Category Archives: Gloucester Plover

GLOUCESTER DPW ROCKIN THE NEW FENCING AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

Check out the awesome new dune fencing recently installed at Good Harbor Beach by our DPW crew. The wire fencing runs along the length of the beach. The DPW did an outstanding job, very neat and unobtrusive.

Dune fencing plays an important role in reducing erosion. One of the main benefits of dune fencing is to help keep pets and people out of the dunes. Why is it detrimental to the dunes to allow uncontrolled dogs to run through the dunes and for people to use the dunes to access the parking lot, or worse, as their personal toilet? Repeated traffic through the dunes damages and kills the plants growing in the dunes. Plants help control erosion by stabilizing soil and sediments with their roots. Dune vegetation helps break the impact of of wave splash and rain, and also traps sand to help build up the dunes.

The fencing material installed by the DPW is an excellent choice for nesting shorebirds. This year especially, with much of the beach vegetation washed away and with the beach greatly narrowed, the Piping Plover adults and chicks had learned to use the area behind the old wire fencing for shade and to hide from predators. The open fencing still allows for small wild creatures to go in and out of the holes to find shelter and safety at the base of the dune.

Pip snuggled under Mama PiPl

Thank you Gloucester DPW for a super job well done!

Adult Piping Plovers and chicks found shelter along the wire fencing (the Bachelor left, and Mama and Pip, right).

OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

Piping Plover Chick Lift-off! – Not quite ready to fly yet, but testing his wings and airborne for a few seconds.

On Tuesday this past week my friend Deborah and I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention, while the meeting also encompasses efforts on behalf of heron, cormorant, and egret species.

American Oystercatchers

Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and US Fish and Wildlife. Gloucester was well represented. In addition to Deborah and myself, two members of the Animal Advisory Committee also attended; chairperson Alicia Pensarosa and former animal control officer Diane Corliss. Many of you may remember our Mass Wildlife Piping Plover intern Jasmine. She was there to give a presentation on habitat vegetation utilized by nesting Piping Plovers. Her aunt, Gloucester’s Terry Weber, was there to support Jasmine. This was Jasmine’s first time speaking in public and she did an excellent job!

Each region gave the 2018 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.

Just one highlight of a day filled with helpful insights and useful information is that we can be very proud of our state—Massachusetts is at the leading edge of the Piping Plover recovery effort. The representative from New Jersey was there specifically to learn from Massachusetts conservationists on how they could possibly improve their recovery program as the New Jersey PiPl population is not growing, with fewer and fewer each year retuning to nest. As you can see from the graph provided at the meeting, the Canadian recovery is going very poorly as well.

Readers will be interested to know that our region’s Crane Beach continues to have one of their best year’s ever. Trustees of Reservations Jeff Denoncour shared information on the latest census data from 2018 and Crane’s has a whopping 76 fledglings, with 25 more chicks still yet to fledge. Because of the huge success at Cranes Beach, the northeast region, of which we are a part, has fledged a total 136 of chicks in 2018, compared to 108 in 2017, and as I said, with more fledglings still to come! The northeast region encompasses Salisbury Beach to the Boston Harbor Islands.

Jeff noted that this year they had less predation by Great Horned Owls. Because of owl predation, several years ago Crane Beach gave up on the wire exclosures and now use electric fencing extensively. The Great Horned Owls learned that the Piping Plover adults were going in an out of the exclosures and began perching on the edge of the wire, picking off the adults as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.

Crane has an excellent crew of Trustees staff monitoring the Least Terns and Piping Plovers, as well as excellent enforcement by highly trained police officers. No dogs are allowed on Crane Beach during nesting season and dogs are prevented from entering at the guarded gate. As we saw from one of the graphics presented about nesting Double-crested Cormorants, when a dog runs through a nesting area, the adults leave the nest, temporarily leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation by crows, gulls, raptors, and owls.

Crane Beach Least Tern fledgling.

Compare the Least Tern to the Common Tern in the above photo. It’s easy to see why the birds are called Least Terns; they are North America’s smallest member of the tern and gull family (Crane Beach).

Another interesting bit of information shared–if you listen to our podcasts, back in April, we talked about the potential dilemma of what would happen if Snowy Owls remained on the beaches as the Piping Plovers returned from their winter grounds. Knowing that Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are close cousins and that the Great Horned Owl eats Piping Plover chicks and adults, I was concerned that a Snowy might eat our PiPl. At one particular beach on Cape Cod, a Snowy stayed through mid-July. An adult Piping Plover skull was found in the owl’s pellet.

Snowy Owls remained in Massachusetts this year through July.

After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.  

Piping Plover fully fledged and flying up and down the beach – we”ll have these next year, I am sure!

PIPING PLOVER SYMBOLIC FENCING RECOMMENDATIONS

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY AUGUST 2ND AT 6:30PM AT CITY HALL. PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA.

Dogs romping within the clearly posted and cordoned off nesting area in April, forcing the Piping Plovers off the beach and to nest in the parking lot. 

This past spring and summer we had a tremendously difficult time with our nesting bird symbolic fencing. The posted and roped off area is referred to as “symbolic” because it is not an actual physical barrier, but a visual warning to let people know to keep themselves and their pets out of the cordoned off area. People often ask, why can’t more permanent fencing be placed around the nesting area? After nearly thirty plus years of working with Piping Plovers, biologists have established that physical fences placed on the shoreline and in the wrack area are all too easily washed away by high tides, create safety issues and, too, you wouldn’t want to trap dogs and predators within a nesting area.

The difficulty with our metal posts is that they were knocked about and pushed down with nearly every high tide, dragging the roping into the sand as well. The rope and posts needed almost daily righting.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which successfully protects Piping Plovers and other endangered birds at dozens of Massachusetts beaches have come up with what appears to be a good fencing solution for areas within tidal zones. DCR uses long, narrow fiberglass rods which can be pushed easily into the sand. The poles are strung with two rungs of roping, and in some places three rungs. I measured the distances between the poles at Revere Beach; they are placed about every twenty to twenty four feet.

In early spring, before the Piping Plovers and Least Terns have nested, historic nesting areas are roped off. After a nesting pair establishes a territory, a second row of poles and roping are added around the perimeter of the nesting area. The fiberglass poles can be adjusted without too much difficulty.

Wooden poles are used to post the nondescript, but informative endangered species signs. According to DCR staff, the only time they have complications with the fencing is when the wooden posts are tied into the fiberglass poles and the tide takes both down.

I don’t understand why the fiberglass poles are less likely to shift in the tide, but they don’t shift and appear to work very well in the tidal zone–perhaps because they are flexible and less rigid. If anyone knows the answer to that, please write.

PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER MONITOR GOOD HARBOR BEACH NESTING AREA FENCING RECOMMENDATION:

  1. Symbolic fencing of the two historic Piping Plover nesting areas roped off between March 15th and April 1st (boardwalk #3 and boardwalk #1).
  2. Fiberglass poles placed every twenty feet to twenty four feet.
  3. One to two rungs of roping.
  4. Wooden posts with endangered species signs installed at the same time and in place by April 1st, but not attached to the fiberglass poles.
  5. When active nest scrapes are identified, adjust exisiting fencing, and add a second row of fencing around the perimeter.
  6. To the outer perimeter of fiberglass poles, use three rungs of orange roping attached to the poles, extending all around the perimeter. One rung at 12 inches above ground, one rung at about 24-30 inches above ground level, and the top rung at four feet above ground level.
  7. Piping Plover volunteers monitor fencing and adjust as needed.

The above photo, taken at Good Harbor Beach in early April, shows why it is so important to have the signs and roping in place by April 1st. People and dogs were playing in the nesting area while the PiPl were trying to nest. The photo below shows that a second, and even a third rung of roping, placed at dog height, may help to keep dogs out of the roped off area.

Examples of symbolic fencing areas at Revere Beach and Nahant Beach. Notice the double row of fencing and the double and triple rungs.

Information is unambiguously posted at Revere Beach.

Piping Plover chicks finding shelter in the roped off nesting area on a hot summer day.

Treading lightly.

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY AUGUST 2ND CITY HALL AT 6:30PM: PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA

Please come and show your support for endangered and threatened shorebirds in Gloucester. Thank you!

On the Agenda:

  1. Open session for public comments.
  2. Approval of meeting minutes from 7/12/18.
  3. Review of ACO reports and citations.
  4. Piping Plover protections: ordinance recommendations.
  5. Clark and First Parish Cemetery -dog walking.
  6. Event planning
  7. Grants
  8. Annual report

The chicks of threatened birds such as Piping Plovers and Least Terns evolved to blend perfectly with their surrounding shoreline nesting habitat. This trait helps afford protection from hungry predatory birds flying overhead, birds such as hawks and owls. Because they are so well camouflaged, the shorebird nestlings are at great risk from fast moving pets and unknowing beach goers.

PIPING PLOVER RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR FROM THE PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER MONITORS ~

July 9, 2018

Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,

We, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, are submitting our short list of recommendations regarding the Piping Plovers nesting at Good Harbor Beach. Our goal is to have in place by next April 1, 2019, measures and ordinances that will greatly increase the likelihood that the hatchlings of this tiny threatened shorebird will have a fighting chance at surviving life on Good Harbor Beach.

Piping Plovers began nesting at Good Harbor Beach in 2016. Each year, the PiPl are coming earlier and earlier. In 2016, they arrived mid-May, in 2017 they arrived at the beginning of May, and this year, they arrived on April 3. It would appear that the same pair is returning to Good Harbor Beach, as the male marks his territory and attempts to build a nest scrape only several feet from the previous year’s nest (at Boardwalk #3 nesting area). More Plovers than ever were seen at Good Harbor Beach this spring, and if not for constant interruptions in the Boardwalk #1 nesting area, we would have had two pairs nesting on the beach.

Why are the birds arriving earlier and earlier? We can presume that the pair are more experienced travelers and that Good Harbor Beach is their “territory.” Does this mean we will eventually have dozens of pairs nesting on Good Harbor Beach? No, because the PiPl are very territorial and they will defend a fairly large area, preventing other PiPl from nesting in their site.

This year the PiPl pair hatched four chicks. All four chicks were killed by crows, gulls, and dogs. All three are human-created issues, and all three can be remedied. The following are the four recommendations and actions we wish to see take place.

Recommendations

1) Change the dog ordinance to not allow dogs on the beach after March 31.

Currently, dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 to May 1. The Piping Plover volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Ken Whittaker, and Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin, all agree that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1, but that it would be safe for Piping Plover fledglings and other migrating shorebirds for dogs to return after September 15.

This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest on the beach (as opposed to in the parking lot), with far less interruption, shorebirds will nest earlier in the season, which will help with the chicks survival rate, and the chicks will be stronger by the time Good Harbor fills with summer crowds.

This is a very logical and simple solution. Disallowing dogs on Massachusetts coastal beaches where shorebirds are nesting, beginning April 1, is the norm. Allowing them to return after September 15, and in many cases after September 30, is also very common. For Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds, protecting their habitat and sharing the shore is a matter of life and death.

2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.

Poles, with threatened species signs, and a triple row of roping of nesting sites, to be in place no later than April 1. Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer will assist with this measure.

3) Enforce the existing ordinances regarding dogs (and littering) at all times throughout the year.

Only enforcing dog ordinances at Good Harbor Beach during nesting season is creating hostility toward the Piping Plovers.

Additionally, we do not recommend extremely high fines as we feel that may become an impediment to issuing and collecting the fines. We know of at least one example where the magistrate dismissed the tickets issued to a woman who claimed to have a service dog. This woman was running rampant on the beach and throughout dunes with her service dog off leash throughout the entire time the PiPl were nesting, from April through May. Despite the fact that former dog officer Diane Corliss caught the woman on camera with her dog off leash on the beach, and in the dunes, all her tickets that were issued by the animal control officer were dismissed. This is neither fair to the officers who are working hard to keep the dogs off the beach or to the plover volunteers who are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep the PiPl safe.

4). Increase trash collection.

When no barrels are placed at the entrances to the beach, people dump bags of trash there anyway. When barrels are in place, people put trash in the barrels however, when the barrels become full, they again resort to leaving bags of trash behind, only next to the barrels. In either scenario, gulls and crows are attracted to the trash. Both gulls and crows rip open the bags and the trash is blown throughout the parking lot and marsh, soon finding its way onto the beach and into the ocean. Hungry gulls and crows waiting for people to leave their trash behind eat tiny shorebirds.

A friend who lives on a North Carolina beach shares how her community keeps their public beaches looking pristine. Not only do they have barrels, but every few weeks, police patrol the beach and hand out fines for littering. This is taken as a wake up call, everyone is good for a bit of time, but then become slack about littering again. Out come the officers for another round of ticketing.

Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Smith

cc Paul Lundberg, Steven LeBlanc, Val Gilmam, Ken Hecht, Melissa Cox, Jen Holmgren, Scott Memhard, Sean Nolan, Jamie O’Hara, Dave Rimmer, Ken Whitakker

RAREST OF RARE BIRD SIGHTINGS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!!

Last May you may recall that we posted photos of a tiny flock of three Wilson’s Plovers (Charadrius wilsonia) that were spotted at Good Harbor Beach. The fog was dense and I was on my way to work, so I only captured a few fleeting moments of footage and several photographs.Compare Wilson’s Plover (top of page) to Piping Plover (above).

I was contacted by Sean Williams, secretary of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee with a request to use my photos. Wilson’s Plovers are a southern species; it is quite rare to see them as far north as the New Jersey shore, let alone in Massachusetts. There is no previously known sighting ever of two or more Wilson’s Plovers ever seen before in Massachusetts history.

And to think this rare bird sighting happened on our Good Harbor Beach!

The Wilson’s Plovers were foraging by Boardwalk #3 in our Mama and Papa Piping Plover territory. There were a few minor skirmishes between Wilson’s and Piping but they all continued to go about their respective ways. The Wilson’s foraged at the wrack line, preened on the beach, and one took a bath in the shallow water of the incoming time.

You can see in the clip, Papa Plover giving brief chase to one of the Wilson’s Plovers.

Here is a copy of the report that MARC requested be filled out in the case of rare bird sightings.

Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC)

Review List Species Report Form

Please answer each question with as much thought and detail possible. These details will help the MARC determine whether your review list species is sufficiently supported for acceptance. It is fine if you do not have all the details to complete the form; complete as much as possible.

Once completed, email this form to Sean Williams: seanbirder@gmail.com

  1. Species or subspecies: Wilson’s Plovers (3)
  1. Date, time, and location (please be specific, i.e. 17:40 on 30 Oct 2015, GPS coordinates or street address):

Approximately 8-9:00am on May 9th at Good Harbor Beach, 99 Thacher Road, Gloucester, MA

Number of individuals: 3 birds, two persons, myself and Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer

  1. Situational details of the sighting—e.g., “I was walking down Race Point Beach when suddenly…”, or “I got a call from Ludlow Griscom and went to investigate a…”

I was walking on Good Harbor Beach checking on our Piping Plover pair and saw the three birds in the fog, plus one sandpiper. The birds were foraging in the wrack line. One went higher up on the beach to preen, another took a bath in the shallow water. The WP were in the PiPl’s nesting territory and there were several skirmishes between the PiPl, and one Wilson’s chased another Wilson’s. After a bit, all three flew further down the beach and out of sight. I stopped by later in the day, after the fog had burned off, to see if they were still there and they were not.

  1. Physical description. This is perhaps the most important part of the form. Include all observed physical details of the bird, including plumage, bill, feet, eyes, bare skin, shape, and size relative to nearby birds:

Pale pink legs, thick bill and overall black, plumage similar to PiPl, but a little darker, but not as dark as Semi-palmated Plover, tiny bit larger than Piping Plover.

  1. Vocal description. If the bird vocalized, describe the sound to the best of your ability, e.g. trill, buzz, high-pitched, “kser”, quavering, length of call, etc.

The waves were drowning out their vocalizing.

  1. Behavioral description. What behaviors did you observe?

Foraging, preening, bathing, territorial dispute with PiPl, and flying.

  1. Habitat:

Good Harbor beach is a sandy beach, with the beach greatly narrowed this year because the beach dropped about six feet and the tide now comes right up to the dune during periods of high tides. The beach abuts a dune, large parking lot, and marsh.

  1. Total length of time and number of times bird was seen and/or heard:

Half an hour to an hour.

  1. How did you rule out other similar species?

 Behavior and photos.

  1. Distance from the bird:

Twenty to thirty feet or so.

  1. Optics used to view the bird:

Eyes and cameras. I may have film footage. Will check on that.

Lighting—e.g. sunny or cloudy, was the bird sunlit or backlit:

Sunny at first, then dense fog came rolling in.

  1. Your contact informationkimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com

Wilson’s Plover Range Map

42 Pairs of Piping Plovers Nesting at Cranes Beach!

July 9th 2018 – From the Trustees

“The Piping Plovers at Crane Beach are doing great this year! 42 pairs have nested making this the third highest amount of nesting Piping Plover pairs since 1986. So far 42 chicks have spread their wings and flown. Many more chicks are still on the beach and we are waiting on more nests to hatch. Please remember to keep your distance and give these protected birds their space.”

I love how the pale seashell coral pink in the clam shells mirrors the orange hues of the PiPl’s beak and legs. I don’t know why this photo strikes me as funny, but it just does. Tiny birds with huge personalities!

Our Little Pip is Missing

I am so very sorry to write that Little Pip and Mama went missing overnight.

When super PiPl volunteer monitor Heather Hall left last night at 9:30 the beach was quiet and peaceful. The Plover Family had a good evening, despite the fact that a Burmese Mountain dog was off leash on the beach and the owners weren’t too happy about being asked to leave.

When I arrived at 4:50am, the beach was eerily quiet. Except for the gulls and crows, there were only the singular calls from Papa Plover. Back and forth he went, from feeding in the tide pools to running into the nesting area and piping for Mama and Pip.

A most heartfelt thank you to all our wonderful PiPl monitors, who are just the kindest people you will ever want to meet. Sunburns, neglected families, missing appointments, late for work–thank you for guarding our little PiPl family from sunrise to sunset. These dedicated volunteers fully understand what it means for a species to be threatened and on the brink of extinction. We all fell in love with our PiPls, it’s hard not to. If you see a volunteer, please stop and thank them for their good work. Please know too, that without their tireless dedication, we would not have known for sure how the other three chicks perished.

By understanding that the chick’s deaths are human-caused, whether it be garbage-attracting gulls and crows or dogs on the beach, we will be much, much better equipped next year to better help nesting shorebirds. It is my understanding that there was a bonfire and party at the rock last night, which I can imagine how terrified that must have made our PiPl family. We can only learn from these past incidents and are determined to make positive steps for the future. For example, imagine if Mama and Papa had been allowed to nest when and where originally intended. The chick would have been a full week older, with just that much more critical development to better adapt to situations such as warm weather night time beach partygoers.

Thank you and a huge shout out to Joe Lucido, Phil, Mike, (both) Kennys, Newt, Cindy, and the entire DPW crew. We know you were rooting for the PiPl family and your kind assistance made a difference at every turn.

Thank you to Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker and to Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer. These two have been working together and behind the scenes since the PiPl first arrived on April 3rd, consulting with wildlife agencies, installing roping, installing the wire exclosure, coordinating the crazy monitor scheduling, and much more.

Big Hug and thank you to all our PiPl monitors and friends of the Piping Plovers who I know are just heartbroken tonight.