nesting sites have been roped off for the Piping Plovers. The second site is near the Good Harbor Beach Inn.

 

 

 

 

Winsome Willets

A Plain Jane, resting on a tuft of grass at the marsh edge, backlit, I at first thought she was a stone. A slight turn of the head and upon closer look, not a stone but a very large shorebird, with feathers worn in a subdued arrangement of brown and white—still, nothing special. Then she began to unfold her long elegant wings. Boldly barred in chocolate brown, this Plain Jane was swiftly transformed to Beauty Queen.

Willets are one of the few shorebirds that nest not in the Arctic tundra, but prairie and salt marshes of America and Canada. For over one hundred years Willets were hunted to non-existence in Massachusetts. Biologists have a name for this tragic occurrence, when a species is not extinct, but is no longer present in an area, and the term is extirpated. Because of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, the Willet population is increasing and the Massachusetts coastline has once again become a safe home for these beautiful members of the sandpiper family.

Belonging to the same genus as yellowlegs, they do look similar to Greater Yellowlegs, but are comparatively larger, their beaks are thicker, and their legs are not yellow but gray. Look for Willets on beaches, marshes, mudflats, and rocky coasts. They forage on crabs and other small crustaceans, worms, mollusks, fish, and grass. The call of the Willet is unmistakable, piercing and urgent and their name comes from the ringing “pill-will-willet.”