Happy Valentine’s Day PiPl Friends! I hope to see you soon ❤
Watching this beautiful creature hunting at day’s end, it was fascinating to see the Marsh Hawk hovering, suspended mid-air for moments at a time. With razor sharp focus it’s gaze did not swerve. He swooped down toward the tall grass and I lost sight of him after a brief, second long glance from the ground. I hope he caught his dinner!
Marsh Hawk range map, note that Cape Ann and Plum Island are in their year-round range. In Massachusetts, they breed primarily along the coast and are regularly seen in coastal marshes in the winter. The Northern Harrier has experienced population declines through much of its North American range. Due to its dependence on rare and vulnerable habitats, the Marsh Hawk is listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a species of national wildlife concern.
Hello dear Piping Plover Friends and Partners,
As are you, I am looking forward to the return of our Gloucester Plovers. With the relatively mild winter we are experiencing, and the fact they have been arriving earlier and earlier each spring, we could be seeing our tiny shorebird friends in little over a month.
About this time of year I imagine well wishers and monitors are becoming anxious, wondering if our PiPls survived all the challenges winter brings to migrating birds.
Last August at the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, I met Professor Paton. He is involved with a program that bands and nanotags birds at Southern New England beaches, mostly Rhode Island beaches. He provided some terrific maps based on the data collected from the banding program.
After departing Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the majority of the program’s tagged PiPls are soon found foraging on the shores of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Cumberland Island National Seashore, GA. Data suggests that the Outer Banks are a priority stopover site for Piping Plovers well into the late summer. After leaving our shores, southern New England Piping Plovers spend on average 45 days at NC barrier beaches before then heading to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.
Although our Good Harbor Beach Piping plovers are not tagged, there is no reason to believe that they too are not traveling this route.
Why wouldn’t we want to tag out GHB family? Not often publicized is the down side of tagging. Some species of birds adapt well to tagging and some, like Piping Plovers, develop life threatening problems like leg movement disorder. But most troubling of all is that small sticks and other debris can become lodged between the skin and the tag, which causes the area to become infected, which has lead to loss of leg. Tiny shorebirds like Piping Plovers use their legs to propel them all over the beach, to both forage and escape danger. Left crippled by the loss of a leg, the birds will barely survive another year. At one point several years back there was even a moratorium placed on banding plovers.
Perhaps if we had dozens of pairs of Piping Plovers nesting all over around Cape Ann it would be worth the risk of banding a bird or two. But with only one nesting pair, coupled with the typical survival rate of Piping Plovers at less than five years, why not let our one pair nest in peace? Plovers at popular city beaches need all the help they can get from their human stewards. I for one am happy to simply imagine where our GHB PiPls spend the winter.
If you have ever been to a New Jersey beach, you might be sickened as was I to see birds with no less than eight tags, four on each leg. It doesn’t make sense to me in this day and age why one band wouldn’t suffice. Each time the bird was spotted the one set of data provided by one tag could be recorded in a national database.
According to coastal ecologist with The Trustees of Reservations, Jeff Denoncour, this past year (2019), 49 pairs of plovers raised 96 chicks at Crane Beach. They do not band birds at Crane Beach, nor are birds banded at other beaches where the PiPl has been successfully increasing in population, including Winthrop Shore Reservations and Revere Beach.
The species existence is precarious. In 2000 at Crane Beach just 12 fledglings survived 49 pairs and that was because of a major storm. Considering all that a Piping Plover pair has to face at the city’s most popular beach, we don’t need to decrease their chances of survival.
It’s wonderful and reassuring to see updated reports of banded birds we have observed at Good Harbor Beach however, because of data collected in the past, we can fairly accurately imagine where our little family resides during the winter. Banding a single pair will only serve to satisfy our own curiosity, and will do nothing to increase the bird’s chance of survival.
Seven too many bands on this bird!!! Bands are placed both above and below the tibiotarsal joint on plovers (terns are given bands below the tibiotarsal joint only). There are eight possible band locations on a bird’s leg according to banding schemes: The Upper Left Upper, Upper Left Lower (left leg, above the tibiotarsal joint), Lower Left Upper, Lower Left Lower (left leg, below the tibiotarsal joint), Upper Right Upper, Upper Right Lower (right leg, above the tibiotarsal joint), Lower Right Upper, and Lower Right Lower (right leg below the tibiotarsal joint).Looking forward to the upcoming Piping Plover season!
These Snowy Owl photos were taken earlier in the month at Parker River. The dirt road, the one that begins after the Hellcat Trail, has reopened, although I wouldn’t recommend going there on the weekends, much better to go during the week. There are so many photographers and owl lovers on the weekends, especially in the afternoon, that it has become really disruptive to the owls, both the Snowies and Short-eared. Even though folks are very respectful and (most) stay on the road, the Short-eared Owls aren’t catching much food, as far as I can observe, when there are great crowds chasing them up and down the road.
In recent weeks there have been more than a few reports of Dovekies and other seabirds found on our local beaches, both alive and dead. Friend Jeff Papows has found several dead birds and has returned one live Dovekie and one Common Murre.
Jeff knew just what to do with the stranded birds, which is to return them to the water. Jodi Swenson, from Cape Ann Wildlife, recommends this is best. She shares that seabirds do not do well in rehab. If on the other hand the bird appears sick or emaciated, then please call Tufts at (508) 839-7918.
Dovekies, like many seabirds, are clumsy on land, however they do nest on land, so we know they are able to walk. Then why are they stranding? It most commonly happens to young, inexperienced birds. But stranding can also happen in great numbers to exhausted adults after large storms. This influx is known as a wreck. One of the most tragic and dramatic wrecks occurred along the East Coast in 1932, when thousands of Dovekies literally “rained” from the sky.
We’d like to get an understanding of how many seabirds are washing ashore. If you have seen a Dovekie, or other species of seabird, dead or alive on the beach this winter, please write and let us know when and where. Thank you so much.
Common Murres are more crow-sized whereas Dovekies are more similar in size to an American Robin