Category Archives: Gloucester Plover

EXCITING NEWS FOR OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PLOVER FANS!

Late yesterday afternoon, our Piping Plover volunteer monitor Heather Hall identified a new addition to the three Piping Plovers currently residing at Good Harbor Beach. She observed that he was super hungry and that he was wearing not one, but two identifying bands! The green band is located on his upper left leg and is etched in white with the letters ETM. On his upper right leg is a nondescript aluminum band most likely placed there by USFW.

The little guy was tagged on October 7th of this past year at Cumberland Island, Georgia, by the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program. He is a first hatch year, which means he is not quite yet a year old. ETM was spotted several more times at Cumberland Island indicating that he spent the winter there.

Cumberland Island is a barrier island and is the largest and most furthest south of the “Sea Islands” of the southeastern United States. You may have heard of Sea Island Cotton, a very luxurious type of cotton. The fibers of the cotton that are planted on the Sea Islands grow extra long. In spinning and weaving cotton, the longer the fibers, the smoother and more silky the cotton feels. The word long-staple is used to describe very fine cotton threads.Cumberland Island National Seashore sounds like a stunning and fascinating place to visit and I hope to do just that someday soon 🙂

To learn more about the Virginia Tech Shorebird Program:

The Virginia Tech Shorebird Program is a consortium of conservation biologists in the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Although our biologists have a variety of interests, we share a common goal of conservation of coastal wildlife resources through transformational research. We work closely with managers and stakeholders to provide research that is timely and pertinent to management. The VT Shorebird Program began in 1985 with a study of piping plovers on the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. Since that time, our biologists have worked up and down the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, along the shores of prairie rivers and lakes, and internationally in the Bahamas, Canada, and China, promoting the conservation of seabirds and shorebirds through research. We have worked with a variety of species, including piping plovers, least terns, snowy plovers, killdeer, spotted sandpipers, red knots, common terns, gull-billed terns, roseate terns, and black skimmers in an effort to conserve our coastlines and the animals that depend on it. Read More Here

And here’s more from Audubon –

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. It is also one of the oldest barrier islands in Georgia, with rich soils capable of supporting a diversity of plants. It is bordered by the Cumberland River, Cumberland Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean. Three main natural communities are found on the island: extensive salt marshes on the western side comprise almost 17,000 acres; an ancient, mid-island maritime forest of live oak, pine, cedar and saw palmetto covers 15,100 acres; and a narrow strip of dune/beach stretches along the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Parts of the island have regenerated from use as plantations, when clear-cutting for sea island cotton farming and timber harvests for ship building were profitable. It has several noteworthy features, including 50 miles of shoreline, freshwater marshes and ponds, high bluffs, interdune meadows, tidal mudflats and creeks, and a large, freshwater lake. It is accessible only by ferry, a concession arrangement with the national park service.

Ornithological Summary

As a United Nations-sanctioned International Biosphere Reserve, the wilderness on Cumberland Island protects many threatened and endangered species, including six species of migratory and shore birds and four species of sea turtles. It is clearly a place of global significance.

Cumberland Island is a major stopping point on the transatlantic migratory flyway, with over 335 species of birds recorded. Threatened and endangered species include Least Tern, Wilson’s Plover, and American Oystercatcher. The southernmost point of the island, known as Pelican Banks, is a favorite place for Black Skimmers, oystercatchers, pelicans, and numerous ducks and shore birds. The fresh water ponds provide excellent rookeries for Wood storks, white ibis, herons and egrets. In the forest canopy, warblers, buntings, wrens and woodpeckers abound. On the shores, osprey, peregrine falcons, and the occasional Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle can be seen. CI is a breeding site for endangered/threatened/high priority species such as Wood Stork, GAEA, Least Tern, Painted Bunting. Extensive, regular use by migrants and winter residents (warblers, shorebirds, PE, FA). The habitat is largely undisturbed and the island is one of GA’s largest. Area attracts several rare/accidental species (LBCU, GLGU, WEK). Northern edge for some species (i.e., WIPE winters) = seasonal use and range. Contains steadily increasing population of TUTI (uncommon to rare on many barrier islands). AMWP (winter and a few summer), REEG, etc.

Black Rail, Piping Plover, Saltmarsh sharp-tail Sparrow, Nelson’s sharp-tail Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Red-cockcaded Woodpecker (Source: Shelia Willis checklist) Read More Here

WHERE DO PIPING PLOVERS GO IN BAD WEATHER?

A question often asked is “where do the birds go when the weather is inclement?”

The answer depends on what type of bird. Some birds, like perching birds, have it a bit easier than seabirds and shorebirds because their little toes reflexively cling tightly to a branch or limb. But many, many birds lose their lives in hurricanes and super storms.

Extreme weather events are especially harmful to threatened and endangered shorebirds. Wave action, high winds, and storm surges destroys coastal habitats and flooding decreases water salinity. Birds, especially young birds, are blown far off course away from their home habitats. A great deal of energy is expended battling the winds and trying to return home.

In the case of Piping Plovers, for the most part, business continues as usual during average inclement weather. You won’t see them sit in a tree or dune shrub because they will lose their primary advantage against predators, that of the safety afforded them by the camouflage of their sandy beach coloring.

Piping Plovers and Dunlin taking shelter behind the landmark rock at Good Harbor

Perhaps they’ll find a rock on the beach, or ridge in the sand, to crouch behind and out of the path of the wind. Piping Plovers are much harder to find in inclement weather because their feathers mirror shades of rain and snow and fog. Drenching rain, spring snow squalls, and biting summer sand storms won’t stop these indefatigable creatures, we see them foraging during every kind of weather event.

Even Piping Plover chicks, weighing not much more than nickel, have the ability to withstand harsh summer sandstorms.

Nearly freezing and made worse by whipping wind.

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS ARE AGAIN ATTEMPTING TO NEST IN THE PARKING LOT

Our little Piping Plover family has for the second year in a row been shunted into the parking lot. Saturday morning at 7am they were seen courting and nest scraping on the beach. After a full morning of plenty of dogs off leash romping on the beach, they were nest scraping in the parking lot. By nightfall, they were mating in the parking lot.

Piping Plover Good Harbor beach nest scrape April 13, 2019

This behavior is precisely what happened last year. The PiPls would begin their morning courting and nest scraping on the beach but by the end of each warm April weekend day, especially off leash days, they were found courting and nest scraping in the parking lot.

Piping Plover parking lot courtship Good Harbor Beach April 2019

Sadly, there is a contingency that endlessly denies that the people not following the leash laws have any responsibility. They expertly spread misinformation and twist words around and this is not helping the Piping Plovers successfully nest and fledge chicks. It’s heartbreaking really because nesting in the parking lot very adversely affects the health of the parents and chicks for a whole host of reasons. The adults will be expending twice as much energy, guarding a nest scrape in both the parking lot and on the beach. Last year, the birds maintained their territory on the beach the entire time they were brooding eggs in the parking lot. Intelligently so, when you think about it, because the beach nest is the precise location they marched their chicks to only one day after hatching.

To help quell the endless misinformation, falsehoods, and downright lies being perpetuated on Facebook –

Piping Plover monitors are not dog haters. Many of us are dog owners (some with multiple dogs) and most of us love all animals, wild and domestic.

I have, as well as have many of our PiPl advocates, been addressing not only the issue of people not following the leash laws at Good Harbor Beach, but problems around littering and trash collection and how these issues adversely affects Piping Plovers and all wildlife. Before there was the Animal Advisory Committee list of recommendation and the city’s Piping Plover Plan, I presented a list of recommendations, which included how to help the PiPl in regard to littering. This plan was presented on July 9, 2018. We fully recognize the threat gulls and Crows pose to the chicks. The focus of late has been the dogs on the beach because they are the greatest disrupters to courtship and brooding and because the PROBLEM IS STILL NOT RESOLVED, despite the ordinance change. There were dogs off leash all over Good Harbor Beach at the time of this writing (Saturday night) and only a very few gulls and Crows.

To address the controversy over “other predators.”

As we have posted many times (including photos of), there are Eastern Coyotes and Red Fox on our local beaches. We see their easily recognized tracks in the sand. But one coyote or one fox, which is the most set of tracks that we ever see on a beach on a given morning at dawn or an evening at dusk, does not in any way equal the disruption to Piping Plovers while they are courting and brooding to that which is caused by several hundred dogs romping on the beach on a single day.

ADULT BIRDS ARE NOT IN DANGER OF BEING EATEN BY FOX, COYOTES, AND DOGS BECAUSE THEY CAN FLY AWAY FROM MAMMALIAN PREDATORS.

Crane Beach, which has by far many more natural predators than does GHB, successfully fledges chicks every year.

Crow in the dune this morning at daybreak. I have posted often about the problem of gulls, Crows, and litter and how the issue negatively impacts Piping Plovers.

ADULT PIPING PLOVERS AND GULLS FEED SIDE BY SIDE ALONG THE SHORELINE.

Gulls and Crows threaten Piping Plover chicks, but we are not even at the chick stage yet. Folks might want to know that because of the restaurants lining the boulevard at Revere Beach, the community has a much, much greater problem with gulls and Crows than we could ever imagine, literally hundreds, if not thousands, on any morning or afternoon. And yet, Revere Beach successfully fledges chicks each year in the exact same locations, and only doors down from where the restaurants are located.

Winthrop Shores Reservation Beach, a densely packed neighborhood with rows upon rows of of triple decker homes facing their beach has a problem with house cats on the beach, and yet this community manages to successfully fledge chicks year in and year out, in the exact same locations.

What do these three very different types of beach habitats have in common, and what are these three beach communities doing right that we are not doing? Perhaps it is because the citizens respect their community’s leash laws.

Repeatedly claiming disbelief at the number of dogs we are encountering at Good Harbor Beach, I have been pressured and cajoled into sharing photos of dogs on the beach by the dog friendly group’s administrator, and when I do, they publicly object. I invite all the negative PiPl Facebook commenters who we NEVER, EVER, EVER see at Good Harbor Beach, to come lend a hand. You were invited to work with us on solving the dogs on the beach issue and our invitation was ignored.

Additional note- Today, Sunday, a former off-leash day, there were fewer dogs on the beach than yesterday, a former on-leash day (as of 12pm). Puzzling, but we are not questioning the PiPls good fortune! Huge shout out to ACOs Teagan and Jamie for their hard work, to to all the people who did not bring their dogs to the beach today, to Gloucester’s DPW for installing the unmissable new signs, and to all the folks who came to GHB today, read the signs, and departed (we saw that happen)!

Our GHB Piping Plovers are weighing their options. Perhaps if we can keep the dog disturbance to a minimum, they will abandon their nest scrape in the parking lot and stay on the beach.

List of Articles and Links Provided That Explain How Dog Disruptions on Beaches Harm Piping Plovers

Very briefly gorgeous sunrise this morning, before the heavier clouds descended

 

 

 

 

 

GLOUCESTER GETS IT RIGHT WITH THE NEW DOG SIGNS!

The bright yellow and prominently positioned No Dog signs went up this afternoon. One is placed at each entrance–the footbridge, the parking lot, and Whitham Street. They are also positioned to hide the ultra confusing blue signs.

I think the signs will be of immeasurable help in getting people to understand the ordinance change. Thank you so much to Gloucester’s DPW Mike Hale and to the City for getting it right!

CONSTANT STEADY STREAM OF DOGS AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH, FROM DAWN TO DUSK

We could write that there were at least two hundred dogs at Good Harbor Beach today, but only those of us who were there for any length of time would believe it. There was a constant steady stream, from sunrise, to when I last checked at 4:00pm. For the most part, the folks that we spoke with were without a clue that the rules have changed. Suffice it to say, we need to do a better job getting the word.

For readers who may have missed the information. The new ordinance prohibits dogs at Good Harbor Beach at any time of the day or night from April 1st to October 1st.

There are people who are not getting the information–they don’t read local blogs, local papers, or are not on Facebook. There has to be a more effective way to let folks know. If you are reading this post, please share it with your friends and please let them know of the ordinance change. And if you have a suggestion, or experience on how to get information of this nature across, we would be so appreciative if you would share. Thank you!

Just saying, if 200 tickets had been issued x $300.00, that would equal $60,000.00, which is more than enough money to pay people to stand at all three entrances to the beach and let folks know about the rule change; one person at the footbridge, one at the parking lot entrance, and one person at the Whitham Street entrance. This would be a very effective way to get the word out, and may only be necessary in the early days of the rule change. It’s not fair to expect the monitors to shoulder this responsibility as people can behave in an extraordinarily entitled manner and are often aggressive and hostile in their response when told of the ordinance change.

The following photos are just several of dozens taken today. The owner appeared to have five dogs with her. While she was whipping the ball with several of her dogs at the low tide line, these two tore away and ran repeatedly through the nesting area.

No Dogs at Good Harbor Beach from April 1st to October 1st.

OUR GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS COPING WITH WINDSTORMS AND COLD TEMPERATURES

All three PiPls, Mom, Dad, and the Bachelor, are finding drifts of sand, clumps of dry beach grass, and this morning, even a clam shell, to hunker down behind to get out of the way of the harsh winds. They are also doing a great deal of standing and hopping around on one leg. I hope the wind dies down and soon so we can all enjoy more seasonably spring-like weather!

Mama taking a nap behind a clump of beach grass, and standing on one leg.

Papa standing on one leg even while doing wing stretches.

And what Piping Plover scene would be complete without a bachelor (an unmated male). I hope we get a “new girl” this summer!

Why do birds stand on one leg? “The short answer is that for the simple reason that you put your hands in your pockets when cold, birds stand on one leg to conserve heat. Birds also stand on one leg to relax muscle fatigue in the retracted leg.

The long answer is that birds’ legs have a blood flow referred to as “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs are next to the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries act as a heat exchanger and warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet are closer to environmental temperature and thus don’t lose as much heat as they would if they were at body temperature. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.

Birds that have short legs, such as Mourning Doves, do not need to stand on one leg because they have fleshy feet and they can snuggle down so that their warm belly presses against their feet.” Reposted from “Why is Little Chick Missing a Leg.”

If you see Gloucester’s dog officers, Teagan and Jamie, please thank them and let them know what a great job they are doing. Off and on throughout the day, they are walking the beach, talking to the dog owners who continue to bring their dogs to the beach, and handing out tickets.

NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT THREE PIPING PLOVERS TODAY AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

Throughout the day, a threesome has been actively feeding, battling for territory, and two of the three, displaying courtship behavior.

Often times I have read that Piping Plovers in Massachusetts do not begin to actively court until mid-April. That simply has not been the case with our Good Harbor Beach pair. As soon as they arrive to their northern breeding grounds, they don’t waste any time and get right down to the business of reproducing! Last year, the PiPls were courting within a week of arriving, and this year, on the first day.

I only had brief periods of time to visit the beach this morning, but within that window, FOUR separate times the male built a little scrape, called Mama over to come investigate, while adding bits of dried seaweed and sticks, and fanning his tail feathers.

Papa scraping a nest in the sand.

Fanning his tail and inviting Mama to come inspect the nest scrape.

Tossing sticks and beach debris into the scrape.

Papa high-stepping for Mama.

It was VERY cold and windy both times I stopped by GHB and the PiPls were equally as interested in snuggling down behind a clump of dried beach grass as they were in courting.

Mama and Papa finding shelter from the cold and wind in the wrack line.

Good Harbor Beach was blessedly quiet all day. Our awesome dog officer Teagan Dolan was at the beach bright and early and there wasn’t a single dog in sight, I think greatly due to his vigilance and presence educating beach goers this past week.

Heather Hall, Katharine Parsons, Alicia Pensarosa, Laurie Sawin

Saturday we had the pleasure of meeting Katharine Parsons, Director of the Mass Audubon Coastal Waterbird Program. She gave an outstanding program to a crowd of Piping Plover advocates and interested parties, which was held at the Sawyer Free Library. Katharine covered everything from life cycle, management strategies and tools, habitat conservation, and the fantastic role Massachusetts is playing in the recovery of Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Roseate Terns, and Oystercatchers. We are so appreciative of Alicia Pensarosa and Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee for sponsoring Katharine!

Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard and Katharine

City Council President Paul Lundberg, Katharine, and Alicia

Fun Fact we learned from Katharine’s presentation–a Piping Plover chick weighs six grams at birth. In comparison, and after consulting Google, a US nickel weighs a close 5.5 grams.