Category Archives: Gloucester Plover

NEW SHORT FILM: GLOUCESTER PLOVERS GO SWIMMING!

Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming! New short created for Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Cooperators. Turn up the volume to hear the chicks peeping and Dad Plover piping.

 

TREMENDOUS COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

On Tuesday I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at the Harwich Community Center on Cape Cod. 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, Roseate Terns, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention.

I was invited by Carolyn Mostello, event organizer, to create a short film, Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming, for the “Strange and Unusual” section about our three little chicks and the fact that for about a week they were SWIMMING in the tidal creek (see next post). I also provided a group of photos of the late hatching chicks for DCR. The film and the photos were well-received, which was gratifying to me, to be of help in documenting these wonderful stories.

Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Essex Greenbelt, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Mass Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.

In the morning, each region gave the 2019 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.

Trustees of Reservations Coastal Ecologist Jeff Denoncour presented on behalf of the north of Boston region, of which Gloucester is a part. Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer and intern Fionna were in attendance as well. Both Crane Beach and Parker River are having a fantastic year and the numbers are up across Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. There are still many young chicks yet to fledge on Massachusetts beaches so the final count has not been determined.

The afternoon session was filled with outstanding lectures presented by conservation biologists and all the programs were tremendously informative.

I met Beth Howard from Mass Audubon, who has been involved with care taking the L Street Piping Plovers and Paige Hebert from Mass Wildlife who has been helping manage Roseate Terns. The DCR staff managing the shorebirds at Nahant, Salisbury, Winthrop, and Revere Beach were all there and they are just a stellar group of young people.

It was a great day! Many attendees expressed congratulations for Gloucester fledging three chicks. Last year after attending the meeting I wrote the following and it’s wonderful that our hope for Gloucester’s Plovers was realized this year: “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.” 

FANTASTIC PIPING PLOVER NEWS FROM COASTAL ECOLOGIST JEFF DENONCOUR AT CRANE BEACH

Jeff Denoncour, Trustees of Reservations Coastal Ecologist, shares some record breaking Piping Plover news from Crane Beach. Jeff writes that “at Crane 49 pairs nested and 87 chicks have fledged, with 8 chicks remaining, a great year and breaking records for Crane!”Piping Plover lift off, times two!

SEA-ROCKET!

What is that wonderful succulent yet scrubby-looking green plant we see growing on our local beaches? You are most likely looking at American Sea-rocket (Cakile edentula). Named for its rocket-shaped berries, Sea-rocket is a native annual. It grows in dry sand and is pollinated by beetles, moths, butterflies, flies, and bees. The edible flowers and peppery, succulent leaves, which taste somewhat like horseradish, attract myriad species of tiny insects as well.

Sea-rocket reseeds itself each year all around New England beaches and thrives in the poor medium of dry sand, above the high tide line. In springtime, along the Massachusetts coastline, you will see tiny shoots emerging and by early summer the multi-branching plant can grow two feet wide and equally as tall.

Throughout the Piping Plover’s time spent at Good Harbor Beach, Sea-rocket is an important plant, providing shade on hot summer days, protection from the wind, and attracts a smorgasbord of insects that both the adults and tiniest of chicks depend upon for their diets.

Piping Plover chicks and adults forage for small insects at Sea-rocket.

SEA-ROCKET GROWTH PROGRESSION-

The first photo was taken on April 6, 2019. You can see that there is no vegetation growing in the roped off area.

The second photo was taken about one month later, at the time our mated Piping Plover pair began nesting. Notice the tiny shoots of Sea-rocket beginning to emerge.

The third photo was taken during the second week of July. Look how beautifully the Sea-rocket is growing in the roped off area.The fourth photo shows the same area after the PiPl refuge was dismantled and the Sea-rocket raked over.Three Piping Plover chicks finding shelter beneath the Sea-rocket foliage.

WHY IT IS A TERRIBLE AND POINTLESS IDEA TO DESTROY THE PIPING PLOVER HABITAT AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

There are several reasons as to why it is vitally important to leave the Piping Plover refuge in place at GHB. PiPl chicks and fledglings are like human babies in that they eat and eat all day and evening, rest, and then resume eating. Their appetites are voracious. Not only are they growing but they are building their fat reserves for the journey south.

Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers forage at the shoreline and also within the enclosure. Because this area is not raked or disturbed by human foot traffic, plants have a chance to grow. The plants attract insects, which in turn becomes food for the shorebirds.

On hot summer days, when the beach is jam packed, especially at high tide, the young birds and adults do not have access to the shoreline.They forage exclusively on the insects in the enclosed roped off area.

Each morning we find the family together within the enclosure, either foraging or sleeping, or at the shoreline in front of their refuge.

What will happen to the family now that the roping was removed prematurely? We don’t know. It’s been suggested that they will simply leave and try to find refuge at other beaches. Will they be able to maintain their family bond or will they become separated? If, for example, the fledglings find their way to Winthrop Beach where there are other PiPls nesting, the adults at that beach will surely attack them and chase the fledglings out of their territory. The nesting PiPl at Winthrop would be disrupted and the GHB fledglings won’t be eating and fattening up, but expending energy flying and fighting.

I am documenting PiPls at several other north shore beaches. Nowhere else are the PiPl refuges being dismantled. As a matter of fact, just this past week, the Department of Conservation and Recreation actually increased an area to create additional habitat for a new young family.

We monitors have spoken with and made friends with many of the local homeowners along Nautilus and Salt Island Roads. Every resident we have met is 100 percent for the PiPs and many have become valued monitors. Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer is for leaving the roping up as long as the Piping Plovers are at GHB.

We are having a difficult time trying to understand who or what is driving the rush to destroy the PiPls habitat.

Even on the slenderest blade of grass, insects are found

Insects provide food for PiPls at all stages of their lives. Note this little guy is stretching for all he’s worth and his left foot is on tiptoes trying to reach a bug on the leaf.

Food is plentiful within the enclosure because of the vegetation that grows when this area of the beach is not raked.

Morning wing stretches in the safety of the enclosure.

Resting behind the mounds of sand that form inside the enclosure.

CONGRATULATIONS TO GLOUCESTER AND TO OUR CHICKS! 37 DAYS OLD AND OFFICIALLY FLEDGED!!!

Saturday marked the thirty-five-day old milestone in a Piping Plover’s life, when USFWS considers a chick fully fledged. At five weeks, a chick has by far the greatest chance of surviving and going on to become a breeding adult. That we fledged three from Good Harbor Beach is nothing short of astounding considering the very many potential threats. The average success rate per nest of four is 1.2 fledglings.

Gloucester’s citizens are proof positive of what a community can accomplish when we work together to effect change.

FLYING! One, two, three, lift off!

What did the chicks have going in their favor this year?

Number One was the change in the dog ordinance, which was to disallow dogs on the beach after March 31st.

Number Two was enforcing the new dog ordinance. Because of the ordinance change, and stepped up enforcement, the adults moved back to the beach to nest, and relatively early in the season. By helping the birds nest earlier in the spring, by the time the Fourth of July weekend arrived, the fledglings were bigger, stronger, and much better at following the parent’s voice commands that alert them to danger.

Number Three was the weather. With cooler than usual temperatures, there were fewer beach goers, which allowed for fewer disturbances.

Number Four, last but not least, was an amazing corp of volunteers who have dedicated hours upon hours to keeping watch over the babies, from sunrise til sunset. Our volunteers are truly the envy of other communities where PiPl nest. I am filming at several locations and staff at these beaches wish they had volunteers as dedicated as are ours.

With a happy, heartfelt thanks to a fantastic group of dedicated volunteer PiPl monitors, to Essex Greenbelt Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer for his continued help, to our Gloucester City Councilors for having the collective wisdom to vote to change the ordinance, to Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard for his ongoing assistance, to ACO Officers Teagan and Jamie, to Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, to Mayor Sefatia and her administration, to the DPWs Mike Hale and Joe Lucido, and to everyone in the community (and beyond) who have expressed their interest, their support, and who have loved learning about these tiniest, but most spunkiest, of sweet little shorebirds as we have watched them grow in their fascinating life story journey.

The photos are from July Fourth weekend, at 35 and 36 days old. These past several mornings at daybreak I find the three fledglings, Mom, and Dad foraging and preening together on the tidal flats and wrack line in front of the enclosed area. They move back within the roping when the tractor comes through, preen for a bit, head back down to the tidal flats, or fly off to the creek. The family is continuing to stay together, but are dispersed during the day when feeding. There is a wide variety of insects and small sea creatures to forage from at Good Harbor Beach as the PiPls plump up for their southward migration.

Bath time and drying wings.

Morning wake up calisthenics – right wing stretches, then left wing, shimmy shake, and then off to forage.

Every morning the beach rake drives over the wrack line where the fledglings and adults are foraging. It was very scary when the chicks were younger. At thirty-five-days old, the birds can fly away to escape the heavy equipment but usually choose to run instead. PiPls are better camouflaged when they don’t fly, and that is why they often run at top speed to escape danger, rather than flying.

Resting and preening in the morning within the enclosed area.

Because the area inside the enclosure is not raked, a nutritious buffet of insects can be found within the roping. The enclosed area not only provides good food, but is where the family spends most of their time when the tide is high and the beach is full of visitors. Dave Rimmer has let us know he fully supports keeping the roping in place as long as the PiPl family is at Good Harbor Beach. This is a tremendous relief to we volunteers because we see the many ways in which the PiPl family are continuing to utilize this important habitat.

THE JOHNSON FAMILY OF YOUNG CONSERVATIONISTS!

Thank you to the Johnson Family of Wakefield and Connecticut for their interest in learning about the Piping Plovers and for giving them the space they needed when trying to get to the creek.

Volunteer monitor Laurie Sawin spent time with the family on Wednesday, sharing her binoculars and teaching the young conservation-minded kids all about Piping Plovers and their habitat. The kids were so interested and considerate of the birds, it was a joy to meet them!

People love the portable new signs, both beach goers and the volunteer monitors. The signs provide an opportunity for beach guests to ask questions and learn about the PiPls, and they also provide a reference for the monitors. Many thanks to volunteer monitor Heather Hall for sharing a photo online of the signs used at PiPl protected areas in Ontario.

Our PiPl family are finding lots of fat sea worms at the creek.