Category Archives: Good Harbor Beach


Tuesday evening at the City Council meeting, former Gloucester conservation agent Ken Whittaker reviewed the City’s 3PPlan (Piping Plover Plan) with the Councilors.

We Piping Plover volunteer monitors are grateful for the time and effort Ken has put forth in helping to protect our threatened Piping Plovers. We’re especially appreciative of the time he spent coordinating the volunteer monitors–not an easy task! We wish Ken all the best in his retirement.

Ken and PiPl Volunteer Monitors, Good Harbor Beach

Ken and Jim Destino introduced Adrienne Lennon, Gloucester’s new conservation agent. We had a few minutes after the introduction to speak with Adrienne. Her experience includes working for seven years at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center, located in Ipswich on the Plum Island causeway, adjacent to the infamous Pink House. While there, Adrienne gained extensive knowledge in Piping Plover conservation. She is especially interested in preserving and protecting our beach dunes. Adrienne can be reached at

Best of success to Adrienne in her new position as Gloucester’s Conservation Agent!

Photos of Ken and Adrienne at City Hall courtesy of City Council Vice President Steve LeBlanc

During Piping Plover nesting season, I have visited the public beach at the northern end of Plum Island, Newbury Beach. I believe the PiPl nesting areas at Newbury Beach are monitored by Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center. Newbury Beach is similar in several ways to Good Harbor Beach in that it is a popular town beach in a residential area with many access points and nearby hotels. Last year the beach and dunes were extremely hard hit by late winter storms, just as was Good Harbor Beach.

About Joppa Flats Education Center: Overlooking the Merrimack River and near the entrance to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the Joppa Flats Education Center offers unique educational opportunities for people of all ages. Here, you can explore the region’s wildlife-rich habitats (salt marshes, mudflats, rivers, bays, and coastal waters) through guided tours, marine touch tanks, art exhibits, drop-in programs, and interpretive displays.

Scenes from behind the Joppa Flats Education Center and Plum Island causeway.

Councilors Steve LeBlanc and Melissa Cox wearing Piping Plover monitor hats provided by Ken Whittaker.

Coffins Beach and Wingaersheek Beach are going to be more closely monitored this year for Piping Plovers. The above photo is from 2016 when NINE chicks fledged at Coffins Beach!

Three-day-old Piping Plover Chick, Good Harbor Beach



Thank you Community for seeing the wisdom in these changes and for giving voice to these tiny endangered birds.

Last night’s Council vote a was win for our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers and a win for all the citizens of Gloucester. There was a tremendous turnout by the Piping Plover volunteers and friends, as well as an impressive number of letters written to the Councilors in favor of the changes to the ordinance. The combination of the two spoke volumes and definitely tipped the scales in favor of the Plovers.

Our sincerest thanks to City Councilors Scott Memhard, Paul Lundberg, and Melissa Cox for putting forth the ordinance. Our sincerest thanks to O and A Councilors Steven LeBlanc, Jamie O’Hara, and Sean Nolan for voting unanimously to put the ordinance change to City Council for a vote. A huge shout out to all the Councilors for voting YES!  Thank you to Jim Destino for presenting on behalf of Mayor Sefatia and the Administration. And a huge shout out to Alicia Pensarosa and the Animal Advisory Committee for their tremendous presentation and a job well done.

The greatest thanks goes to all our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover monitors who have given so generously of their time and energy to our tiniest of shorebird friends. ❤

Next steps are tighter enforcement, and signage, and with the ordinance in place and increased awareness, I am very hopeful this can be accomplished.

Just some of the many friends of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers who participated last night -Preston, Cruz, Laurie, Kim N., Heather, and Catherine

Piping Plover Fledglings Coffins Beach

Notes for City Council meeting

February 26, 2019

Thank you Councilors for providing me the opportunity to speak.

The Mass Wildlife Piping Plover 2017 Census Report, with Dog Ordinances, which was submitted last week, affirms why prohibiting dogs on affected beaches by April 1st is the correct course of action needed to protect our Piping Plover nesting areas. The April 1st date has been determined best course of action by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Trustees of Reservations Coastal Shorebird Protection Program, Mass Audubon, USFWS National Refuges such as Parker River (where dogs are prohibited year round), and our own Gloucester Animal Advisory Committee.

Only one chick out of eleven has fledged during the last three years. Rather than focusing on who is to blame, and who reported what, and how many times incidences were reported, I hope we can come together and do what is best for this tiny endangered bird. Beach communities that take full precautionary measures to protect the Piping Plovers have a greater than 80 percent success rate in fledging chicks. Communities that only take partial measures have a 20 percent rate of success in fledgling chicks.

Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, under the leadership of Alicia Pensarosa, has recommended a full set of precautionary and protective measures, which are in alignment with neighboring communities, and they include creating a buffer zone, better signage, increasing fines, precautionary roping in place by April 1st, stricter enforcement and, the single most important piece of the protective measures, to prohibit dogs on the beach from the dates of April 1st to September 30th.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which also applies to threatened species, specifically prohibits the “taking” of Piping Plovers. Taking doesn’t only mean killing, taking also includes, harassing, harming, and removing. The ESA requires Federal agencies to take action to prevent further harm and harassment. By only taking half-hearted measures, and without strict enforcement, our community is at high risk of beach closures and heavy fines.

Piping Plovers are facing tremendous pressure from human disturbances, natural predators, loss of habitat, and rising sea level. One of the single most pervasive threats to Piping Plovers is dogs disturbing the nesting area, and we have seen this first hand over the past three years, beginning in May 2016 when the Piping Plovers first began nesting at Good Harbor Beach, continuing through 2017 and 2018.

The result of dogs disturbing the nesting area last spring forced a Piping Plover pair to nest in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot, a highly unusual and dangerous outcome, and this is well documented.

Here is why dogs are a threat not only to Piping Plovers, but to all nesting shorebirds.

To a Plover, dogs look and act like coyotes and foxes. Whether the dog is on a leash or not, to a shorebird’s brain, a dog is scary. Dogs unwittingly crush eggs in the nest, accidentally crush chicks, chase adults, and eat chicks.

But that is only part of the story. Because all leashed and unleashed dogs appear threatening, even if your pooch is the sweetest most non-threatening creature that ever lived, dogs cause the adult Plovers to go into protective behavior.

By protective behavior, I mean that the Piping Plover will try to distract the dog with a series of vocal calls (which also disturbs and brings its mate to the scene), by running in front of the dog, and by pretending it is weakened by dragging its wing on the ground (imitating a bird with a broken wing). These protective behaviors are very stressful and force the Plover away from the nest and chicks, often far down the beach, leaving the eggs and babies open to attacks by gulls, crows, and raptors.

During the night, a Piping Plover may encounter a disturbance by a single coyote or fox, or two, but when dogs are permitted on the beach during nesting season, the dog traffic and disturbance can be unrelenting, quite literally, with hundreds of dog disturbances per day.

Piping Plovers have a much greater tolerance for humans. For example, they do not try to chase people out of their territory and will often behave very nonchalantly, unless, of course, a chick is nearby. But just as they perceive dogs to be threatening, Piping Plovers also perceive kites, drones, and balls as threats for similar reasons, because these airborne activities appear to be flying predators.

Last year, Piping Plovers were first seen at Good Harbor Beach on April 3rd The small flock appeared very weary, but after a few days of resting, pairs began actively courting. Countless dog disturbances, especially during the very early hours of the day, and late in the afternoon, caused the Boardwalk #3 pair to abandon their nest on the beach and to nest in the parking lot. These disturbances and nesting dates are well documented. Constant dog disturbances also caused a second pair attempting to nest at the Boardwalk #1 area to abandon its nest scrapes, and Good Harbor Beach altogether.

Since 2016, I have also been documenting Piping Plovers at Coffins Beach and Cranes Beach. Last year, I began following Piping Plovers nesting at both Revere Beach and Winthrop Shores Reservation because these two beaches are more similar to Good Harbor Beach. Revere and Winthrop, like Good Harbor, are highly trafficked beaches frequented by locals and by people from out of town, and we can learn a great deal from these communities. Both Revere and Winthrop Shores Reservation follow the guidelines of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation where precautionary fencing is installed by April 1st, and no dogs are allowed. If chicks can fledge from Revere and Winthrop beaches, so too can chicks fledge from Good Harbor Beach.

Additional Notes:

A sentence in the 3PPlan gave me great pause, and that is why I decided to include the photos attached in tonight’s discussion. “There has been friction with a small number of dog walkers who resent being denied access to the beach or requests to leash their pets in the vicinity of the Plover area.”

The problem is much greater than a small number. The faces have been blocked because I don’t want law enforcement to go after specific individuals. The photos are meant to show the much larger issue, that there are many, many dogs disrupting the nesting area on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April.

All photos were taken on April 28th and 29th at Good Harbor Beach. April 28th was a warm off leash day. The nesting area at No. 3 was being impossibly overrun with dogs in the roped off section. Because of the uncontrolled dogs running through the nesting area, it would have taken at least three monitors to monitor only No. 3, not to mention area No. 1.

Photos No. 2-14 were taken within a one-hour time period. Photos 2-5 show a woman on her cell phone ignoring her dog, her dog runs into the nesting area and goes pooh, she goes into the nesting area to clean up while in the mean time, her dog continues to run through the nesting area with a pal. Photos 6 through 12 show a bunch of different dogs playing in the nesting area and could be photographed with roping as part of the photo. Photos 13 and 14 show dogs up by the nest, at the dune line. Photo 15 show the dog tracks in the nesting area.

The PiPl had given up on the beach and moved to the parking lot because there was far less dog disturbance there. Photos 16-18 show their parking lot nest scrape, mating behavior, and trying to camouflage on the white lines of the parking lot. They stayed in the parking lot the entire day and did not eat or drink.

I returned to Good Harbor beach the following morning, an on leash day, hoping that it would be quieter and the PiPl could catch a break, but instead found a number of dogs off leash.

I hope these photos are helpful in showing why it is so critically important to prohibit dogs on the beach during the month of April. And that it is clearly not a “small number of dog walkers” causing the disruption to nesting.

I am happy to answer any questions. Please email me or at or phone at 978-283-3910

Thank you so much again for your time and consideration.

Good Harbor Beach Papa (left) and Mama Piping Plover and Chicks




Gloucester’s City Council is voting on an issue that will have tremendous impact on our Piping Plovers.

When: Tuesday, February 26th, at 7:00pm

Where: Kyrouz Auditorium, Gloucester City Hall

For more information, please find below links to posts and articles:






To give readers an idea of how Gloucester compares to other North of Boston beaches provided below is a list of Massachusetts beaches, the number of chicks fledged at each beach, and the dog ordiance.

As you can see, prohibiting dogs on beaches beginning April 1st would bring us in alliance with the majority of Massachusetts coastal communities. If anyone would like the list of all Massachusetts beaches where Piping Plovers are nesting, please feel free to email me at and I will be happy to send you the pdf.

The beaches and information about chicks was found at the Mass Wildlife Massachusetts Piping Plover Census 2017.


Crane Beach, Ipswich: 33 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to Sept 30, on leash off season.

Sandy Point Reservation, Ipswich: 21 chicks fledged, No Dogs allowed at any time.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester: 0 chicks fledged, No Dogs May 1 to September 30.

Parker River Wildlife Refuge: 54 chicks fledged, No Dogs allowed at anytime.

Newburyport Town Beach: 5 chicks fledged, Nog dogs May 15 to October 15, On leash all year.

Point of Pines, Revere: 1chick fledged, Private.

Revere Beach: 8 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to September 30.

Winthrop Beach: 6 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to September 30.

Yirrell Beach, Winthrop: 3 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to September 30.


Very late in the afternoon, just as the sun was setting, the juvenile Harp Seal attempted to head back to sea. He began to scooch and wriggle toward the creek, pausing often to scratch and roll around in the sand. At one point he reversed direction and started back toward the dunes.

As you can see in the last photo of the above gallery that just as do Harbor Seals, Harp Seals have a tail, too.

After a few more false starts he made his way to the water. Before sliding in, he paused at the water’s edge to drink.

Nearly dead low tide, the water was not deep enough to swim. It was painful to watch him splash and undulate along on his belly in the shallows. He seemed to tire quickly and was very undecided about what to do next. We watched as the young seal made his way slowly around a sharp bend in the creek, then held our breaths as he made it all the way to the foot bridge.

But then he suddenly stopped, turned around, and swam back down the creek, nearly the whole length of the creek from where he had come. The young seal seemed confused and it was heartbreaking to see. When I left at sundown he was on the flats in the creek.

Good Harbor Beach resident and Piping Plover monitor Sue W. reports that he is still there at 7:15. We’re hoping he makes it out at low tide, which is at 10:11 tonight.

The young Harp Seal appeared very tired when I left the beach at around 5:30.

Many, many thanks to Jane Goodwin, neighbor and Good Morning Gloucester reader, for alerting us to the Harp Seal.

For turtle, seal, and all mammal strandings, please call NOAA at 866.755.6622. Thank you!

Update to the Update

I checked on the little guy at 5:30 this morning on my way out of town to photograph and didn’t see any sign of him, but it was pitch black. I checked again on my way home, around 11am, still no sign, and there did not appear to be any signs of a skirmish with a coyote. The tide was high and the water was up to the top of the creek bed. It would have been much easier for him to slip into the water last night and head back out to sea.

In response to Facebook comments that the location of the seal should not have been posted publicly: The initial post was shared in the evening, after dark, and would not have been posted if people had not been behaving thoughtfully and kindly toward the seal. I believe it is important for adults and children to share the shore with wildlife, to love and respect a wild creature’s boundaries, not hide the whereabouts of the animal. There are exceptions in the case of at risk endangered and threatened species. ❤


A beautiful young Harp Seal spent the better part of the day hauled out between the bank of the Good Harbor Beach creek and the dunes. The seal appeared in good health and was seen resting, stretching, scooching, and sunning. Beach walkers and dog walkers were respectful and kept a safe distance.

Ainsley Smith from NOAA was on the job letting folks know that the seal was okay and that this is perfectly normal seal behavior. Thanks so much to Ainsley and to all the beachgoers today who kept their distance from the Harp Seal. For turtle, seal, and all mammal strandings, please call NOAA at 866.755.6622. Thank you!

I’ve been checking on him periodically throughout the afternoon and will let you know when he makes it back to the water. I hope soon because we know coyotes scavenge the beach at night.

Harp Seals are born  in the Arctic during the late winter. They are born with a lanugo, an extra thick fluffy white coat that keeps them warm on the Arctic ice. During each stage of development, the Harp Seal’s coat has a different appearance. Juveniles have a white coat with widely spaced spots. Every year, the spots move closer together during molting. By the time the Harp Seal reaches adulthood, the coat is silvery gray with a black saddle mark on the back and a black face. See the photo below of a baby and Mom Harp Seal.

A mother harp seal and her pup rest in their icy habitat.

Photo Courtesy National Geographic Kids



Go here to read Part One: Winter

Go here to read Part Two: Spring


The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.

Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.

Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.

These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.

Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old

All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.


Piping Plover chick testing its wings

Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.

Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.

In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.

In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.

Least Tern Family Life Cycle

Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.

Fledged Chick

Cape Ann  Museum

Monarch Madness

Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!

In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last  day of summer.

Happy Two-week Birthday to Our Little Pip

Common Eider Ducklings at Captain Joes

Little Pip Zing Zanging Around the Beach

Our Little Pip is Missing

Piping Plover Update – Where Are They Now?


What’s For Breakfast Mama?

42 Pairs of Piping Plovers Nesting at Cranes Beach!

Fishing for Sex

Welcome to Good Harbor Beach Mama Hummingbird!

Least Tern One Day Old Chicks!

Welcome to the Mary Prentiss Inn Pollinator Paradise

Piping Plover Symbolic Fencing Recomendations

Good Morning! Brought to You By Great Blue Herons Strolling on the Beach

Two-day Old Least Tern Chicks


Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Grow Native Buttonbush for the Pollinators

A Fine Froggy Lunch for a Little Blue Heron

Snowy Owls in Massachusetts in August!?!

Monarch Butterfly Eggs and Caterpillars Alert

Learning to Fly!

Snapshots from Patti Papows Magical Butterfly Garden

Keep Those Monarch Babies Coming!

A Chittering, Chattering, Chetamnon Chipmunk Good Morning to You, Too!

Butterflies and Bird Pooh, Say What?

Caterpillar Condo

Monarch Madness!

Thank You To Courtney Richardson and the Cape Ann Museum Kids

A Banner Year for Maine’s Piping Plovers

Snowy Egret Synchronized Bathing

Good Harbor Beach Super High Tide

Otter Kit Steals Frog From Mom

Monarch Butterfly Ovipositing Egg on Marsh Milkweed: NINETEEN SIBLINGS READYING TO EMERGE

Monarch Butterfly Rescue